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Contents The Beginning .................................................................................................................. 5 The Songwriting ........................................................................................................... 21 The New Era ................................................................................................................... 45 The Future ........................................................................................................................ 59 Track-by-Track Analysis ....................................................................................... 77


The Beginning

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here is no other band like U2. In the new millennium they stand untouched in terms of touring impact, chart performance and presence, inside and outside the music industry. Singer Paul ‘Bono’ Hewson is an international negotiating figure, dealing with presidents, popes and politicians on an apparently daily basis: only Sir Bob Geldof is his equal in terms of recognisability on the world stage when it comes to activism and awareness-building for a range of debt relief and wealth redistribution issues. Bono is actively involved in campaigning for debt relief in Africa. He visited Ghana, South Africa, Uganda and 5


Ethiopia with US Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill in May 2002 and has continued to work with DATA (Debt, AIDS and Trade in Africa) with the support of world leaders and financial backing from the Bill Gates Foundation. But in purely musical terms, only veteran touring bands such as the Rolling Stones, Madonna and perhaps Metallica generate as much excitement – or revenue. And, like all those great acts, the career of Ireland’s finest rock band (pace Thin Lizzy) started so humbly. In autumn 1976, drummer Larry Mullen Jr – a young blonde teenager born on 31 October 1961 – put a piece of paper on the noticeboard at Mount Temple Comprehensive School in Dublin, searching for people to join a band. Singer and guitarist Paul Hewson (who adopted the stage name Bono Vox; born on 10 May 1960), guitarist Dave Evans (who was known as The Edge; born on 8 August 1961), his brother and fellow guitarist Dik Evans, and bassist Adam Clayton (born on 13 March 1960) joined up. The bizarre nicknames had arisen after the teenagers formed a fantasy world called Lipton Village. Dik left after a short time – he went on to join the Virgin Prunes – but the other four remained to form Feedback before changing their name to The Hype and then to U2, a play on the words ‘you too’ but also a reference to the American spy plane of the same name. Looking back at his childhood, Bono told one US interviewer: ‘I grew up in what you would call a lower-middle-class neigbourhood. You don’t have the equivalent in America. Upperworking-class? But a nice street and good people. And, yet, if I’m honest, a sense that violence was around the corner. Home was a pretty regular three-bedroom house. The third bedroom, about the size of a cupboard, they called the “box room” – which was my room. Mother departed the household early: died at the graveside of her own father. So I lost my grandfather and my mother in a few days, and then it became a house of men. And three, it turns out, quite macho men – and all that goes with that. The aggression 6


U2 – WE WILL FOLLOW 4 CD Set

U2’s second studio album ‘October’ was released on 12 October 1981. Following mixed reviews for the album U2 played fourteen dates across the United States in March 1982. From September to November 1982, the group recorded ‘War’. The new album was well received and the following year U2 embarked on the War Tour of Europe, the US, and Japan. As their reputation grew the band began to play larger venues, including several dates at European and American music festivals. This superb anthology showcases the very best of U2 broadcasting live to air, a band at the peak of their powers, who were then undoubtedly the greatest live band on the planet. Disc 1 – The Orpheum Theater, Boston, 6 May 1983 (PART 1) 1. Out of Control 2. Twilight 3. An Cat Dubh/Into the Heart 4. Surrender 5. Two Hearts Beat As One 6. Seconds 7. Sunday Bloody Sunday 8. The Cry/The Electric Co. 9. I Fall Down 10. October 11. New Year’s Day Disc 2 – The Orpheum Theater, Boston, 6 May 1983 (PART 2) 1. Gloria 2. I Threw a Brick Through a Window 3. A Day Without Me 4. Party Girl 5. I Will Follow 6. “40” Disc 3 – The Ritz, New York, 18 March 1982 1. Gloria 2. Another Time, Another Place 3. An Cat Dubh 4. Into the Heart 5. Rejoice 6. The Electric Co. 7. I Fall Down 8. October 9. Tomorrow 10. Twilight 11. Out of Control 12. Fire 13. 11 O’Clock Tick Tock 14. The Ocean Disc 4 – US Festival, 30 May 1983 1. Gloria 2. I Threw a Brick Through a Window 3. A Day Without Me 4. An Cat Dubh/Into the Heart 5. New Year’s Day 6. Surrender 7. Two Hearts Beats As One 8. Sunday Bloody Sunday 9. The Electric Co. 10. I Will Follow 11. “40”

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thing is something I’m still working at. That level of aggression, both outside and inside, is not normal or appropriate.’ He went on, using the present tense for immediacy: ‘Bob Hewson – my father – comes from the inner city of Dublin. A real Dublin man, but loves the opera. Must be a little grandiose himself, OK? He is an autodidact, conversant in Shakespeare. His passion is music – he’s a great tenor. The great sadness of his life was that he didn’t learn the piano. Oddly enough, kids (were) not really encouraged to have big ideas, musically or otherwise. To dream was to be disappointed. Which, of course, explains my megalomania. ‘I was a bright kid, all right, early on. Then, in my teenage years, I went through a sort of awkward phase of thinking I was stupid. My schoolwork goes to shit; I can’t concentrate. I started to believe the world outside. Music was my revenge on that.’ This led to the invention of Lipton Village, he said: ‘We had a street gang that was very vivid – very surreal. We were fans of Monty Python. We’d put on performances in the city centre of Dublin. I’d get on the bus with a stepladder and an electric drill. Mad shit. Humour became our weapon. Just stand there, quiet – with the drill in my hand. Stupid teenage shit… Performance art. We invented this world, which we called Lipton Village. We were teenagers when we came up with this, a way of fighting back against the prevailing bootboy mentality… The order of the day was often being beaten to within an inch of your life by roaming gangs from one of the other neighbourhoods. When they asked where you were from, you had to guess right – or suffer. The harder they hit us, the more strange and surreal the response… I mean, myself and my other friend Guggi – we’re still very close friends – were handy enough. We could defend ourselves. But even though some of us became pretty good at violence ourselves, others didn’t. They got the shit kicked out of ’em. I thought that was kind of normal. I can remember incredible street battles. I remember one 8


(nutter) with an iron bar, just trying to bring it down on my skull as hard as he possibly could, and holding up a dustbin lid, which saved my life. Teenage kids have no sense of mortality – yours or theirs.’ ‘Lipton Village became a lifeline’, said Bono: ‘That was a defence mechanism. We used to laugh at people drinking. We didn’t drink. Because people who spilled out of the pubs on a Friday night and threw up on the laneway – we thought we were better than them. We were a collection of outsiders. We weren’t all the clever clogs. If you had a good record collection, that helped. And if you didn’t play soccer. That was part of it. Now, when you look back, there’s an arrogance to it; it’s like you’re looking down, really… At the jocks, at the skinheads, at the bootboys. Maybe it’s the same arrogance my father had, who’s listening to opera and likes cricket. Because it separates him.’

Click the above photo for a video link A youthful Bono describes breaking out from the Dublin scene. 9


Hewson Sr (about whom Bono wrote ‘Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own’ when he died) was clearly a major influence on his son, who recalled: ‘He was an amazing and very funny man. You had to be quick to live around him. But I don’t think I’m like him. I have a very different relationship with my kids than he had with me. He didn’t really have one with me. He generally thought that no one was as smart as him in the room. You know that Johnny Cash song “A Boy Named Sue” where he gives the kid a girl’s name, and the kid is beaten up at every stage in his life by macho guys, but in the end he becomes the toughest man… By not encouraging me to be a musician, even though that’s all he ever wanted to be, he’s made me one. By telling me never to have big dreams, or else that to dream is to be disappointed, he made me have big dreams. By telling me that the band would only last five minutes or ten minutes – we’re still here… He loved a row. Christmas Day at our house was just one long argument. We were shouting all the time – my brother, me, and then my uncles and aunts. He had a sense of moral indignation, that attitude of “You don’t have to put up with this shit.” He was very wise politically. He was from the left, but you know, he praised the guy on the right… I loved my dad. But we were combatants. Right until the end. Actually, his last words were an expletive. I was sleeping on a little mattress right beside him in the hospital. I woke up, and he made this big sound, this kind of roar, it woke me up. The nurse comes in and says, “You OK, Bob?” He kind of looks at her and whispers, “Would you fuck off and get me out of here? This place is like a prison. I want to go home.” Last words: “Fuck off”.’ Bono’s education in pop music began early – at the beginning of a golden era for British pop. As he recalled, his first breakthrough came in 1964: ‘The Beatles’ – “I Want to Hold Your Hand”. I remember watching the Beatles with my brother on St Stephen’s Day, the day after Christmas. The sense of a gang that they had about them… as well as the melodic power, the haircuts and the 10


U2 – WE WILL FOLLOW

Limited Edition On Inca Gold Swirl Vinyl U2’s second studio album ‘October’ was released on 12 October 1981. Following mixed reviews for the album U2 played fourteen dates across the United States in March 1982. From September to November 1982, the group recorded ‘War’. The new album was well received and the following year U2 embarked on the War Tour of Europe, the US, and Japan. As their reputation grew the band began to play larger venues, including several dates at European and American music festivals. Featuring the performance from The Orpheum Theater, Boston, on 6 May 1983, this vinyl album showcases the very best of U2 broadcasting live to air, a band at the peak of their powers, who were then undoubtedly the greatest live band on the planet. Side A 1. Out of Control 2. Two Hearts Beat As One 3. Seconds 4. Sunday Bloody Sunday 5. I Fall Down Side B 1. New Year’s Day 2. Gloria 3. Party Girl 4. I Will Follow 5. “40”

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11


sexuality. Which I was just probably processing. Then performers like Tom Jones. I’d see Tom Jones on Saturday night on a variety show – I must have been, like, eight years old – and he’s sweating, and he’s an animal, and he’s unrestrained. He’s singing with abandon. He has a big black voice, in a white guy. And then, of course, Elvis. I’m thinking, what is this? Because this is changing the temperature of the room. And people stopped talking.’ Later, he progressed to subtler music: ‘Before I got to The Who, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, and those kinds of things – I really remember John Lennon’s “Imagine”. I guess I’m 12; that’s one of my first albums. That really set fire to me. It was like he was whispering in your ear – his ideas of what’s possible. Different ways of seeing the world. When I was 14 and lost my mother, I went back to Plastic Ono Band. I listened to Bob Dylan at the same time. Listened to his acoustic albums. Then started to think about playing those acoustic songs. My brother had a Beatles songbook – so trying to teach myself guitar, and him sort of helping. And that song – which is actually such a genius song, now that I think about it, you’re embarrassed the day after you learnt it – “If I Had a Hammer”. That’s a tattoo, that song… The Who: about age 15, that starts really connecting. In among the din and the noise, the power chords and the rage, there’s another voice. “Nobody knows what it’s like behind blue eyes…” And the beginnings of what I would discover is one of the essential aspects for me – and why I’m drawn to a piece of music – which has something to do with the quest. The sense that there’s another world to be explored. I got that from Pete Townshend; I got that from Bob Dylan.’ He went on: ‘If you’re interested in folk, in words and whisperings, that quiet thing. I was in my room listening on headphones on a tape recorder. It’s very intimate. It’s like talking to somebody on the phone, like talking to John Lennon on the phone. I’m not exaggerating to say that. This music changed the shape of the room. It changed the shape of the world outside the 12


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room; the way you looked out the window and what you were looking at. I remember John singing “Oh My Love”. It’s like a little hymn. It’s certainly a prayer of some kind – even if he was an atheist. “Oh, my love / For the first time in my life / My eyes can see / I see the wind / Oh, I see the trees / Everything is clear in our world”. For me it was like he was talking about the veil lifting off, the scales falling from the eyes. Seeing out the window with a new clarity that love brings you. I remember that feeling. Yoko came up to me when I was in my 20s, and she put her hand on me and she said, “You are John’s son”. What an amazing compliment!’ But the clearest indicator of the band’s future came from the snotty sounds of punk, which left its mark all over their early, untrained sound and their upbeat, DIY attitude. As Bono later explained, ‘I was in school. It was the obnoxious-teenager phase. Schoolwork’s gone to shit, angry, living at home with two men. My friends are all gonna have big futures, ’cause they’re very clever. I’m probably not gonna be able to concentrate enough to be that clever. I’ve always had these melodies in my head. In quiet times – at the local club, in a church hall – if I’m beside a piano, I put my finger on a key. I figured that if I press a pedal under that – boom – this note can fill the whole hall. Reverb, you know. It turns this church into a cathedral. I hear a rhyme for the note in my head – I really do. I can find another note that sounds good with it – but I’ve had no way to express it. Then a note appears from this kid 29 years ago last Saturday. Like really a kid – he’s 14, and I’m 16. He wants to start a band. He plays the drums. So my friend Reggie Manuel says, “You have to go”. He puts me on the back of his motorcycle, and he takes me out to this suburban house, where Larry Mullen lives. Larry is in this tiny kitchen, and he’s got his drum kit set up. And there’s a few other boys. There’s Dave Evans – a kinda brainy-looking kid – who’s 15. And his brother Dik – even brainier-looking – who’s built his own guitar. He’s a rocket scientist – a card-carrying genius. 14


