This Sunday Pondering post is part of my IOU Series. A 2-fer, you lucky kids.
Before you get started, go get a coffee or three. This could take a while…
You see, way back when, I’d mentioned to Deke that I had strong opinions about U2, and he said he’d love to hear it. Of course, I never wrote it, even when it came back up in comments here and there over time.
So Deke, here’s my IOU post about U2. It’s also a Sunday Pondering, because I have fully pondered my (long but older) relationship to the band for this post, and discovered… well, read on…
Once And For All: Aaron Takes On U2 – A Pondering, With A Wee Bit Of Rant
Born in 1974, I am a child of the late 70s and early 80s. U2 formed only two years later, in 1976. Up until 1984 (when I was 10), I didn’t even own my own music. By then, they’d released four studio albums, an EP and a live album.
As a wee kid, I heard whatever everyone else played. I can’t say I was a fan early on, as they weren’t on the radar of anyone in my immediate vicinity. My sister didn’t play their records (she was into Wham! and Billy Joel), nor did any of my friends (they liked Bryan Adams, Gowan, Mr. Mister, Glass Tiger, Platinum Blonde – as did I, and I still do). I did hear the radio, so I probably heard early singles like I Will Follow, New Years Day or Pride (In The Name Of Love) on there, though my parents usually had the radio on the local country station because it gave the best weather reports.
I remember one girl in my school, we must’ve been in grade 4 (9 years old or so), who went to see U2 in concert in Toronto, and came back with the t-shirt. From our perspective in our small country community, it was as though she’d gone to another world and back.
Somewhere in there, though, we got memberships to the Columbia House tape club, and I got several U2 albums that way. I had Boy, and the Unforgettable Fire, and War. Close to all the early stuff, anyway. I really enjoyed it, loved the energy and how the songs told stories instead of just always blathering about love. The music worked on a level for me too, simple but not simple, and tied perfectly to the messages. Of course, I’m writing it like this now – back then, I’d have just said I really liked this or that tape. But suffice it to say that I was enough of a fan of those early tapes that they were definitely on my radar for the next bit…
It’s worth noting here, before we go on, that at this point, U2 was already a huge band. It’s not like they were toiling away in clubs in 1986. But when the next record arrived, they blasted into a different level…
In 1987 (I was 13), my team went to Goderich to play in a weekend hockey tournament. We had some time to kill and were down in the square, and I’ll never forget I picked up a copy of Joshua Tree from a rack of new tapes and said “I didn’t know they had a new record out!” and, after I pawed it for awhile, my Dad got it for me! A shock – not something that happened every day. Remember, we didn’t have internet then, and in my very small town (of 300 people) we didn’t get a lot of notice about this stuff. Hell, we only had three TV channels and you had to get off the couch to change them. We didn’t get cable ’til I was 15 years old, and by then I was a lost cause for being hooked on TV. We spent a lot of time playing hockey outside, or off doing other things. I also read a lot of books (for which I am grateful to this day).
Joshua Tree blew me away. The three big singles right off the top, of course, are what they are. But I was the kind of kid who played tapes all the way through, side A and side B. I rarely rewound a song or a side. I just let the whole thing play. So I heard the whole of every record I owned, and if I had to shut it off before it was done, next time I came back to it I just pressed play and let it pick up where it got stopped. The short-attention span kids of today would do well to have more connection to longer relationships with albums like that. Said the aging guy whom they’d think was a dinosaur. Anyway, for me the real meat of the album is found after those big three tracks. The longer it goes, the better it gets.
Not long after, they dropped Rattle And Hum, a year later, in 1988. Combined with Joshua Tree, I will maintain to this day that this was their high water mark. You can talk ’til you’re blue in the face but to me they never did better than those two, and to have one right after the other… damn. Rattle And Hum became my Sunday church music, the place I went when I needed a lift, so good for the soul, and even now as I am typing this I am playing it from top to bottom and it’s damn near unimpeachable. I played my first copy of that tape so often that I wore it out, the first and only tape I ever owned that I played so much I had to replace it.
