Graham Reid | | 2 min read
Just a thought: would U2 be better without Bono? That isn't a comment on his ego and political activities -- which I have no issue with, everyone has an ego and I think he's done some decent political work. Nope, it is more on the bombastic delivery he too often brings to U2 when they can be at their most musically interesting.
As here, an album full of clever sonics, orchestrations, interesting rhythms and very different guitar work by The Edge. It's a collection which seems to cry out for remixes -- which in my book would take bellowing Bono right out of the frame in many instances.
I have already noted in a blog at publicaddress my suspicions about how quickly critical consensus formed on this album: the shorthand is that after two albums which saw them withdraw into photocopies of what they thought U2 albums were (the leaden All That You Can't etc and How to Dismantle etc) they got out their contact book and called Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois to make them interesting again in the manner of Achtung Baby and Zooropa (which for my money are their only two Essential albums).
Critical consensus says they've suceeded by arc-welding the best bits of their dramatic and bellicose stuff with the edgy rock of those two albums.
I'm not so sure.
In a sense that's true, but this is a more complex album than that critical reduction: on the single Get On Your Boots they draw as much on the tradition from Dylan's speak-sing Subterranean Homesick Blues and Elvis Costello's Pump It Up (albeit delivered with skyscraper guitars) as widescreen rock in the manner of Black Mountain, and elsewhere The Edge commands this album in a way we haven't heard in some while. And it isn't referenced in the Achtung/Zoo period either, this is more classic Led Zeppelin riffery (Stand Up Comedy) and sometimes Pink Floyd's David Gilmour fluid and mercurial soloing (Moment of Surrender) married to Eno's spaciousness. The subtle Cedars of Lebanon is almost the hidden track here for its sense of quiet.
When they take themselves too seriously (and really, when didn't they other than around Achtung/Zoo?) this is as leaden as their worst excesses (the ballad White as Snow, the massively embellished Breathe). But even there it is the rest of the band other than Bono which commands attention.
And Bono should be very careful what he says about Chris Martin's lyrics, here he resorts once too often to cliches, archness and self-referencing which are as irony-free as U2 once were.
So this is actually a complex U2 album which refers to much more outside themselves than their last two albums, but doesn't break the ground that Achtung/Zoo did for them. Nor does it simply replicate those musical tropes as some might have you believe.
Take out the obviousness of some material (the title track) and there's a very interesting album here. And one which will sound quite something once the remixers get onto it --as long as they think like me!
PS. The album cover shot is by Hiroshi Sugimoto and it's a blinder when seen full scale. Another reason why CD covers are rubbish really.