‘Larry starts playing the kit – it’s an amazing sound, just hit the cymbal. The Edge hit a guitar chord, which I’d never heard on electric guitar. I mean, it is the open road. Kids started coming from all around the place – all girls. They know that Larry lives there. They’re already screaming; they’re already climbing up the door. He was completely used to this, we discover, and he’s taking the hose to them already. Literally, the garden hose. And so that starts. Within a month I start going out with (his future wife) Ali. I mean, I had met her before, but I ask her out… Yes, a very good month. What’s interesting is, in the months leading up to this, I was probably at the lowest ebb in my life. I was feeling just teenage angst. I didn’t know if I wanted to continue living – that kind of despair. I was praying to a God I didn’t know was listening.’ Although Ireland had its own punk scene, albeit more in Ulster than in Eire, it was English punk that had more of an influence on U2, thanks to Adam Clayton, as Bono added: ‘This is September of ’76. Punk has just started in London that summer. Adam goes to London the next summer. London was burning. And he comes back with the Stranglers, The Jam, The Clash. Oddly enough, though, in our very first rehearsals, we were talking about what music we should play. Everyone got to make suggestions. I wanted to play the Rolling Stones, from the “High Tide and Green Grass” era, and the Beach Boys. I was getting tired of the hard-rock thing… Big hair and extended guitar solos. I was saying, “Let’s get back to this rock ’n’ roll thing”. Then people said, “Oh, have you heard The Clash?” And then seeing The Jam on Top of the Pops in ’76, just going, “They’re our age! This is possible”. Then the Radiators from Space – our local punk band – had a song called… “Telecaster” or something: “Gonna push my Telecaster through the television screen / ’Cause I don’t like what’s going down”. And it’s a 12-bar thing – so you can play it.’ 15


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Punk left its mark on the young U2 – but so had more subtle music, as Bono recalled: ‘In the ’70s, club culture was the enemy. It was girl’s music and we were boys. I did buy “Love Machine”. Was it by the Stylistics? There was an instrumental on the B-side that had a serious groove. I bought that record but I don’t think I told anyone because it was just at the time punk rock was breaking and punk rock was about as male, white and hormonal a form of music as you could find. It’s funny as you get older that the music you loved as a boy now just sounds so wrong and so long. And the music that was supposed to be so trivial and throwaway at the time has lasted the test of time. Pop music and dance music from then sound so cool now, whereas progressive rock and the like? Critics in rock ’n’ roll used to shit all over the Bee Gees. Fair enough, the hairdos were appalling, but they were dismissed in favour of prog rock!’ He went on: ‘To be perfectly honest, it was about the mid-’80s before I got all funky and into dance stuff. We didn’t get rhythm until we went on the road with BB King. R&B was where we discovered rhythm and that wasn’t until the late ’80s. While everyone was doing drugs during the summer of love in London, we were in Memphis hanging out with the Muscle Shoals brass section and getting into rhythm that way. I guess it came together for us with “Achtung Baby”.’ The Edge looked back on the early days in a revealing interview with Guitar World, saying: ‘At first we weren’t very ambitious about what we played; the idea of playing at all was enough. We’d play anything – we hardly knew what was going on. Those were the days before MTV. The only shows we could pick up from the BBC were Top of the Pops and The Old Grey Whistle Test. Everyone who was interested in music watched those shows. That was what you talked about with your mates when you were talking about music. Then, in the late ’70s, The Jam were on Top of the Pops and, a few weeks later, the Sex Pistols, and suddenly 17


everything changed. We saw that kids like ourselves were on television, playing songs that were really kind of simple. That sent our imagination into orbit. Right after that we started writing our own songs. I don’t think we ever thought that we could write songs or that we could take it seriously until that moment.’ The band gelled quickly: however, Bono is a unique character. As The Edge later said, this takes some getting used to: ‘I used to get a little worried about his stage performances… there was something that used to disturb me slightly, and I could never figure it out. I also noticed that whenever he told a story he never stuck to the facts, he’d always embroider and jazz it up until it was a great story. The essence of what he was saying was still true, but the actual facts were… very different! And this used to bother me, but I’ve just realised that the facts aren’t that important, it’s whether it’s a good story or not that’s important. And now I’ve applied that to what he’s like onstage and I feel a little more happy. In some sort of intuitive way, not in a cynical way, he’s very aware of performance and whether it’s powerful and effective. He’s not really worried about justifying it, it’s always heartfelt, but he will always intuitively go for the thing that works.’ Bono, at least in the early days, appeared to be so full of ideas that he was almost inarticulate: ‘I warn you, I am completely unable to explain myself at times… even to string three words together can be hard, and this is very tragic if people think you supposedly have the gift of the gab. These days, I feel like I’ve got less and less to say. Something… something’s happened that’s kind of changed my point of view, which is that I’ve really got interested in this idea of the song. It’s like, out of the air, with a guitar or piano and three or four chords, you just say all you have to say, and it’s incredible, because this goes on the radio all over the world, and people in traffic jams hear this song and… it’s just something that never dawned on me before. One of the things people forget about our audience is that they know our songs from the radio, 18


and the music has become a part of their lives. When they hear those songs, their own selves are caught up in them, and they are in some way applauding that connection.’ Although most observers assume that the more vocal Bono and The Edge have been the band’s prime movers since the early days, the latter had an interesting revelation to make on that score, saying: ‘The one member of the band who believed we could get somewhere was Adam. He was always talking in terms of record deals, making albums and being on the road. To us that was a joke, but by 1980 we all recognised there was something happening. We didn’t understand it for a while. You can call it chemistry, because there is no way to describe what it is when a particular group of musicians is playing together and you get the feeling that there is something special there. There was some kind of spark present when the four of us played together. I think we

Click the above photo for a video link DJ BP Fallon reminisces about meeting a young Adam Clayton. 19


did a lot of touring at that time, after we really started to take it seriously. We played all the time, wherever we could, in this country, in England, up and down the M1 in a transit van. When we came to make our first record, a lot of the material had been tested before live crowds. So we pulled these songs apart and put them back together again. We knew what was strong about them. Therefore that first album, “Boy�, was the easiest for us to record.’

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The Songwriting

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hings moved fast, fuelled by the band-members’ talent for putting on a powerful show. After winning £500 in a talent contest on St Patrick’s Day in Limerick, Jackie Heyden of CBS Records arranged their first demo session. Bill Graham, a writer with Ireland’s perennial rock magazine, Hot Press, was impressed with the band and introduced them to a manager, Paul McGuinness. A three year contract with CBS Ireland was signed, and U2 then released a three song EP in September 1979 entitled ‘U2 3’ – it contained ‘Out of Control’, ‘Stories for Boys’ and ‘Boy/Girl’. The band then signed a worldwide contract with Chris Blackwell’s Island label in March 1980. 21


The Edge once recalled that Bruce Springsteen had been an early fan: ‘He came down with The Who’s Pete Townshend, and later again on his own. I think it was a good show, but I remember Townshend being particularly complimentary, which blew my mind. Here was a guy – two, actually – who were among the greats, and they liked what we were doing. It was such affirmation. Because at that point the music media were starting to get a bit frosty towards us. Early on, they had been very supportive, because, I guess, we were such a novelty: an idealistic post-punk group coming out of Dublin… We had seen those TV shows and read all the British music magazines, but by the time punk got to Ireland a lot of the context had been removed. We didn’t really know anything about British art and the fashion scene that inspired punk music. What we got was the energy, the aggression and the vitality of the music – plus this concept that you could do it, that there was nothing to stop you from doing it. The music we were making seemed to come out of this Irish thing. We felt like outsiders, but that didn’t bother us. We were not part of any scene. We were very much on our own from day one.’ The songs had apparently sprung from nowhere, as The Edge recalled: ‘At times we were surprised by the music that we would make. I can remember how, after recording our first album, we were listening to it, really loving it and being proud of it, but also thinking, “Where did that come from?” I didn’t know how it had happened. That was a funny feeling. Some of it seemed like magic. It just kind of came together. We operated a lot on instinct and everything happened really fast. There was a certain kind of freshness. A song like “I Will Follow”, from that first album, still stands up as a great song. It still sounds wild to me.’ The ‘Boy’ LP attracted some attention on its 1980 release but did better on its reissue the following year, where UK music fans were drawn to the passion of this young band from across the water. In the wake of punk, a new awareness had developed of the power of 22


a simple, anthemic song, and this was U2’s forte at this stage – The Edge’s grinding guitar would sit atop Clayton’s simple, overdriven bass, while Bono (whose vocals were still untrained enough that the band were required to tune down to E flat) would give his all. The ‘October’ album, also released in 1981, came after extended touring and was unusual for its lyrical focus on the band’s strong Christian beliefs. Of the ‘October’ album, The Edge later recalled: ‘Some of it is excruciatingly embarrassing, because of the actual youth of the band. We were so young. It comes over so clearly how inexperienced we were. But there are some incredible ideas on that record, and I’m more amazed at the quality of these ideas, in the end, than embarrassed by how young we sound. “October” itself was a really great little piece. I wrote that initially as a soundtrack piece, but everyone really liked it and Bono came up with this great lyric idea, so it made more sense. But it doesn’t sound like anything else on the album or any other album at the time. Maybe that’s why it has aged so well… We just got swept up by this wave of what you might call punk, or DIY, enthusiasm: do it yourself, you can do it. Part of that was this concept that it should be “you”. So we were determined not to fall in with the same musical styles that so many groups that were playing around bars in Dublin were in, which was mostly the blues. So, for a guitar player, it was: “don’t play the blues, find other things”. Since we were a threepiece, I found that I could play this drone by finding a string that I could use and play against. Playing melodies over one continuous tone through the song was like a real unusual style that I hadn’t heard before and that became us. The Celtic aspect must have been in the back of my mind because the drone thing is a very Irish thing to do. You find it in the uilleann pipes in particular. I wasn’t thinking about it at the time, but it must have been there as an influence.’ Many songs with a religious theme appeared on the early U2 albums. Unusually, as Bono himself recalled in an interview 23


with Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner, the band began their career by writing about God and only later progressed to writing songs about sexual subjects. ‘I knew that we were different on our street because my mother was Protestant. And that she’d married a Catholic,’ he said. ‘At a time of strong sectarian feeling in the country, I knew that was special. We didn’t go to the neighbourhood schools – we got on a bus. I picked up the courage they had to have had to follow through on their love. Even then I prayed more outside of the church than inside. It gets back to the songs I was listening to; to me, they were prayers. “How many roads must a man walk down?” That wasn’t a rhetorical question to me. It was addressed to God. It’s a question I wanted to know the answer to, and I’m wondering, “Who do I ask that to?” I’m not gonna ask a schoolteacher. When John Lennon sings, “Oh, my love for the first time in my life, my eyes are wide open”, these songs

Click the above photo for a video link Bono is interviewed about the making of ‘October’ in 1984. 24


have an intimacy for me that’s not just between people, I realise now, not just sexual intimacy. A spiritual intimacy. ‘There was also my friend Guggi. His parents were not just Protestant, they were some obscure cult of Protestant. In America, it would be Pentecostal. His father was like a creature from the Old Testament. He spoke constantly of the Scriptures and had the sense that the end was nigh – and to prepare for it… I’d go to church with them too. Though myself and Guggi are laughing at the absurdity of some of this, the rhetoric is getting through to us. We don’t realise it, but we’re being immersed in the Holy Scriptures. That’s what we took away from this: this rich language, these ancient tracts of wisdom.’ Religion, as well as inspiring him lyrically, also represented a deeper current of cultural meaning to Bono: ‘Here’s the strange bit: most of the people that you grew up with in black music had a similar baptism of the spirit, right? The difference is that most of these performers felt they could not express their sexuality before God. They had to turn away. So rock ’n’ roll became backsliders’ music. They were running away from God. But I never believed that. I never saw it as being a choice, an either/or thing. Look at the people who have formed my imagination. Bob Dylan. 1976 – he’s going through similar stuff. You buy Patti Smith’s “Horses” – “Jesus died for somebody’s sins / But not mine…” And she turns Van Morrison’s “Gloria” into liturgy. She’s wrestling with these demons – Catholicism in her case – right the way through to Wave, where she’s talking to the pope… The music that really turns me on is either running towards God or away from God. Both recognise the pivot, that God is at the centre of the jaunt. So the blues, on one hand – running away; gospel, the Mighty Clouds of Joy – running towards. And later you came to analyse it and figure it out. ‘The blues are like the Psalms of David. Here was this character, living in a cave, whose outbursts were as much criticism as praise. 25