Of course, all along in here, I’d been listening to all sorts of different music, a lot of the CanCon pop and AOR rock of the day, but also jazz and swing was always a staple for me. By the time I got to high school, I was into jazz, mostly. The shop kids were sporting Metallica t-shirts and I was talking about the new Harry Connick, Jr. album. I still played U2, though, especially those last two records.
When they dropped Achtung Baby in 1991 (I was 17), I snapped it up, ready for the next dose of U2 like I’d been absorbing in recent years. And it… well, I liked it… but I realize now, in retrospect, that I was liking it because I was wanting to like it… more than I actually liked it. It’s not a bad record, but it was a shift, and not what I was expecting or wanting. I know full well that bands have to grow, change, become. Usually, I’m along for the ride and it’s cool. But Achtung Baby, I don’t know, if I were honest as my 17 year old self, and could have verbalized it at the time, I’d say something about it left me cold. I liked some of the songs, still do, but it wasn’t a complete record for me, not like the others. It was the first time I only liked certain songs, not its entirety.
So I played Achtung Baby enough that I know it by heart, but it wouldn’t be a favourite in a list. Oh no, I’m about to be that guy who says “I only liked them in the early days, all the new stuff is shit!” Haha except that Achtung came out 26 years ago and I didn’t think it was shit. I just didn’t connect with it in the same way.
And by now it’s worth noting that they were at a level of fame that few acts reach. One could even argue that, after this point, it wasn’t even really about the songs anymore, it was about the spectacle. Somewhere along the way they lost their youthful energy and idealism, and now it’s like they have to make themselves write something vital instead of just doing it.
When Zooropa dropped two years later (in 1993), I was off the bus. I didn’t like the singles, and the songs weren’t the U2 I knew. Pop (in 1997) was worse. I’d stopped buying their records. And to be honest, I haven’t bought one since Acthung Baby. I retreated, as the band only grew larger and more popular. And good on them, I say. And fair play to all those who went along with them in those new directions and actually liked those records.
I would wager, though, that people who go see U2 in concert today aren’t really going just to hear songs off All That You Can’t Leave Behind, or How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb (WTF title). And not from No Line On The Horizon or Songs Of Innocence either (and I haven’t looked but I assume they’re cribbing from William Blake on that title). See, there’s me having read William Blake but not heard the newest U2 record. Go figure. I still hear the singles, but I never click with any of it.
Anyway, I’ll bet folks are wanting the old stuff, the hits from 30 years ago when they pay waaaay too much to go down to the U2 show, these days. And fair play, it’s what we’ve heard, and what radio has blasted us with the most. Maybe the newer songs will become classics in their own right, years from now.
Now. Set aside the albums, because there’s another angle to this story. Bono.
But before I get into him, I should note that I don’t hear too much about the rest of the band. They seem to have been smart enough to mostly keep it about the music (and enjoying their celebrity, I suppose, Clayton even married a model), but leave the rest to their singer. That’s just my impression, as a guy who doesn’t follow them anymore. Who knows, maybe the other three are just as bad.
Bono has always been a bombastic twat, and for a lot of years it worked for him. That larger-than-life persona helped propel the band to even greater heights, a consumate showman in most ways. Trouble is, somewhere along the history of everyone blowing smoke up his ass, he started to believe the hype and his own mythology and began speaking out on political issues outside of the albums and the stage. Unless you’re Woody Guthrie, Billy Bragg or Rage Against The Machine and politics in music is your wheelhouse, I generally tend to think a song or two about an issue you find important is great, and U2 were always a political (and religious) band that had things to say and that was fine.
But you’re a musician, not a politician… Not Bono, though, nope. He jumped over to a new realm, became a guy pushing for policy, telling the world (and world leaders) how he thinks things ought to be. Sad thing is, he actually gets meetings with decision-makers, and fair play if it’s just a photo op for them, but if they are actually listening, he has jumped the shark and needs to choose where he wants to be. At some point, it became less about the music and more about his grandstanding, and I’d argue the albums and the music has suffered for it. You could probably even chart a corresponding deterioration and decline in quality of the music to right around when he started speaking out more outside the music, if you cared to look it up. I sure don’t.
Yeah, here we’ve got a guy with more money than G-d going around telling the world how they ought to do things, dropping in on some impoverished place, trying not to get any on him, and then jetting back to one of his palatial residences in his private jet or helicopter. I dunno, I wouldn’t go across the street to talk to the guy, myself, these days. Fair play to those who think he has some valid place in international affairs.
And hey, for all I know, he may be quietly donating scads of money to worthy causes and not publicising that. That would be great. I just wish, if that were the case, that he’d leave it at that. Is it impossible to do good things and just quietly go about your business? The grandstanding is obnoxious, and absolutely detracts from any good he may be doing. Again, he’s been so hugely famous for so long, he’s likely so disconnected from our reality that he sincerely does not know how to be normal anymore.
I used to love U2, but I stopped caring about their new music over 25 years ago, because they stopped being the vital entitity they were, choosing fame over quality. I haven’t liked what I’ve heard in a loooong time. Shit happens, and we’ll always have those first twenty years of their career.
If you’re a U2 fan and reading this, yelling at your screen that I’m wrong and can’t wait to get into the comments section to flame me, calm down, there, Zippy. Go write your own blog about how you love their later work better and how Bono is your messiah. Just don’t link me to it.
I first heard U2 through a friend from Toronto, way back when I was a kid. She was older than me and had cassettes of all the cool bands of the era – Duran Duran, Marillion (hey Mike!), tons of groups. And she had U2.
It was because of her that I used my Columbia House subscription to order cassettes of Boy, October, War (and the live Under A Blood Red Sky), and The Unforgettable Fire. There was something about their sound that just clicked with my young brain.
We were playing at a weekend hockey tournament in Goderich when my Dad sprung for my first copy of The Joshua Tree (see post from earlier today), on cassette. I played that thing to death, along with all the rest. I remember a girl in my class at school coming in one day wearing a t-shirt from the Joshua Tree tour. She was always cool, but going to see U2 made her even cooler.
And then I got Rattle And Hum, which was posted earlier today as well. What a record! That’s still one of my top rated albums today.
Sadly, I feel it was all downhill from there.
Now, I was a kid when all of this was going on. I was in high school by the time Achtung Baby dropped. Perhaps my tastes had changed… I was listening to a lot more jazz and swing, and playing in the stage band, so perhaps that did it. I really didn’t want to dislike it, but I did. I knew there were strong songs in there, but I didn’t like the approach. I’d been into the band for almost a decade, at that point, so I do feel that I tried. When I saw some of whatever the fuck Zooropa was on MuchMusic, I was done. I resolved to wait them out, hoping it was a phase.
I haven’t cared about anything since. Honestly, it’s like a switch got thrown inside me. It’s painting a lot with an incredibly broad brush, but I just can’t embrace any of the second half of their career. Perhaps it’s age. Maybe, if I had discovered them at Achtung Baby, I’d not like the earlier stuff as much. Who knows?
I do know that I am definitely tired of Bono. I can’t reconcile his cozying up to politicians looking to help the poor of the world, all while he lives the unreal and extravagant life of a multi-millionaire rock star. I also hated that time he worked with Leonard Cohen.
Anyway, you may have your own take on all of this. U2 have been around so long, and have tried so many different things, that everyone likely prefers different eras and albums than me. But my love for the band is not blindness (ahem). Actually, it ended around 1991. You do the math.
This was my own personal Sunday morning church music for years. When it was released (1988), I owned this album on cassette and, over the course of all those weeks and years of play, I actually wore that cassette out. It finally stretched and went wonky. Alas.
When I saw it on CD in Taranna on my trip there with Mike this year, for $5 or so, I just had to replace my burnt out cassette copy. And you know something? After all this time, it has lost none of its glory.
They announce their ballsy presence with a Beatles tune (which they claim to be stealing back from Charles Manson), and then we’re off to the races. I won’t belabour all the songs – you know them well. Absolutely riddled with massive hit songs, plus a cover of Bob Dylan, the band’s love/hate thing with America, Bono’s politics, and the super-cool B.B. King… this record has it all. There truly isn’t a song here that even remotely approaches mediocre, be it studio track or live song. They are all unimpeachable.
I’ve loved this record for 26 years now, and I don’t foresee that changing any time soon. This is far more moving, to me, than any church service I’ve ever attended.