There’s David singing, “Oh, God – where are you when I need you? / You call yourself God?” And you go, this is the blues. Both deal with the relationship with God. That’s really it. I’ve since realised that anger with God is very valid. We wrote a song about that on the “Pop” album – people were confused by it – “Wake Up Dead Man”: “Jesus, Jesus help me / I’m alone in this world / And a fucked-up world it is, too / Tell me, tell me the story / The one about eternity / And the way it’s all gonna be / Wake up, wake up dead man.”’ It was 1983’s ‘War’ album that really brought the band into international focus, largely down to the popularity of the ‘New Year’s Day’ single, a piledriving anthem which focused on U2’s knack for a singalong chorus, a catchy but simple guitar riff and an expert ability to change the atmosphere from mellow to urgent and back again at the flip of a coin. Much of this was attributable

Click the above photo for a video link Bono discusses how nationality has affected U2’s music. 26


to The Edge’s burgeoning guitar skills – he has often been cited as one of the very best players of his generation and has his own unique style that does not involve pointless shredding. Rather, he focuses on atmospherics with a delay pedal and other simple tools. As The Edge explained of the U2 songwriting process: ‘We’re turned on by great songs, great songwriting, soul is the key element above anything. I think it has to connect, it has to mean something, it has to reveal something. Great rhythm, and just great sound – different sounds than what we’ve ever used before, different arrangement styles and just a lot of experimentation… We always try to concentrate whatever we’re doing at any given moment – right now, making our new record – we’ve got all our focus on that. When we finish, then we start to think “OK, how are we gonna play these songs live?” and that becomes another interesting turn for a lot of the material because in the process of rearranging things for live, you can really strip away the studio textures, the studio approach, and you get to the real essence of the piece and I think a lot of the material on this next record will work really well under that kind of a process. I think the material at its very core is really about the four members of the band playing together, so I think it’s going to work very well live.’ Bono once said with a grin, ‘I have written some straight love songs only to have put them aside because they might elicit projectile vomiting from the great outdoors! So I like love songs that are bitter-sweet, and I like women to be more complex in songs because that’s my experience of them in life. But I think everyone gets it in the neck, don’t they? Not just women. I would think if anything I’m harder on the singer than the subject…’ The Edge later recalled of this early period: ‘We knew when were getting into the “War” album that we wanted something really hard-hitting. It was a conscious thing… It was a big word to use and we knew it at the time. I guess that album wrapped up all our beliefs and confusion in one package. A lot of political 27


feelings, the anger about what was happening in Northern Ireland. Plus the spiritual side of what we were doing was also in flux – we were rejecting conventional religion at that point, because it just wasn’t for us. We realised that sectarianism was just another form of tribalism, just an excuse that people were using for killing one another. It had become an ugly thing. We saw a struggle on every front, and that word “war” – as big as it was – encompassed where we were at in our own struggle to try and figure out what was right and where we were going. It was the right word to make sense of a country going through a very hard time, politically, spiritually, in every sense. That album had “Sunday Bloody Sunday” on it, which was our kind of statement on the North. We wrote that song without ever considering how serious an issue it was to everyone else and how outrageous it was for a rock ’n’ roll band to write about. To us it was the most natural thing. We never held back on anything. Everything that we were going through went into our music. In a way, probably the only way we could articulate some of the things that we were feeling was through our music. We were really clear that violent struggle was never going to work. We were very angry about the fact that people were still dying in what we saw as a vain, stupid war in Northern Ireland. So our stance was completely anti-war.’ Bono was immediately identified as the spokesman of the band, due to his onstage statements and air of mystique. But this didn’t sit well with him, for a long time: ‘I think I’m a kind of part-time rock ’n’ roll star. We’re probably the worst rock stars ever, we’ve got all the wrong equipment… these arms are stuck on the wrong way. Part of it with U2 is the falling over and picking ourselves up off the ground, part of it is sitting up late at night in Philadelphia and saying something that will put a noose round my neck. I met Elvis Costello a few months ago and he said to me, “I’m ambivalent about U2, I love it and I hate it”. He said, “You walk this tightrope that none of your contemporaries will walk – they’re afraid to walk 28


29


it – and when you stay on it I bow my head. But you fall off it so many times”. He’s right. We do fall off, a lot, and onstage I’ll try for something and it won’t work and… but it might work, and that’s the point. It might work. ‘I’ve been sensing that I should just shut up,’ he added. ‘I keep stressing that what’s special about U2 is the music, not the musicians. The more we do interviews and get involved in the paraphernalia around the music, the more we become the focus of attention rather than the words I write, or the music.’ American and European tours followed the ‘War’ album, which led to a live record called ‘Under a Blood Red Sky’. Suddenly U2 were the hot new band to listen to, even if their flag-waving excesses and somewhat earnest political message looks incredibly dated from this point in time many years later. But the band’s masterstroke was to engage the experimental producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois to work on their next album. Eno, sometime keyboardist with glam-rock legends Roxy Music and the inventor of ambient music with his legendary Music for Airports, and Lanois, a Canadian singer-songwriter who knew exactly how to bring out the best in any of a given range of acts, created a layered, atmospheric approach on 1985’s ‘The Unforgettable Fire’. The new sound – full of deep sonic canyons and dark, almost gothic textures – was worlds away from the clenched fist polemics of the previous three records. The new sound was utterly beautiful, and was – with hindsight – the critical turning point that stopped U2 from becoming an also-ran band like the Alarm. Such was the album’s depth that Rolling Stone magazine labelled U2 ‘The Band of the Eighties’ – the latest sign that their appeal had now transcended all but the most niche boundaries inside four short years. Asked later about ‘The Unforgettable Fire’, the guitarist pondered: ‘I really like it now – but for reasons different from when we recorded it. It was a real important record, and I think it 30


was quite influential. A lot of bands have taken sounds and ideas from “The Unforgettable Fire”. It was quite innovative, I think. We consciously went into the record trying to do something new, and Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois were also in a phase of real experimentation. They had been working with avant-garde musicians like Harold Budd at the time, and were in the process of inventing what we now call ambient music. We talked a lot about using some of the ideas they were developing and applying them to rock. We really wanted to explore using room ambience, the sound of a room and of musicians playing together in a room, instead of using an artificial sense of space, which was a very common thing earlier in the ’80s. We wanted to try and record in a more naturalistic way, so that you could get the impression of a space, giving the recording a real sense of dimension. Eno was interested in these ideas, so we did do a lot of playing together in a room and recorded it. You can hear it on some of the tracks. It’s got a real sound!’ Reviews weren’t all positive, recalled The Edge: ‘I can’t remember the reviews really affecting us that much, but I know that for ourselves – particularly Bono – we were frustrated that some of the songs on “The Unforgettable Fire” were left in a semi-raw state. I know, for instance, that Bono would have loved the opportunity to finish “Elvis Presley and America”, and to really develop the lyrics and the melodies, to discipline that piece into a cohesive song. And I know that, on “Bad”, there are lines in the lyric that he would have liked to be able to rewrite. Personally, I love both songs, especially the lyrics in “Bad”. I think they’re among his best. We were forced to rush through some of the final tunes on that record, which, in retrospect, I don’t think was necessarily a bad thing. I think you always have to speed up the process towards the end, just to get it finished. That’s natural. I don’t think it was to the detriment of the album. With “The Joshua Tree” we probably did a bit more work before starting the record, and we had a real idea for 31


32


it. We really set out to make a particular record, which helped, and that’s why it has a sense of something more fully rounded.’ U2’s religious stance was, Bono soon realised, a double-edged sword in some territories: ‘We were doing street theatre in Dublin (before forming the band), and we met some people who were madder than us. They were a kind of inner-city group living life like it was the first century AD. They were expectant of signs and wonders; lived a kind of early church religion. It was a commune. People who had cash shared it. They were passionate, and they were funny, and they seemed to have no material desires. Their teaching of the Scriptures reminded me of those people whom I’d heard as a youngster with Guggi. I realise now, looking back, that it was just insatiable intellectual curiosity. But it got a little too intense, as it always does; it became a bit of a holy huddle. And these people – who are full of inspirational teaching and great ideas – they pretended that our dress, the way we looked, didn’t bother them. But very soon it appeared that was not the case. They started asking questions about the music we were listening to. Why are you wearing earrings? Why do you have a mohawk?… If you were going to study the teaching, it demanded a rejection of the world. Even then we understood that you can’t escape the world, wherever you go. Least of all in very intense religious meetings – which can be more corrupt and more bent, in terms of the pressures they exert on people, than the outside forces.’ He went on, telling Jan Wenner: ‘So now – cut to 1980. Irish rock group, who’ve been through the fire of a certain kind of revival, a Christian-type revival, go to America. Turn on the TV the night you arrive and there’s all these people talking from the Scriptures. But they’re quite obviously raving lunatics. Suddenly you go, what’s this? And you change the channel. There’s another one. You change the channel, and there’s another second-hand car salesman. You think, oh, my God. But their words sound so similar… to the words out of our mouths. So what happens? You 33


learn to shut up. You say, whoa, what’s this going on? You go oddly still and quiet. If you talk like this around here, people will think you’re one of those. And you realise that these are the traders – as in t-r-a-d-e-r-s – in the temple. Until you get to the black church, and you see that they have similar ideas. But their religion seems to be involved in social justice; the fight for equality. And a Rolling Stone journalist, Jim Henke, who has believed in you more than anyone up to this point, hands you a book called Let the Trumpet Sound – which is the biography of Dr Martin Luther King. And it just changes your life. ‘Even though I’m a believer, I still find it really hard to be around other believers: they make me nervous, they make me twitch. I sorta watch my back. Except when I’m with the black church. I feel relaxed, feel at home; my kids – I can take them there; there’s singing, there’s music… If I could put it simply, I would say that I

Click the above photo for a video link Bono discusses the effect of religion on Ireland in 1982. 34


believe there’s a force of love and logic in the world, a force of love and logic behind the universe. And I believe in the poetic genius of a creator who would choose to express such unfathomable power as a child born in “straw poverty”; i.e. the story of Christ makes sense to me. As an artist, I see the poetry of it. It’s so brilliant. That this scale of creation, and the unfathomable universe, should describe itself in such vulnerability, as a child. That is mind-blowing to me. I guess that would make me a Christian. Although I don’t use the label, because it is so very hard to live up to. I feel like I’m the worst example of it, so I just kinda keep my mouth shut.’ Bono realises, it seems, that such opinions are not easy for the mainstream to accept: ‘These are hard subjects to talk about because you can sound like such a dickhead. I’m the sort of character who’s got to have an anchor. I want to be around immovable objects. I want to build my house on a rock, because even if the waters are not high around the house, I’m going to bring back a storm. I have that in me. So it’s sort of underpinning for me. I don’t read (the Bible) as a historical book. I don’t read it as, “Well, that’s good advice”. I let it speak to me in other ways. They call it the rhema. It’s a hard word to translate from Greek, but it sort of means it changes in the moment you’re in. It seems to do that for me… It’s a plumb line for me. In the Scriptures, it is described as a clear pool that you can see yourself in, to see where you’re at, if you’re still enough. I’m writing a poem at the moment called The Pilgrim and His Lack of Progress. I’m not sure I’m the best advertisement for this stuff… I’m wary of faith outside of actions. I’m wary of religiosity that ignores the wider world. In 2001, only seven per cent of evangelicals polled felt it incumbent upon themselves to respond to the AIDS emergency. This appalled me. I asked for meetings with as many church leaders as would have them with me. I used my background in the Scriptures to speak to them about the so-called leprosy of our age and how I felt Christ would respond to it. And they had better get to it quickly, 35


or they would be very much on the other side of what God was doing in the world. Amazingly, they did respond. I couldn’t believe it. It almost ruined it for me – ’cause I love giving out about the church and Christianity.’ Like Queen, alongside them, the career of U2 was given a further boost by their appearance at the seminal Live Aid show at Wembley Stadium in London, even though the band’s rendition of their hymn-like classic ‘Bad’ overran to an astonishing 12 minutes and Bono’s messianic hugging of a woman who ran onstage made a few people snigger. In fact, the singer felt crushed after the show and even volunteered to leave the band, feeling that he had ruined the set – but he was persuaded to change his mind by a friend who told him that in fact U2’s set had been among the concert’s high points. The Edge said of Live Aid: ‘The funny thing about that is, when we came off stage we were convinced that we had performed