This was a pinnacle. It’s a big, bombastic religious experience captured on album. With this, and Joshua Tree, U2 was never at their most powerful or uplifting, and they haven’t been again (so far).
I love this CD.* Every song is pop rock perfection. Seriously, try and top the monster that is this album. Few could do it. Even if you think the general music listening audience is a twat that gets what it deserves (ahem! Scott! Dammit I love that line), you at least have to admit that this was a huge record that was everywhere and was filled with earworm hooks that were undeniably catchy.
The first three songs are all K.O. punches: Where The Streets Have No Name, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, and With Or Without You. Seriously? Jeez, guys!
Follow that up with the politically angry Bullet the Blue Sky, then my favourite on the record, Running To Stand Still. It’s an acoustic velvet glove wrapped around an iron fist of drug addiction. We’re back to politics on Red Hill Mining Town, then U2’s fixation with America on In God’s Country. Trip Through Your Wires is brilliant, One Tree Hill is a sad tune as eulogy for a friend, Exit is about a serial killer, and back to politics again with Mothers Of The Disappeared.
Throughout, the music is perfect to match the lyrics. It may be U2’s finest achievement. It did, in fact, ship crates of units to everywhere that had electricity, just millions and millions of copies. It’s hugely influential, it’s a beautiful record.
I do often take issue with how political Bono has been, at times, but on this record a good balance is struck. I also find him strident and over the top, but here it’s still got enough of a heartfelt feel to it that it works perfectly.
* I also own it on cassette and LP, natch.
I have been assaulted by an ad on the back page of Rolling Stone magazine (#1119). It’s that fucking Bono, again.
I have an abiding hate for this hypocritical man, which runs contrary to the love most of U2-s sheep-fans have for him. Sure, they used to make music that approached vital, but it’s now retreading old steps and foisting new, plastic-sounding garbage on the world. And don’t even get me started about his dabbling in politics, or just about anything else he does. I’m NOT a fan.
Anyway. This ad that bugs me is for Louis Vuitton and, apparently, Bono’s wife Ali’s clothing line as well, Edun (I’m sure the spelling error is meant to be ‘artful’ and ‘creative’). And there is so much wrong with this whole thing, it hurts my eyes to look at it.
First off, I don’t care how many times Bono goes to Africa and comes back telling us they need our help, when he jets back to one of his many mansions and lives it up in style, or goes on a global tour that uses up more energy and creates more waste than most African nations, I wanna kick him in the nuts. Repeatedly. I don’t believe him for a minute.
Now, looking at this ad, which you’ve surely seen but if not it shows the couple in some beautifully windswept grass after having apparently disembarked an airplane, off for a well-meaning but misguided holiday in the middle of what is presumably Africa with a couple of over-priced overnight bags and a guitar.
Look, if they showed up in the African veldt dressed in $600 shirts and carrying those bags, they’d stick out even more like the sore thumbs they already are. It all stylized to hell, to the point of being obviously staged. Second, don’t get me wrong because Ali is a pretty lady, but that’s some serious airbrushing going on. Probably for him, too.
Honestly, it looks like they happen to be walking past an airplane that was already there so they can get across a highway (which is just out of view behind the camera) so they can get to the front gate of the 5-star resort they’re staying at while they consider buying it up. The valet, just off camera, is waving them over, smiling…
They look so much like fish out of water it’s painful. Oh, it’s all artfully done, but it’s all crap. Just look at the ad and you’ll know it’s bullshit. Utter fabrication, in every detail. Ooo it rankles me to no end, because people who don’t tend to think too much about what they see will look at it and think, “Oh, isn’t that nice, Bono and his wife went to Africa. They must have done something good while they were there. He seems like such a nice man,” while never really looking into it. It could be a movie set, for all we know.
“Every journey begins in Africa,” my ass. Fuck off, Bono. You and your wife can stick your product placements in painful places. I don’t care if you donated your ‘fee,’ which was probably exorbitant, to some charity fund no one’s heard of just so you can put that feel-good text at the bottom of the ad. Using a continent’s plight to further your own misguided, and frankly inappropriate agenda needs to stop. Now. Selling yourself while talking about a cause is not the kind of help they need.
And to Rolling Stone magazine: stop printing this shit just because they are famous people. Think about content before you allow this crap to hit your pages ever again. But I know those are wasted words too, that magazine sold out to the fame machine long, long, long ago.
Sigh. And I’m not even old, yet. Just wait a few decades and see how cranky I can get!
Hot Hot Heat – Scenes One Through Thirteen
I’m a fan of this band, and having never heard this record (I know!), I was totally pleased with what I heard. It’s equal parts garage rock and punk, like the Pixies met Big Black and they went all out on the shaky limb of an experimental art-noise freak out. Holy shit, every song here rocks completely. I absolutely loved this!
Rock Star Supernova
This is apparently the result of some TV show of the same name wherein Jason Newsted, Tommy Lee and Gilby Clarke were trying out new singers and choosing one like some messed up American Idol competition. However it came about, I say the same about this record as I did about Newsted’s other solo effort, Echobrain. It would have been an absolutely huge record… had it been released a full decade earlier. Largely derivative of that mid-90’s sound, it seems really, really dated for a 2006 release. Whatever, I enjoyed the opportunity to hear this.
A Punk Rock Tribute To AC/DC
It’s an interesting time for this record to wash up on my shores, given how I’ve been hearing a lot of AC/DC through the next batch in the Favourites project (coming soon!), so to hear other people attempt the tracks is fun, indeed. At least some of the bands here are new to me, and they didn’t always pick the usual tracks, which makes a nice mix. Interesting that there’s no Thunderstruck… Then again, the Dwarves chose Big Balls. Haha. Of course they did.
A lot of the tracks here, of course, fall well short of the originals. That said, the Angry Samoans turn in a credible Highway To Hell, and Dayglo Abortions speed up The Jack in a satisfying way. Flipper nailed it on the head when the guy says “This song goes on far too long,” and maybe the most punk of them all was Dr. Know’s Rock ‘N Roll Damnation. But a lot of these tracks are really incredibly bad, by bands you’ll likely never hear of again… which makes this record a total gem! Stepping back and trying to describe what’s here, it sounds like covers night at some open mic bar on the wrong side of the tracks got crashed by a bunch of drunk punkers. Nice one.
U2 – Go Home – Live At Slane Castle
We all know by now that U2 has me torn. There’s a warm place in my musical nostalgia for the more raw, youthfully creative U2. The past twenty years, though, have largely been repetitive and boring. This live video is fun enough to watch, since these guys have been doing the same thing for so long that at least they’ve got the Please The Crowd schtick fully ingrained. The show takes place on their home turf and in front of the most forgiving audience any band could ever hope for in their wettest dreams. Bono could have walked around that little runway farting for an hour and people would have called it innovative. I just wish the new songs weren’t such poor imitations of the power that came before. Sigh.
U2 – Rattle And Hum
Now this is what I’m talking about. This video companion to the record of the same name has personality, verve, and energy. It’s well-filmed, fast-moving and interesting. It’s the one I’d recommend to you if you wanted to see U2 in its prime. Just bear in mind, it’s a postcard from the precipice (from the Edge, if you will). It was all downhill from here.
Here’s the third batch of your favourites! Sorry it’s taken so long to get this round posted. I’ve been out of town for the holiday, and working 6 days a week. I will get to all of your choices shortly, trust me!
11 DESEREE: Beck – Mutations
Deseree offered up this Beck collection of songs as her entry into this project. While she said it might not be her favourite album of all time, it’s the one that she finds herself playing most often. Fair enough! I remember my lovely wife buying a copy of Mutations on the day of our first date (and what that says about our relationship, I shudder to think!), and she was very happy with the record from the first spin (and the date didn’t go too badly either!).
Beck has always been weird, going out onto limbs that other people didn’t even necessarily know were there, in order to bring us his sound of mish-mashed influences and new creations. Each new album is a new facet, and it’s a wonder there’s any cohesion to his work at all (and yet there usually is). Mutations is, to me, largely a record for later at night, for quieter and thoughtful moments. A lot of the songs (except Tropicalia, of course), are slower, more introspective, but still sound fantastic. It’d been a long time since I’d heard this, and I thank Deseree for reminding me of its existence!