Click the above photo for a video link Journalist Laura Lee Davis describes the impact of U2’s Live Aid performance. 36


terribly. We were really depressed. The idea that we’d actually experienced a mutual epiphany of some kind with the audience at Live Aid was so far from our minds. We thought the exact opposite, that we’d played quite poorly. Bono had gone into the crowd, as he’d done so many times before, but on this occasion he felt it had been kind of clumsy and that generally the whole thing hadn’t lifted up. I still meet people who talk about that show and how important it was. It’s amazing that, at the time, those were not our thoughts or intentions at all.’ In 1986 U2 played Self Aid, a benefit gig for Ireland’s many unemployed, and also performed on the Conspiracy of Hope tour for Amnesty International. Like Simple Minds and Peter Gabriel, U2 were now joining the ranks of major rock stars who signed up for various political causes in the 1980s – a stance that suited their still-anthemic music down to the ground. The next album, the utterly breathtaking ‘The Joshua Tree’, released in 1987, was another Eno/Lanois collaboration and performed better than any expectations, becoming recognised as one of the best rock albums in recent history. It was the fastestselling record ever in the UK on its release, and reached No 1 in 22 countries. The subsequent world tour included over 100 shows, and U2 were labelled by Time magazine as ‘rock’s hottest ticket’. Bono had some interesting things to say about the perception of U2 as makers of big, non-ironic music: ‘There’s a spell that’s gonna have to be broken, in London, in New York, in the music business. I don’t know how it’s gonna be broken, but I just sense that a lot of people are crippled emotionally, y’know, withered… I think there’s a lot of music that so wants to be made, but it’s so frightened and scared. When Eno came to us for “The Unforgettable Fire”, he talked to us about “rock ’n’ roll with a wink” – how rock had become a parody of itself, how it was only acceptable with a wink. It’s white music that’s the problem, it’s white music that is the straightjacket. White people in their suits and ties – and under 37


their torn shirts they’re still wearing them – are afraid to take their trousers off in public. And somebody’s got to burst the bubble, not for us because we’ve burst it ourselves and we’ve kind of set ourselves free, but for all the people who aren’t making the music they could be making because… because somebody winked and their eyes got stuck… I remember our first gig in America, at the Mudd Club in New York, and these people from Premier Talent coming up to us and saying, “It’s gonna be interesting when you guys play Madison Square Garden”. I mean, that was everything we were against, and we were against playing these aircraft hangars right up to the time I went to see Bruce Springsteen at Wembley Arena. Now I enjoy these places. Instead of a backdrop of stained glass windows we’ve got people. And we are making big music. When we start “Pride” it floats over the audience, and to confine it would be a lie… And yet at the same time we’re the antithesis of those big stadium bands. This is not the cycle complete again, this is a garage band that has left garageland.’ Brian Eno was absolutely integral to the U2 sound by the time that ‘The Joshua Tree’ came around, said The Edge: ‘When it came to working in the studio with Brian, and Danny Lanois as well, there were no lines of demarcation. He would throw keyboard parts into the songs. Danny would pick up an acoustic guitar or a bass, or shakers or tambourines, whatever, and play along. We were functioning like a six-piece for a lot of that record, but still we had our sound together before we went into the studio. We had “Bullet the Blue Sky” pretty much written, “Red Hill Mining Town” and most of “With or Without You”. We wrote “Running to Stand Still” while recording the album, as well as “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “One Tree Hill”. We wrote “Where the Streets Have No Name” during a break. We were missing a tune, and I knew it, I sensed it. So everyone went on holiday and I stayed behind and came up with the music to “Where the Streets Have No Name”. I remember thinking to myself, there are no 38


songs on this record that we’re gonna play live. So I set down to write a live song, and that’s what I came up with.’ ‘The Joshua Tree’ sold 15 million albums, making it U2’s most successful record to date – but the press was not kind, said The Edge: ‘We had to endure a certain kind of cynicism that pervaded the media in the UK. It all started with the punk ethos, which itself had been created by the media. This ethos really influenced everyone’s attitude to music, to the extent that, in Britain, if you were successful you were irrelevant immediately. I think our becoming successful in America was, in particular, deemed a cardinal sin by the media in Britain. We had sold out, and as such were beyond respect. That was the way it was. Since we’ve always perceived ourselves as outsiders, this business didn’t bother us, but I think that attitude broke up a lot of really amazing English groups. The only time that they revised this concept was when Oasis came around. That’s when the British rock ’n’ roll media stopped eating its young, which they had been doing since the late ’70s. The Clash broke up because of this, so did the Smiths, and so did many other talented groups that couldn’t deal with the pressure created by the charge that they’d “sold out”. It’s this zealot mentality which promotes the idea that when something stops being exclusive and underground and starts being popular, it suddenly turns into the enemy. I think it’s just bogus, really bogus, and I think many people have actually realised this.’ Cleverly, director Phil Joanou was employed to film some of the Joshua Tree American dates as well as footage of U2 on the road between shows: this material, shot mostly in Denver, Colorado and Tempe, Arizona, was edited together to make the film Rattle and Hum (named after the noise of a guitar lead being inserted into an amplifier jack socket) and the soundtrack went into an album of the same name. Rattle and Hum was a phenomenon. Tens of thousands of people flocked to see the film and millions more bought the 39


album, and for a time U2 were practically viewed as gods. The movie – which depicted the band as they attempted to reveal the essence of Americana, Elvis’s Graceland house, New Orleans street singers and all – was hailed as a revolutionary concept at the time, but even a couple of years later was regarded as a completely pretentious piece of self-indulgence, with the unsmiling band deep in an intellectual fervour. Meanwhile, Bono’s horrific mullet – a subject to which he would often return with great embarrassment in later years – has been continually lampooned for almost two decades now. Of the Rattle and Hum experience, The Edge recalled; ‘Memphis is one of those magical cities. I remember vividly working in Sun Studios and going down to the river afterwards and hanging out. You could feel the spirit of the place and the music in the air. It’s really a musical intersection, and that’s what has historically contributed to the great variety and hybrids of music that has come out of it. It was amazing being in Sun Studio and hauling out this old microphone. And Jack Clement, who had worked with Elvis in the same place, he was saying, “You know, that was the exact mike we used to record Elvis. We used to put a little bit of slapback echo and that was the vocal sound”. So we set up the same treatment and it was amazing. Bono sang a few lines and there was that sound!’ The first single, ‘Desire’, was a huge hit and was trumpeted by Island as U2’s ‘return to their roots’ or words to that effect – the idea being that the song was a simple, good-time dose of bluesy rock. Audiences loved it and the other ‘Rattle and Hum’ singles – the similar ‘Angel of Harlem’, the excellent ballad ‘All I Want Is You’ and the BB King collaboration ‘When Love Comes to Town’. The Love Town tour then moved through Australia, New Zealand and Japan. Of ‘Rattle and Hum’, The Edge looked back with the words to a Guitar World interviewer: ‘When the band first started, we made 40


41


a conscious decision to reject American roots music. We had said to ourselves, “We’re not buying into it. It’s not for us”. But around the mid-’80s, we started getting interested in gospel music, which we’d explored on “The Joshua Tree” with songs like “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”. We were listening to Mahalia Jackson and the Mighty Clouds of Joy at the time, and when we went to America we started to hear the real thing: real blues, real great country, real gospel. It was actually forcing us to re-examine our attitude toward the American roots world we’d rejected previously, and in the process of that, I guess, we got inspired and found ourselves starting to write songs in that style. It really was a change for us. ‘The mistake was not the album. The mistake was allowing the movie to become a much bigger thing than it should have been. Our original idea was to create a small movie that would be released in small cinemas around the world. Something that would be more for our fans than for the mass market. What happened was that, at some point, we allowed the movie to change from being a small budget film that we controlled into a major Hollywood film that was distributed through Paramount and released in hundreds of cinemas across America. To be honest, I cannot remember how it escalated. I can only remember that it wasn’t my idea. In any case, a huge promotional budget was put together, and I remember seeing a six-foot poster of my face, for which someone airbrushed my stubble to make it look more perfect. Then I realised, “Oh, my God, something’s gone wrong, this is not what we’re about, this is not where we ever wanted to go”. So we had to endure the backlash of there being too much U2 everywhere. It wasn’t a plan. It was simply that we weren’t paying attention and suddenly this is where we ended up.’ He went on: ‘We paid for everything for the first four or five months, and spent probably a million-and-a-half dollars of our own money before we started to find partners to do the film with. 42


I think Paramount covered most of the costs, but we still ended up losing a few hundred thousand dollars. We certainly never got anything out of it. And it took us a lot of work. Bono and I, particularly, sat in with Phil Joanou for many weeks and edited a lot of that. It really messed us up.’ As the band gained a hold in America, with many of their fans fundamentalist Christians, The Edge was forced to be down to earth about what it all meant, saying: ‘Honestly, the whole U2 phenomenon is probably going to amount to little real change. I think we’re quite sanguine about that. But that’s not the only reason we would be doing this, we’re doing it because it’s worth doing and because we think it’s the right thing to do. I suppose we could put in our liner notes: “please do not mistake Bono for God”. Perhaps you have to accept it as an inherent flaw. At some stage we came to the conclusion that really there’s no way you

Click the above photo for a video link DJ BP Fallon describes U2’s hard-working tour ethic. 43


can be responsible for how people interpret what you’re doing. You know what you’re trying to do, what you mean when you’re putting your songs together, but beyond that you have absolutely no control, and something you have no control over you can’t worry about… I think because we’re still a bit of a cult group – this is the enigma of our situation, that we’re not a mainstream act, we don’t get that much radio play on the big stations – there is, I suppose, a certain underground value to being into U2, something a little more exclusive. We seem to have reinvented the touring strategy for breaking a band, which no one else did for a long time. Our album sales have never reflected our live business. We don’t sell as many records as you might expect. The diversity you see at our shows is purely that these people have heard about the shows through friends. At the same time, what we’re doing must have some sort of universal appeal. It’s not a hybrid thing, it’s not designed for people who know all about the Velvet Underground.’

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The New Era

A

pocalyptically, a New Year’s Eve 1989 show at Dublin’s Point venue ended with Bono announcing from the stage that it was ‘time to go away and dream it all up again’. He couldn’t have dreamt how prophetic his words would be… In November 1991 part two of U2’s career began with the release of ‘Achtung Baby’, a powerful record that showcased an entirely new approach. While the basic riffage and emotional balladeering of the band’s earlier songs were still present, U2 had discovered irony, kitsch and the funk – a world away from the earnest anthems, furrowed-brow seriousness and straight ahead, no jokes coldness of their earlier works. Bono wore an omnipresent pair of 45


bug-eye shades and cultivated an onstage alter ego, Macphisto; The Edge brought in some bizarre guitar effects, grew the campest handlebar moustache in history and sported sequins and a cowboy hat; Clayton appeared nude on the sleeve; and Mullen Jr played some funky drummer beats for the first time. The band had more or less completely reinvented its image and its attitude. Asked about the reinvention, The Edge mused: ‘I think we get bored quickly, and there is a hunger in the band to keep finding new things to turn us on, to inspire us. We’re hungry for new ideas, whatever’s going on out there. We’re aware that rock ’n’ roll has always been developing and changing. It’s not a static form, it never has been. The truth is that the original idea that was called rock ’n’ roll was over by ’58. It had come and gone in America. The only reason that there is still something that we call rock ’n’ roll is that it got picked up in England by the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, the Kinks and all those other English groups, and when they went back to America with it, suddenly you got this mad cross-reference thing and it really took off again. So there has been a constant exchange and flow and development of ideas, and we are really into that aspect of it. We’re always open to things that are interesting and new.’ He went on: ‘For a long time we were the biggest cult group in the world. We feel a little uneasy being considered mainstream. We have no problem with the idea of commercial success, but more with what this implies: doing things that are safe and accessible to the bulk of music buyers. We always wanted to write good songs and make quality records. We’re not in any way conservative in terms of our interests in music. The interest in dance music is quite consistent with other things that we’ve been inspired by in the past… Larry represents more…the old style. Larry is no nonsense. It’s not that he wouldn’t like new ideas, but he wouldn’t be into the self-indulgence of a lot of new experimental music. He would be like, “Where’s the tune?” And he doesn’t like being replaced by a 46


computer. He knows he won’t be, so he’s quite secure in that sense. He’s not so easily turned on to new things. They have to really move him before he’s going to accept them.’ Of Bono’s now incessant habit of wearing rock-star shades, the singer laughed: ‘Well, I’m quite happy for it to offend the kind of people who find it offensive. I understand why people get upset – it’s like, you look at Jack Nicholson in the front row at the Oscars, that’s something where you laugh with him, and I suppose some people just don’t want to laugh with me. They’re always going to laugh at me, whatever happens. Look, there are practical reasons, it’s body armour, it’s a note of necessary insincerity, and the eyes are a giveaway, and although I have got used to the stares I get, I quite like not having people who I don’t know looking right into my eyes, as if they might find something out about me. They do, they walk right up to you, and stick their head right into your face. So it’s good that there’s a barrier. And, of course, the light, and the drink, makes my eyes go red, there’s bit of vanity there, I don’t want people to see me all puffy. Yeah, they’re really handy, for a myriad of reasons.’ The Edge told writer Bill Ellis that the band’s new self-aware image was needed in the new era: ‘Irony is essential. Some of it is there because that’s how we can enjoy what we do. On a tour, it’s inevitable. When you think about stadium situations, they deserve, on one level, to be taken seriously because they are so big and it’s a major undertaking. But on another level, if you take them too seriously, you’re already history. Because they are in some ways ridiculous and the sheer scale is crazy. So we were determined when planning this tour that there was humour involved, that we had a laugh. We learnt how important humour was during the ’80s when we suddenly realised that, although we were having a lot of fun within the group, very little was being transferred into our music and our performance. We felt looking back on those days that (we had) created a slightly warped picture of what we were 47


like as people. And it contributed to a caricature of what we were about.’ The new albums had all featured awe-inspiring guitar playing from The Edge, who said: ‘There is only one rule: is it blowing your mind? Is it a great, unusual sound? I find it very hard to get excited about guitar sounds that are conventional. They just don’t interest me very much. I’ve always found myself more taken with guitar eccentrics from Tom Verlaine to the sounds on Captain Beefheart records. We’re playing with (opening act) Rage Against the Machine, and (guitarist) Tom Morello is doing some amazing things. What he’s created is almost like a DJ scratching. It’s really rhythmic and expressive in a different way. And that’s what I try to search out – ways of making the guitar speak but in a way that hasn’t been heard before… every record, that means something different. I find that sounds get used up after a while.’ The Perfecto Mix of ‘Even Better Than the Real Thing’ was an unexpected chart hit on the back of ‘Achtung Baby’, but one that is reasonable in retrospect, given the anthemic nature of U2’s music. As Bono put it: ‘I remember Paul Oakenfold saying to me, “do you know what people are playing at the end of these huge raves in the middle of nowhere outside the cities? They’re playing ‘With or Without You’!” We were like, “no way, you’re off your trolley”. But that was the connection because our music was ecstatic. In the 80s, U2 made ecstatic music. Whether you call it religious or not, the music was big and universal and it was open in a way that people off their nuts who are not in raincoats any more and getting into all these drugs were completely thrown by it. I think in the UK, you needed something like the rave scene to loosen people up and get them showing out in this dramatic way. Irish people may not quite have the groove but they are far more soulful… Lauryn Hill is just amazing. That album, man, is just one of the defining records of the last few years. Really, she’s head and shoulders above the pack. Autechre, I dig them. Squarepusher, those beats are mad. 48


I’ll also go for Dave Angel and for Surgeon…I remember being out in Dun Laoghaire in a club full of people off their faces and I remember being asked if I was a lyricist. I said “I don’t know”. And the guy said “well, we don’t want any of them and we don’t want you telling us what to do because we know too much already. Lyrics aren’t worth a fuck, we just want the groove. Do you get that, man?” And I said “I get that, man”. And that’s fine. With U2, I always try to put into words the feelings I have at any one time. But often, it’s just vowel sounds filling my mouth which build into words or I might find a title or an idea to hold the music around. I don’t have to have the testimony or the story when I listen to dance music.’ He remains open to non-rock influences, too, saying: ‘Hip-hop artists are just geniuses at self-promotion. It’s so different to the indie mindset which castrated the UK scene for so long. Black

Click the above photo for a video link Bono describes what separates U2 from rock contemporaries. 49


music wants to communicate, it wants to shout, it wants to be loud and be large. Sometimes, this can be crass when you had the whole gold chains and bragging about the size of their dicks. But, by and large, they have a sense of their own value and they try to communicate this in their music. They’re advertising themselves and their work. And their mates. They have a network and they want to big up everyone in that network. So you have Snoop Dogg or whoever and he’s bringing in the next Snoop Dogg into the system and into the chain… Over here, it’s kind of the opposite. In Dublin, we can’t go that route, we’ve got to cooperate. We’ve been tagged as white niggers, let’s wear it well, let’s be black in that sense. We’ve got to start to break each other as well as ourselves. It has to be a community in all senses of the word. It’s against our nature but it might just happen and that’s where dance music comes in. Club culture is much more democratic than rock ’n’ roll ever was.’ ‘Achtung Baby’ benefited from a much more groove-oriented sound. Bono explained: ‘Our first connection with a European groove came in Berlin. Our orientation towards the groove came via America. New York, then LA, then Chicago, then Detroit. It did not come to us through London. It was Berlin. (Spiral Tribe) were mad. They used to have bits of military aircraft with them that they obtained from this site outside the studio in Berlin that we used. This was the original centre of Berlin, the O’Connell Street or Trafalgar Square, if you like, before it was bombed to bits during the war. Then, there were all these, what do you call them (crusties)… You know, the people who lived in the ground?… There was a huge scene like that just outside the studio. Loads of them,and gypsies and chickens running everywhere and bits of fighter planes. That was quite a scene.’ The songs on ‘Achtung Baby’ were of sufficient quality to back up all this glittery superficial stuff, fortunately, and the rocklistening world eagerly bought into the new U2. The tour – which 50


effectively bled into the next album, 1993’s ‘Zooropa’, included a vast digital screen and onstage tricks by Bono, who variously pointed a video camera around or attempted to call Bill Clinton or Princess Diana. After a couple of excellent singles from ‘Zooropa’ (which, fascinatingly, included a cameo vocal from Johnny Cash) U2 took a break. Various side projects followed: the soundtrack for Batman Forever included the single ‘Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me’; Larry and Adam contributed a weak cover of the famous theme to the Mission: Impossible soundtrack (Limp Bizkit’s version, made for the sequel in 1999, was far superior); Bono and The Edge recorded for Goldeneye; and U2 donated a song to the AIDS charity Red, Hot + Blue. 1997’s ‘Pop’ album took the postmodern vibe too far, thought many fans, with its touches of cheesy electronica (‘Mofo’) and lack of a decent single. The tour which followed it was so huge it actually damaged the band’s reputation: many observers thought that the use of the world’s largest video screen (150 feet wide and 50 feet tall), computer graphics, a giant rotating lemon shaped mirrorball and a huge olive on a 100 foot high cocktail stick were just unnecessary. The dance music influence dismayed many fans, but U2 were quite open about the extent of the new genre’s impact on their sound. As the The Edge put it, ‘It made us jealous. It’s wonderful to be in a rock ’n’ roll band but it is limiting in so many ways. There are so many more possibilities with dance music as a form. That and the rhythm. It’s also hard for a rock ’n’ roll band to match just the sheer excitement of being in a club and hearing really good dance music.’ Bono added: ‘But what we do is not off the shelf, that’s something that dance music will never have. That’s one of the things we realised when we were making “Pop”. We could be like archeologists digging for some really rare sticky groove, but 51


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why should we do that when we have Larry Mullen? Larry can do beats like no one else. And we have a bass player called Adam Clayton who is the only bass player you would miss if he wasn’t there. What I learnt from dance music is the value of what we do. At first, yeah, there was jealousy but then we realised what we had ourselves. At the end of the day, what we’re about is a much different thing than club culture. Sure, we’re going to work with beats and we’re going to work with beatmasters like Howie B, and sure we have a club with a beautiful sewer running through in the bottom of this posh hotel, but you’re not going to walk in there and hear a lyric! That’s not going to happen!… Up to recently, I thought one of the most exciting things was when rock ’n’ roll hit club culture. Right at that point, that was where it was going to be for the future. Now, I’m not so sure. Now, I’m actually enjoying the difference. Speeding up and slowing down is quite cool. We’re digging the friction.’ Overseas cultures have also had their say in U2’s musical development, Bono said: ‘In Tokyo, I learnt about one really important innovation – girls’ music. Girls always play the best party music, always. They know what to put on, they’re intuitive. They know what’s going on in the room, they know where people need to go and they have no rules about particular tracks or styles. They play what works and they play what inspires. There was this club in Tokyo and the people were just joyful because the music was so up, so melodic, so right. You were just lifted by these beautiful melodies, these amazing soulful strings, soulful singing, hard-on grooves – it was a sexual experience. All this mixing and matching, it was postmodernism running amok. That was something else… you’ll find three generations there. It’s people hanging out, from the mamas to the kids. Funnily enough, I used to see that with the Pogues. What I loved about Shane McGowan was that he brought three generations together. You’d have some old geezer holding onto these young kids who were at 53


their first gig in some hall or other. That’s our difference, that’s what separates us from everyone else, that’s our identity. We’re not really north Europeans. The roots of our music are Celtic, Middle Eastern, that’s where it all comes from. We are not Europeans so we shouldn’t try to be. Let’s not be intimidated by it.’ The Edge added of a recent club experience: ‘It was Puerto Rican day in New York and I had never been in a club like it. Everybody was dressed in the most incredible exotic clothing. What was really cool was that people were dancing sexily to Puerto Rican beats. The whole place was just charged. I was thinking, could I ever imagine this in Dublin on St Patrick’s Day? In a Dublin club? The vibe was just something else… I love Bono’s theories about the idea that it came from North Africa… It’s a very compelling argument but it’s still a mystery. Black music is a bit easier to trace because the journey is pretty well documented. Like it or not, we’re playing black music. Rock ’n’ roll is black music and sometimes I feel we’re not that good at it.’ Asked by Time magazine if some people might accuse U2 of ‘strip-mining underground music forms’ with their new dancebased musical direction, Bono replied with typical candour: ‘What I’d say is, “Fuck right off. We were doing dance remixes when you were still in short pants, you little assholes”. When this bogus term “alternative rock” was being thrown at every ’70s retro rehash folk group, we were challenging people to new sonic ideas. If some little snotty anarchist with an Apple Mac and an attitude thinks he invented dance music and the big rock group is coming into his territory, [that’s] ridiculous… It’s been a long time since there’s been a dance movement, particularly in the US. To have hardcore dance on white radio would be crazy. It would be good… A lot of what’s called rock these days does seem like folk music. It does seem absurd that there are punk rockers in the late ’90s rebelling against their parents with their parents’ music. I can’t quite get my head around that. It’s “Dad, you suck – can I borrow your 54


Sex Pistols album?” White-bread rock has, for me, lost its sense of adventure and seems very tired in comparison to hip-hop.’ ‘Pop’ was a genuine cultural experiment, said The Edge: ‘We set out to explore what was going on in dance culture. What we discovered was we didn’t want to embrace their techniques, we just wanted to embrace their feel and aesthetic. In the end, most of the tunes are actually performed by the band and not created in the way dance records are created using loops and samples. Even the drums are [mostly] live. When we went too far into the dance world, we were losing the band identity. And that’s why these songs make sense live because that’s really how they were created in the studio. It’s not four men trying to imitate a machine… We called the album “Pop” because for the first time ever we felt we had made a contemporary record, a record that was saturated in the music of the moment. When it came to elaborating on that theme for the tour, connections within the visual pop art movement seemed like it could be fun. We’ve been lucky that some of these pop artists also thought it was an interesting possibility. We’ve had Roy Lichtenstein give us permission to animate some of his images. And Keith Haring’s estate also allowed us to animate some of his images. Andy Warhol as well. I don’t think we’re making a pop art statement. Obviously, it’s somebody else’s work so it would only be a second-hand statement anyway… What we recognised is that what they’re trying to do in their field was not dissimilar to what we’re trying to do. There was a connection we thought could be elaborated on… There’s a lot of music out there that is a parody of past styles. I don’t mind as long as it’s great. What bothers me is (the attitude) “we’ll make do with this” because it resembles something with real spirit, adventure and quality. But there are bands out there writing songs in a traditional way and they happen to be writing great songs. To take an example, Oasis transcend their influences. In the end, it doesn’t matter if they borrowed some chord sequences from the Beatles. If it was a poor imitation, 55