12 BRENT: Genesis – A Trick Of The Tail
Brent said this album, more than Selling England By The Pound, is the one he considers his favourite. Though he loves the whole record, he said it is due in large part to his love of the way the last track (Los Endos) lets his mind just space out and go wherever it wants. Well then, right on, man!
When I played it back, having never actually heard any of these songs (though I am surely acquainted with Genesis, especially their later years, in general), I was quite surprised. It was a fun romp through a mixture of jazzy and spacey lyrics and instrumental experimentation, and more typical Genesis-sounding tracks. Somehow it all holds together as a pop album, and that’s cool. It definitely sounds like the mid-70’s to me, though I’m not really sure that that holds water as a description…
Wikipedia tells me that this was their first effort post-Peter Gabriel, and that Phil Collins was initially reluctant to sing. Interesting.
13 LORI, MARIE AND BROOKE: Not Knowing Their Faves, But Still Playing The Game!
Some people, when asked the question for this project, didn’t have an exact answer…
Lori said she likes Air Supply, but didn’t know the album she liked or the colour of the cover. She just knew she liked it. I got the impression she didn’t really want to play this game for too long, though, so I am satisfied with this much information.
Marie said she really liked that song by Laura Brannigan, “you know the one, right?” She hummed a bit of it for me, but I didn’t recognize it, and she didn’t know the name of the record or the song either. Oh well, at least she knows what she likes in her own head!
Brooke said that her friends just burn CDs of stuff they are listening to for her, and she plays those. She doesn’t seem to care who the artists are or what the albums are called, and she didn’t offer up one as a favourite – she seemed to treat them all equally.
Interesting times, indeed. A band but no album, an unknown song but no title or album, and indifference towards anything specific. This question has brought out a lot of interesting responses. I’m having an inordinate amount of fun, doing this…
14 LORRAINE: U2 – Rattle And Hum
Lorraine said this record, above all others, was her favourite. And from what I know of Lorraine, her choice of U2 does not surprise me at all. Maybe choosing this particular record, instead of Joshua Tree or Achtung Baby surprised me a bit, but then again, not really.
I have a real love/hate thing with U2. I loved their earlier stuff, thought it was strong and passionate. I was with them right up to and including Achtung Baby, but even by then I was starting to have to admit that their new stuff wasn’t grabbing me in that same, visceral way. Hate is a strong word, but I never cared at all for their pop/dance experimentations, Bono’s extracurricular circus activities are an obnoxious distraction, and the new stuff is just re-tread parodies of themselves. It all sounds the same. Maybe they’ve just gotten so full of themselves and so popular that they don’t have to try anymore? People are slobbering all over themselves in anticipation of the new U2 record coming out soon, but I can tell you how it’ll sound – just like the last one (and that wasn’t particularly good at all). Big deal.
Not being a particularly religious person (so it’s a wonder I liked this group’s earlier stuff at all), I always considered Rattle And Hum my Sunday morning church music. I played it on tape every week (and plenty besides that) until I finally wore it out. The songs here soar and glide with that energy they were just starting to lose by then. Call this their last gasp. It’s a nice mix of live and studio tracks, and any record with B.B. King on it is good for me. I know every note of this record by heart, and it still lifts me now, to hear it again after all these years. Too bad they had to go and start sucking so hard. Thanks, Lorraine, for bringing me back my Sunday morning music!
15 JAMES: Crash Test Dummies – God Shuffled His Feet
James loved the Crash Test Dummies. I’m not exactly sure where he stands on them these days, but I get the sense it’s still love, just not as strong. Whatever the current status, he chose this as his favourite record, and none of us are too surprised!
It’s hard for me to listen to this band. Their first record was playing in the tape deck when I had my first serious car accident. Such associations tend to make me not want to listen. Imagine that. But in the interests of this project, I have sucked up my own mental bullshit and ventured into the tracks on this record.
It’s been years since I heard more than one track by this group in a row, and I was pleasantly surprised by how the tidy and fun production has captured the Dummies in their prime. The songs sound great, like they were made by actual humans. And yes, their lyrics are quirky and different, and yes, Brad Roberts’ voice still sounds a bit like a put-on (even though we know it’s not), but this collection of songs is intelligent and highly, truly entertaining. I know this group was big in this country, at one point, but they should probably have been bigger. This record is a perfect example of why.