I’d be the first to say, “Offside, ref”. But because they end up writing great songs, I don’t care.’ U2 had invested in a new audio-streaming method for the ‘Pop’ shows. Of the new technology, The Edge explained: ‘I think technology is going through a huge sort of convulsion and obviously, you know, the internet is the thing that is the biggest change that everyone is coming to terms with. I have a very positive sort of view of all of it, and I see it as a new medium and I see it as something that in the end is gonna be incredibly useful and beneficial for music and for the arts, and my attitude is that it should be something that the music industry should welcome with open arms. I don’t have any of the sort of fears or paranoias that seem to be common among the business – the music business – I think they’re in danger of actually falling so far behind what’s going on on the internet that they might actually just miss the boat, but it’s great.’ He went on: ‘I mean, there’s so many ways that it can develop and I’m sure there’s ways that no one’s even thought of yet. But already, just the idea of the way music will be available on the internet for sale or just to listen, and the fact that music that really couldn’t find a platform of any kind is suddenly going to be available to people. Word of mouth, or its equivalent on the internet, will become much more important, and I just think it’s going to be so stimulating for music to suddenly not have to struggle to get a record deal for bands and artists to be able to release their own stuff. For really great music to come through without the necessity to go through the business of record deals and producing CDs and all that stuff, which is obviously such an impediment to bands and artists – I think it’s really positive.’ As late as 2000, Bono was still attempting to figure out where his band stood in the rock pantheon – as he told writer Paul Morley in a long, almost stream-of-consciousness statement: ‘U2 attempt to make ecstatic music, and one of the important factors in that 56


musical crescendo, if it’s going to happen, is the crowd. So I would love to say, yeah, U2 are the same thing in an empty stadium, playing for themselves, but it just isn’t. The audience are part of the arrangement of the music… and when we made, you know, our reapplication in 2000 to be the best band in the world, after it seemed we’d gone too far out in the ’90s, so far out we’d disappear, we did all the things we weren’t supposed to do, to reconnect with the audience; we did Saturday morning TV shows, and we’re not good at TV, and it was even madder to suddenly try to be good at it, but that’s what we did. When you believe in your music, in the end you’ll turn up anywhere, and we demonstrated yet again that belief, and we pressed flesh, we did the photos, we did the circuit, and we sort of came back even though we hadn’t really gone anywhere, even though we were older than we had any right to be, and there were those who thought – hoped – that we’d blown it with the “Pop” album and the Popmart tour. They thought we were off to the fish farm in Wales, the rock star retirement, or the Betty Ford Clinic, the nostalgia shows, isn’t that what’s supposed to happen? We succeeded, and they hated us for that – “can’t you do anything right! Get a fat arse, for fuck’s sake…” and there we are, it’s 2001, and you start to think, what are the possibilities of a combo who have made music together for 20 years but who are now more able intellectually, artistically, musically than they’ve ever been. Oh, boy! This could be very interesting. The fourpiece combo, if it stays true to itself, can still be a very efficient organisation. After doing this kind of thing for so long, it becomes a grudge match… against your opponent, which is, of course, your lazy self, or the other self, which fancies the fish farm in Wales, or in my case, in Kenya – “go and live on the beach, you’ve earnt it”, and for us it becomes a fight against that temptation. But because we formed in the punk ’70s, the smithy of our soul, to quote Joyce, was the British music press, and the intellectual ideas of the time, some of which were preposterous, and people grew out of them, 57


but they were great thoughts, and the memory of not wanting to be in a crap band, not wanting to turn into the pointless twoheaded ’70s rock monster, to not become a roaring cliché, that’s what makes us resist the temptation to grow fat. And each of us has a version of that stubbornness, and we keep sharp on each other, and we never blame each other. At the heart of this group is love and respect for the people you have travelled so far with and who have seen you at your most naked and raw, and bellicose, in my case, and you’re still talking to each other, and in a busy room you will always find yourself moving in their direction. Our belief in what we do has not been rubbed away by the business, the routine, the madness, the media, the sheer size. Look, as a band, we’ve managed to have all this success, never compromise our music, done pretty much what we wanted, and not set fire to ourselves or lose an eye or a limb… and maybe it’s because, well, there’s a line of scripture… to be as shrewd as a snake and as innocent as a child. You know, we’re performers, so there’s always an element of insincerity, as well as all the sincerity we can muster.’

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The Future

I

n 2000 Bono wrote and co-produced a movie called The Million Dollar Hotel, directed by the legendary Wim Wenders. As he told Hot Press, ‘I think it is sad but true that I know a lot about hotels having spent most of my life in them now. The final chapter in the Spinal Tap episode is owning one: the guy comes back from touring and actually builds his own Holiday Inn room! But my experience in hotels has for the large part been the plate glass window to separate you from the storms outside, whereas the experience of the people in The Million Dollar Hotel is rather the opposite. It’s a real community. Milla Jovovich and Jeremy Davies became very friendly with a lot 59


of the people still living in the hotel, as it was still operational when we were shooting there on the weekends – in fact we’d have to drag her out of it… All cinema, all theatre is, to a degree, voyeurism. You get to stare at people up close. But we tried to do it with some respect, and, of course, a lot of the lives in the hotel are not such archetypes as the ones that we cast for the movie. There’s a lot of decent people just getting on about their day and people who arrived in LA looking for some reasonably priced accommodation.’ Of the thematic links between the film and the fictional Lipton Village of his childhood, Bono mused: ‘Well, in the movie, I suppose everybody has a front of one sort or another, but with the scam they have a chance for the first time to come together and they develop a united front which brings them all out of each other. They all have to cooperate with a lie in order to discover their potential. And I suppose if you wanted to stretch the metaphor to The Village… that’s certainly the way it worked for us then… I suppose, in a very suburban way, we were still dressing up. It was a sort of Hallowe’en madness… I think the urban experience of people who have fallen out of the sort of health insurance/social services loop is a very different experience, and I would not try to compare ours (to it). It’s a shock, but in the late ’80s in America you could still starve. I mean, Reagan closed down a lot of these mental hospitals and hence some of the clientele at the Million Dollar Hotel were, in fact, outpatients from mental hospitals. That was the point that I discovered them in 1988.’ Three years later, after a best-of album culled from the 1980s, the band returned with ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind’, a much more considered and simple album that spawned hit singles with the relieved fanbase. A second compilation of 1990s tracks was released in November 2002, including ‘The Hands That Built America’ from the soundtrack to The Gangs of New York, nominated for an Oscar in March 2003. 60


Of the 1980s collection, The Edge said: ‘We resisted putting a retrospective out for a long, long time. We could have done one over the years, many times. I guess, in the last few years, we started thinking about it because we began to sense that a lot of people out there who liked our work in the ’90s may not be familiar with our earlier songs. Also, compilations mean something different now than they did ten years ago. I’m buying them now myself, and enjoying them, whereas I never would have in the past… That’s a period of work which we can see with a better perspective. The dust has settled. We can start to see which tunes have dated well and which ones haven’t. Then when we started to look at what to put on it, we got quite excited about what it could turn into. It’s a really great record… I see this as a bit of housekeeping at the end of the millennium – ending the two decades with those two records. I would feel good about that.’ Compiling the 1980s best-of had been an interesting experience, recalled The Edge, because it forced the band to re-evaluate their work in a new light: ‘In the end the question we asked ourselves was: “what are the songs that were the strongest and the clearest little Polaroids of that time?” They’re mostly singles, with the exception of “Sweetest Thing” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday” – that was only released as a single in Holland… Rather than it being a piece of history, we wanted it to be like just a great record. We tried various running orders and decided on this one. Songs from different eras sounded very strange together. For example, we discovered that placing something from “The Unforgettable Fire” next to something from “Rattle and Hum” sounded very bizarre.’ He went on: ‘We did re-EQ of a lot of them, which is almost like remixing, because it can change the sound. That was a delicate thing. I took charge of that. I didn’t want to change the spirit of the original release but to bring the fidelity up a few grades to make it a bit more contemporary. You have to remember that those recordings weren’t made for CD. As much as I love vinyl, it always 61


presented some problems in recreating really low-frequency sounds. I remember when we used to master our vinyl records there was always this compromise, but now with the CD we can recreate them as they originally were mixed… We wanted something from the second album and thought of putting “Gloria” on. But when we listened to it, we decided it sounded dated compared to the other tracks. I realise it’s some people’s favorite U2 song, but going down that road you have to follow your own instincts. These are our favourites, really.’ Most recently, U2 have scored big with another new album, ‘How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb’, although the record was nearly cancelled after a master CD was stolen from The Edge’s bag in France. The subsequent Vertigo tour began in 2005 and continues until the time of writing. The future for U2, as The Edge explained, would be tied in with the rapid pace of technical evolution: ‘What’s wonderful about the internet, and being able to distribute music on the internet, is how instant it is. You can finish a piece of music, you know, Monday afternoon, and Monday evening it’s actually out there and people are listening to it in their homes. I think the speed in distribution makes it very exciting, and I can see U2 taking advantage of that and releasing things in a slightly different way. Because I think also when it’s so easy to distribute, the need to distribute and the definitive work becomes a slightly different thing. Nothing on the internet is written in stone. Everything is updated, changed, altered, and by necessity, I think people want to see something different and listen to something different when they come back a week after their previous visit. So, I can see music going in that direction where maybe tracks are released in some form and maybe updated later on. We’ve already seen, particularly in the world of hip-hop, multiple remixes released.’ He added: ‘I can see that carrying on, and going even further on the internet, because that’s the way people are thinking now. 62


They don’t see music or any other art form as a static thing; they see it as something that is changing with time, and I’m not sure if I’d go so far as to actually prepare music that people can actually remix themselves, which I know was something that was being put forward as a possibility. I don’t really see the value of that per se. I think that the band’s responsibility is to prepare the work and, you know, in a sense I feel that’s my job. But, as far as giving people different options, different versions, I think there are legitimate variations on the themes of songs and in the past we would only think about releasing the one definitive version, but you don’t need to think like that about that any more. I think that’s a fascinating possibility.’ Unsurprisingly, U2 have had their fair share of deranged followers. ‘I’ve had some very direct experience of stalking,’ Bono said. ‘I don’t want to get into names or places because it can be an ongoing problem, but let’s say I and the office of U2 have had experience of armed and dangerous stalkers… There was an amusing incident in a hotel in Los Angeles (one) time, where the stalker had committed a date for revenge on not receiving (fictional) royalties. And so they had a load of FBI people around the place where I was staying, it was one of these bungalows you get in the grounds of the hotel. So anyway, midnight had passed and I wasn’t dead – at least as far as I could make out – and I went to sleep and I guess it was in the back of my mind. And I woke up to this “Bang!”, y’know, a very loud crack, and I was up firing telephones and lashing out in the dark with Cuban heels and anything I could find in the direction of the bang. But it was just my suitcase had fallen off the edge of the bed. Anyway, he went away eventually and I think he bothered somebody else.’ As Bob Geldof once said, Bono takes the big view when he thinks of the world’s problems, with whole tracts of thought such as ‘You know, that idea of me being like the leader of the nation of the imagination, that’s interesting, it’s like there are four 63


provinces in Ireland, and the fifth province is the province of the imagination, and it is as important as any physical constituent. It should be represented. The American constitution was really a poetic tract, full of wild imaginings. Ideas about how the world should be run should come from a place other than conventional politics. The whole of society should have the din of argument as much from musicians and film-makers and writers as anyone else. That’s what makes everything better. In a way, the hardest place in the world for what we try and pull off as U2, with my stuff stuck on the side, is the UK, where the arts and politics are very separate and people don’t like you to cross over disciplines. They like the politics in one place, pop in another, art over there. But it’s better that they all rub against each other, that’s when things can really start to happen… some of the best nights of my life have been spent at Hall of Fame induction evenings. We give awards and honours to film-makers, authors, poets, artists. Why are rock ’n’ roll people meant to be more rebellious than film-makers? Are they truly more wild and frightening?… We believe that music is some kind of sacrament, it’s special, it’s like they say, all art aspires to the condition of music. That’s why zealots like you and me will cut off someone’s head defending it. We’re on a crusade. This is not just a business, or fun, or fashion, this is the holy cup! There is something about music that unlocks our spirit in ways other drama cannot…’ The Edge tried to pin down the band’s appeal: ‘I really don’t have any long-term ideas about this. I’ve a feeling that what happens at a show is that there is a breakdown of some of the more negative, insular feelings and inhibitions that people have… at least for the duration of the show. The nicest idea is that people might be forming groups after seeing us. One thing we’ve been doing on this tour is bringing kids up from the audience and teaching them “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”, just trying to show them there’s no mystery to it, that these are the chords and this is 64


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the song. We might have more of an effect on the music business itself than directly on the lives of our audience. Maybe they’ll be less inclined to accept some crappy heavy metal band, less easily satisfied by someone like Ted Nugent. Actually, don’t say Ted Nugent, he might come after me with a sawn-off shotgun. And anyway, Ted Nugent is my hero.’ The singer’s status as spokesman for a variety of issues is firm to this day. ‘Y’know, I just think people loving each other is a kind of miracle,’ Bono mused. ‘And I think it’s against all odds and I think everything in the world conspires against that, from just the humdrum of paying the bills to desire – ’cos sex has been elevated to the ultimate commodity, the one that you can’t live without – and I’m just amazed when I meet people like that. And this doesn’t come from any disappointment myself, I just think it’s a remarkable thing to see, and I don’t think we should accept it as normal… It’s like when you see people getting married because it’s that time and you just kind of think, “Oh, no!” Marriage is this grand madness, and I think if people knew that, they would perhaps take it more seriously. The reason why there’s operas and novels and pop tunes written about love is because it’s such an extraordinary thing, not because it’s commonplace, and yet that’s what you’re told, you grow up with this idea that it’s the norm.’ As Bono told Newsweek in 1999 about his commitment to debt relief and the Jubilee 2000 organisation: ‘It began about 18 months ago. I had just made a speech to my band about how I wouldn’t get distracted from our next record. Then along came this idea – that we could harness all this energy and sense of anticipation for what is really an arbitrary date and actually make something of it, so that when we wake up on 1 January, 2000, we’d feel that last night was more than just fireworks and champagne… It’s so depressing to watch the nightly news and see that this suffering is neverending. People put their hands in their pockets and yet it doesn’t seem to be enough. That feeling of impotence can either lead to 66


depression or anger. In my case it was anger. I was angry when I discovered that for every $1 in government aid to Africa the African countries owed $9 on their loans. I was overjoyed when we raised $200 million with Live Aid. Then I discovered that Africa pays $200 million a week servicing its debts. It would be incredible if 1999 could be remembered not for the destruction of two countries – Kosovo and East Timor – but for rebuilding 50 of the poorest nations on earth… Already Jubilee 2000 has put together what must be the broadest coalition since the ending of apartheid. You have economists like Jeffrey Sachs; pop stars like myself and Quincy Jones; churchmen like Billy Graham; the Dalai Lama and His Holiness the Pope… I would like Bill Clinton and Tony Blair to see it as just the first stage. I believe the political will is there. I have spoken to Jim Wolfensohn (president of the World Bank) and I sense that he will go the distance if the politicians match him. When people are left out of the loop of potential prosperity they turn very easily to other ideologies. Let’s have some preventive medicine before we have to spend ten times as much on a cure.’ He went on: ‘As Bob Geldof has said, we can’t command a constituency – but we are heard by one. And it’s a very large one. I have to say that the people of influence I have met over the last six months have been surprisingly open. But I don’t think they’re open to me; it’s to the idea. After a few minutes it is not a pop star they are hearing; it’s an idea. Smart people know a great idea when they hear one. Paul Volcker (former chairman of the US Federal Reserve) burst out laughing at the idea. He said “I hated it in ’62, I hated it in ’72”. But he then went on to furnish me with the telephone numbers of people I could talk to. People know it’s an idea whose time has come, awkward as it is for those in the banking community. For them, it’s a central tenet not to cancel debts. But facing reality is another tenet. Africa is beyond a catastrophe. Everyone accepts that fact. If you are not going to get anything back in ten years it’s better to get nothing back now.’ 67


He concluded that there would be conditions to satisfy, of course: ‘Conditionality is crucial. We accept that. The onus has to be on the debtor countries to be transparent; to prove that the money freed up is going on infrastructure, health and education. If they can’t, they won’t enjoy debt relief. Sudan can’t be relieved of its debts in the middle of a war. Many of the ruling elites who first borrowed and misspent the money are still in power. This is a stick as well as a carrot. It will encourage the new leadership in Africa, like Presidents Obasanjo of Nigeria and Mbeki of South Africa, and mortify regimes who are not allowed to make use of debt relief because of their oppression of their own people… At a certain point you have to face this as a moral, not an intellectual, question. At a time when planet Earth is enjoying a prosperity unimaginable 100 years ago it will say much about our moral torpor if we can’t make this happen.’ At the launch of Net Aid the same year, Bono explained his awareness that rock stardom and politics make uncomfortable bedfellows: ‘Let me start tonight by describing my own discomfort finding myself on a podium such as this. When celebrities speak out on political issues I get nervous. And I am one! When musicians open their mouths to do anything but sing – I put my wallet in my boot. Celebrity can magnify, but it can also trivialise. But hey, the United Nations has its own contradictions to deal with – so I won’t caricature you, if you don’t characterise me. I like being a rock singer. If music means anything to me it is liberation – sexual, spiritual, political. Rock is the noise that keeps me awake, stops me from falling asleep in the comfort this wild freedom some of us are enjoying on the eve of the 21st century. I am here today for one simple reason: I want to see Live Aid through. In the ’80s I was a proud part of the spoiled generation that brought you Live Aid, Band Aid, “We Are the World”, and all that stuff. ‘That is not the way it is supposed to be. In small town America, in England, in Ireland where I come from, the traditional banker 68


is supposed to take pride in lending to his neighbours and take responsibility if he makes a bad loan. This is important, because a lot of people hear about debt cancellation and say – very common sense – look, if I borrow money from a bank, I have to pay it off. Why should these countries be any different?’ Now in his 40s, Bono explained that he was finally becoming at ease with his stature: ‘It would be awful to have all this thrown at you and not a) find it absurd and b) enjoy it. I have now reached a stage where I can completely forget that I’m in a band – unlike the guy in the ’80s, who was just so self-conscious about it. I felt it painfully back then, which is why I want to give myself a slap when I see myself from that time. Self-consciousness can make the face ugly. I don’t really notice that side of it any more, the need to act out some kind of role. I’ve found a way to be completely myself. I think I’m over being a rock star. I’m at ease with the idea. I’ve got used to all the lifestyle contradictions that as a young man you think you have to resolve. You realise that the contradictions are what make it interesting – not just wealth versus starving Africans, but singer in a band versus political activist, flesh versus spirit, left versus right, art versus business, family versus U2. I love those tensions now, rather than being intimidated by them. They’re what leads to the creative tension that makes things work.’ Bono’s activism, versus his day job in the band, has never apparently been a problem. As he said: ‘We began as a group not being able to play that well but having great ideas, and a badly played song with great ideas is better than a well played song with no ideas. That’s punk rock. And my activism, which I admit is probably basically just the Catholic guilt I feel being so rich and famous, is like that. I’ve got an idea about how to make things better, and OK, I’m not as educated or able to execute the idea as I should be, but it’s a better idea than that one over there, so let’s go after it. Let’s find out how to do it properly later – first, the idea.’ 69


70


Drummer Mullen Jr explained: ‘Sometimes I really wish he would do something that we could punch a big hole into. I’d really enjoy that – to go up to him and say, you fucker. Sometimes, it’s just so constant, the meetings, the speaking, the mouth, but in the end even I have to say he’s doing a great job, and he’s getting things done. Look, if it was possible to have a really good kick at what he does, as a band we would have done it before anyone else. During the recording of our album, he’ll be away on a venture, and it’s like, great, peace. He gets impatient in the studio, and we tell him to fuck off, go and meet George Bush. And he does! Maybe it’s our fault! And then he comes back and he’s been working on a lyric and he’s fresh and really into it. So it does work out.’ ‘They’re very tolerant,’ added Bono. ‘It’s not that they don’t agree with the issues, I just think they sometimes wish it could be someone else doing it all. I’d love there to be another Bono who doesn’t go to the meetings with Blair and Bush, who can have a gigantic sulk and a tantrum and it really mean something and change events. We could use one of those characters right now. It would be great to have someone banging the dustbins and chaining himself to the railings, as well as me meeting with the politicians. I’d love to do both, but I can’t, but I don’t think even my worst critic would say that things would be better if I didn’t take those meetings and make those speeches. And we make our audience feel powerful, like they’re part of something, and that doesn’t often happen with a rock band. You know me, I like a bit of a row. It keeps you sharp. To be honest with you, I expected far more bile and spleen than I actually get. I’m used to that. Oddly, in the last few years it’s died away a bit, people have been quite generous and prepared to give me the benefit of the doubt for my work. I expected a hail of blows, and I’m up for it!’ Of the band’s future, he commented: ‘Bob Dylan is much more interesting with age, not less interesting. Some pretty boy face on the cover of a style magazine, or him! I want to stare at 71


Dylan’s face and I want to hear what he has to say because he has travelled a long road and he’s got something worth hearing. I’m also interested in the new arrivals, the exploding stars, but this is not just about being young. I was thinking yesterday – in ten years time, I’ll be 55. What will it be like to stand on a stage then? And then I thought – the Chieftains! Kris Kristofferson is 65… and I saw The Who play a 9/11 benefit with such unspeakable authority, they were real men, with such hard earned experience, and such colossal understanding, and I thought, there’s a clue there to how we can age with dignity. Some of course might say, we’ve already ruined that possibility. You know what – I don’t agree.’ The live stage is still where U2 shine brightest, like all great bands. As Bono laughed in an interview with the BBC: ‘The great thing about being spoilt rotten and having success at an early age, and all that bollocks, is that you don’t do anything you don’t want to. That’s probably what makes us such a pain in the arse. But I can tell you this, we would not be playing “Pride (In the Name of Love)” if we didn’t want to play it. What we are trying to do when we put our set list together is to tell a story, if you like, and “Pride” is part of our story. I’m really proud of those songs. It was a real test to play “I Will Follow” after “Mofo”. But it worked! I think they sit very well together. After all it was exactly the same band. We had the same aspirations, the same ideas. In a way we were as out of kilter then with what was going on as we are now. We’ve always been the way we are. Megalomania set in a very early age with us! Even when we were playing small rooms in places like Manchester. For us it felt like the centre of the earth. We don’t have any guest musicians or anything. We’ve never had anyone else in our band.’ That said, critics are never slow to stick the knife in when the live show isn’t a 100 per cent perfect – as it wasn’t at the start of the Popmart tour: ‘We had a bit of bad press in the UK for the Las Vegas show. A load of people came over and they thought we 72


hadn’t got our act together and that we were a big band and so they gave us a clip around the ear. I have no problem with that. It was reviewed very favourably everywhere else in the world. The New York Times gave it a great review. When you get close to home, the knives get sharper. But you have to roll with the punches… The funny thing about that is that (the NME) rang me. That’s actually the truth. But the way it came out is that I rang them. I was actually happy to answer some of the criticisms because the truth of the matter is that in Los Angeles, when we started out on this tour, we were a bit ropey. What can I tell you? It’s our band, we can be crap if we want to. What happened was we didn’t have as much time to get our shit together as we’d have liked. We’d just taken possession of a whole pile of cosmic junk, including a 150 foot drive-in movie screen and a 40 foot lemon and all that kind of thing. It was all a bit much really, but I didn’t care because it’s not a Broadway show and I just thought “it’s OK, we’ve always been a bit crap at the start of our tours”. That’s part of the fun of it. We’re not overly slick. Some journalists came over and got into the spirit of it and could see the potential of Popmart. But some people thought “They’re a big band. They’re charging in. They should be better than this”. And they gave us a bit of a kicking so I defended myself with a speech from the dock.’ Asked if U2 were now part of the establishment and therefore deserved the critics’ bile, Bono reasoned: ‘That’s the logic, right? But it’s an old-fashioned logic. That thinking ruined British music for ten years and it destroyed a lot of great bands; bands that we grew up alongside, really cool bands – Echo & The Bunnymen, The Smiths, The Clash… who were all kicked so hard by the press that eventually they gave in. We didn’t give in. And we’ve been press darlings here and there. What goes around comes around. I’m amazed “Pop” was reviewed so well. When I saw the reviews, I turned to the others and said “Well, they’re gonna sharpen the knives for the tour, then”. So I think that when we try to do 73


something like Popmart maybe we could do with a little bit of encouragement. They should say “here’s a great band who aren’t crap, who haven’t taken the money and run, who are actually trying to kick rock ’n’ roll into the next century”. When journalists become nerdy and picky, you want to say “Fuck off and grow up. If we’re crap, tell us we’re crap”. But we are not crap. We are not fish farmers. This is not a part-time endeavour. Music is our life. And we’re fucking good at it. But I don’t wanna bash the media, ’cos I do think that one of the reasons why UK music is so good is partly to do with the music press. In the ’90s there should be a more upbeat positive attitude. If something is good, say it.’ Interestingly, Bono still suffers from stage fright, he once said: ‘You don’t need to take drugs if you’re in this band, I’ll tell you that! To be honest with you, today I woke up about seven in the morning – which wasn’t the plan ’cos I only got to bed about five – and I thought that’s very bad news for tonight. And that’s when the fear began. I was actually terrified. Sometimes I feel so sick, I want to vomit… It gets that bad. But then sometimes you walk out and it feels like you’re at home in your living room. A funky living room, mind you: a 40 foot lemon and all! But sometimes it feels like you’re on the moon and it is a very trippy experience. If a gig is great you can be high for 24 hours after it. You should try this – it’s great!… I ask myself that question every night: “what am I going to do tonight to climb down?” Some nights you don’t bother, you just surf on it. That’s what we did last night. But tonight, I’m not going to. Tonight I’m going to go to bed, cover my head, go to sleep and not get up till Monday… It’s a heady cocktail! We’re still the wedding band from hell; we’re the Kelly Family from outer space! Over the last 15 years we’ve done some good things and we’ve done some bad things. But this show is all about the good things.’ Bono is a man for whom the word ‘soundbite’ could have been invented. As he once mused: ‘I’m digging deep beneath my feet 74


and finding out that there’s so much there. We almost (played a cover song recently) out of spite because everybody expected U2 to be the one group that couldn’t because we’d developed such a sound of our own. So over the past two years it’s been a very interesting thing. Actually, last week when we played some of Dylan’s songs in Los Angeles I said to him, “You know these songs will live forever”. He said, “Man, I think your songs will live forever too. It’s just that no one is going to be able to play them!”… When words are inspired they are above and beyond the person that writes them. A poet draws on the subconscious and his words go deep. With some of the poets I read I don’t know why a certain couplet cuts into me, but it does. I have read, and still do read, a lot of the Bible, and I’m fascinated by Jewish symbolism in particular, where ideas rhyme rather than words. I’m also interested in elemental imagery. It crosses cultures.’ ‘I pretended to be a lot of things,’ he also said. ‘In order to fit in I’d pretend to be an academic. I could do it, but I didn’t feel comfortable at that. Then I’d be on the street and pretend to be the guy who could kick a few heads in, but I didn’t feel comfortable at that. I didn’t know where I fitted in. I was really a restless spirit. I thought at one stage that I wanted to be an actor and I ran away from home. There were no acting schools in Dublin so I quickly ran back. I lived with my father and my brother, who is seven years older than me. He would run away too. At age ten he would get on the 19A bus and just run away to the terminus and come back. ‘Actually, what do you call a person who knows that he has put a rabbit into the hat and who later when the rabbit comes out of the hat is shocked and surprised? A magician! You know what the trick is, but you can still be amazed. I know every piece of that puzzle that we performed last night, and sometimes I really wish I didn’t know how it works, but I am still gobsmacked when our equivalent of the rabbit comes out of the hat. Every time. I cannot 75


believe that it has happened, even though we are totally prepared for it.’ As we go to press, U2’s position at the top of the rock tree seems genuinely unassailable, even if the ‘Pop’ setback in the late ’90s has proven that they are not superhuman. It seems reasonable to assume that as long as Bono’s extra-curricular activities do not swamp his band’s output, and if they can maintain their run of killer singles, U2 will be educating and entertaining us for many years to come.

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Track-by-Track Analysis

T

his track-by-track analysis of U2’s recorded catalogue seeks to provide a clear, unbiased assessment of each of the band’s studio albums. Each song and album has been awarded a rating out of five as follows: ����� Absolutely Essential ���� Excellent ��� Average �� Poor � Terrible 77


Boy (29 August 1981) Tracklisting: I Will Follow / Twilight / An Cat Dubh / Into the Heart / Out of Control / Stories for Boys / The Ocean / A Day Without Me / Another Time, Another Place / The Electric Co. / Shadows and Tall Trees

I Will Follow ���� An uplifting hymn-style song in a style that was quite unheard-of back in 1981, ‘I Will Follow’ sounds surprisingly clear even after all these years. Bono’s voice is clean and fresh, even if he can’t really hit many high notes, and Adam Clayton’s bass is simple, punchy and effective. Even from this starting point, The Edge’s awe-inspiring guitar – more of a lead motif than a chord pattern – sounds new and original. Twilight �� A slightly odd composition with a funky bass line that sounds out of place coming from Adam Clayton, ‘Twilight’ is too unfocused to be memorable. Still, the atmosphere is crisp and open, even if Bono can’t quite do the melodies justice. An Cat Dubh ��� A popular stage anthem, ‘An Cat Dubh’ – which translates as ‘The Black Cat’ – features some of the ‘woah-woah-woah’ lines that Bono would later use to whip up entire stadiums. At this point in U2’s career, however – and certainly with the lightweight production of ‘Boy’ – the song sounds a little flat: one of many tunes that would only truly come to life on stage. Into the Heart �� A droned, atmospheric song that features a xylophone (uselessly low in the mix) and an echoed, almost rockabilly guitar solo from 78


The Edge, ‘Into the Heart’ is an interesting use of a couple of minutes, but not much more. The naïve sound of the young band is gripping, though. Out of Control ��� An early example of the fast-paced anthem with drone guitar that U2 would later employ to such devastating effect, ‘Out of Control’ is still admirably restrained, helped by Adam’s economy on the bass and the band’s reliance on Bono, as always in the early days, to take the front space in the mix. Stories for Boys ��� Something of a mish-mash of influences, ‘Stories for Boys’ is a fascinating look at the sounds behind the songs they listened to. There’s a chorused guitar sound from the Police; a high-register bass part that could easily be the work of Joy Division/New Order’s Peter Hook; and slightly overbusy drums that might even have been by Talking Heads. Weird, but somehow exciting. The Ocean ��� Attempting to emulate the marine environment of the song’s title, with reasonable success given their budget and skills, U2 emit an echoed, layered sound on ‘The Ocean’, all reverb and ambience. Adam’s chordal bass part and The Edge’s school of aqueous harmonics add to the vibe rather nicely. A Day Without Me ��� More excellent atmospheric stuff, ‘A Day Without Me’ is carried almost entirely by Bono’s soaring vocal, which manages to avoid any rough edges and ascend to its own higher plane. Larry’s bogstandard drum pattern is slightly intrusive but the song remains one of the better tunes from the album. 79


Another Time, Another Place � A barely listenable song thanks to the meat-and-potatoes bass and drum stomp that overpowers it, ‘Another Time, Another Place’ has aged very badly. The guitar and vocals might be sweet and melodic, but they stand no chance against the overenthusiastic rhythm section. The Electric Co. �� Another expansive anthem with a driving beat and plenty of passion, ‘The Electric Co.’ only suffers from too much youthful enthusiasm on the band’s part – there are backing vocals, guitar parts and vocal interjections that make it far too busy. The earlier economy that made some songs on this album so beautiful has been lost here. Shadows and Tall Trees � Again, the band fall flat on this song because of their overambitious approach. The acoustic guitar that underpins the song is attractive, but mixed too low and smothered by other instruments. And the string section that adds creaky backing to the mundane melodies is a critical error. Conclusion As debut albums go, Boy stands relatively tall. Yes, it has its poor moments and is unevenly balanced – it starts well and goes rapidly downhill – but with hindsight it’s possible to see all the trademarks of the U2 sound in place right from the start. Rating: ��

80


October (24 October 1981) Tracklisting: Gloria / I Fall Down / I Threw a Brick Through a Window / Rejoice / Fire / Tomorrow / October / With a Shout (Jerusalem) / Stranger in a Strange Land / Scarlet / Is That All?

Gloria ���� One of the best album openers that U2 have ever recorded, ‘Gloria’ has deservedly gone on to become one of the band’s all-time careerbest songs, even if its sound and sentiment now sound amazingly naïve. I Fall Down ��� With its mellow guitar sounds and pacing, ‘I Fall Down’ is the closest to simple pop that U2 have come so far. It’s a new breakthrough in terms of production, too – all soft textures and warmth. I Threw a Brick Through a Window ��� Despite its aggressive title, ‘I Threw a Brick Through a Window’ is a mellow, almost reggae-inflected tune that showcases once again Adam Clayton’s subtle use of space and rests in his bass playing. Rejoice ��� More speedy anthemic stuff, ‘Rejoice’ – like all U2’s early Christian songs – epitomised the trademark approach. By now the band were anchoring their faster, more evangelical, songs with a simple bass part of root eighths and an efficient drum pattern, while The Edge spread his softer, more layered guitar parts in the background and Bono reached up for the notes. It’s an effective and gripping formula, even if it was also starting to become a little repetitive. 81


Fire �� The early single, reprised in its raw glory, amateurish playing and all. It sat a little oddly on this album, whose other songs were a little more sophisticated than this. Tomorrow ���� The gorgeous uilleann pipes of this song make it a classic, with its deep, deep atmospheres and Bono’s wailing lament. Excellent. October ���� A gorgeous piano piece that displays both U2’s ambition and the scale of their songwriting, ‘October’ sits majestically and simply in the middle of the album that bears its name. With a Shout (Jerusalem) �� Another uptempo rocker with a clean bass line and a melodic ambience, ‘With a Shout’ does the anthemic trick nicely. However, Bono’s constant religious evangelising was starting to wear a little thin… yes, we know you like going to church, Paul, you don’t need to tell us again… Stranger in a Strange Land �� Was it jazz? Was it soul? Whatever ‘A Stranger in a Strange Land’ was, it was bizarre, not least because of Adam’s heavily chorused fretless bass, which made the band sound as if Pino Palladino had invaded the studio. Scarlet ���� Adam was also at the forefront of this song, with a nicely gauged upper register chord drone: ‘Scarlet’ benefited from a large dose of ambient noise of the kind that Brian Eno would later dollop all over ‘The Unforgettable Fire’. Excellent. 82


Is That All? �� Wait, is that a rock ’n’ roll 12-bar I can hear? Yes, it is, and the cheery rockabillyness of it all was rather disquieting… what a weird way to end an album. Conclusion ‘October’ was a step forward in terms of the band’s experimentation and ambition – the rawness of ‘Fire’ aside, the songs were surprisingly well crafted for a band so close to their debut album. In places the grandeur of their huge-selling late1980s albums began to appear too… Rating: ���

83


War (12 March 1983) Tracklisting: Sunday Bloody Sunday / Seconds / New Year’s Day / Like a Song… / Drowning Man / The Refugee / Two Hearts Beat as One / Red Light / Surrender / “40”

Sunday Bloody Sunday ��� Rock fans fall into two camps – those who think that ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ is brave, raw, flag waving excellence, and those who find it excruciatingly embarrassing, thanks to its unsubtle emotions and spiky music. Even the former will have to admit that nowadays the song sounds unbelievably dated. Seconds �� An interesting drone that never really goes anywhere, ‘Seconds’ is an immediate filler track on ‘War’, the most fully-formed of the early trilogy of U2 albums. New Year’s Day ���� A stroke of genius by anyone’s standards, ‘New Year’s Day’ was the song that demonstrated to the wider public that U2 could step outside their early, lantern-jawed period of Christian earnestness and write tunes that would appeal to the masses. Like a Song… ���� Loaded with echoed atmospherics and The Edge’s by-now trademark delayed arpeggios, ‘Like a Song…’ is only marred by the cardboard box snare drum and the odd missed note by Bono. Those glitches apart, it’s a classic. Drowning Man �� More laboured than the excellent songs that precede it, ‘Drowning 84


Man’ suffers a little from the over-mouthy lyrics – Bono struggles to enunciate them, speaking rather than singing several words – and an unremarkable backing. The Refugee �� Not really worth the attention of anybody looking for U2 at their best, ‘The Refugee’ has the feel of a demo track tossed onto the album at the last minute. The grunts Bono adds for effect are just silly. Two Hearts Beat as One �� A generic upbeat anthem of the sort that we’ve heard half a dozen times by now, ‘Two Hearts Beat as One’ (and doesn’t that title just remind you of that terrible Phil Collins song?) is notable for the early appearance of the shuffle guitar scratch that The Edge would make his own. Red Light ��� An eerie, darkened-street song with some excellent falsetto melodies from Bono – who had clearly developed into a singer of some power and skill by this stage – ‘Red Light’ is a subtle way to witness the album winding down. Surrender ���� Looking forward to the upcoming Brian Eno collaboration with utter accuracy – and to later, 1990s slide-guitar experimentation from The Edge – ‘Surrender’ is a sublime ballad, all dark and sweet. “40” ��� A famous song from the early days, ‘“40”’ (inverted commas essential) takes the ‘How long to sing this song?’ refrain from ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ and reprises it to mellow effect. Crowds would respond in their thousands to its simple, anthemic beauty. 85


Conclusion ‘War’ marks the end of U2’s early period, in which they recorded and released three albums in their developmental stage. ‘Boy’ was appropriately juvenile, all hungry and eager to please; ‘October’ was a little darker and more outreaching; and ‘War’ was a bold statement of intent, with anger and bliss oozing from every pore. The big step up to international recognition was next… Rating: ���

86


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The Unforgettable Fire (13 October 1984) Tracklisting: A Sort of Homecoming / Pride (In the Name of Love) / Wire / The Unforgettable Fire / Promenade / 4th of July / Bad / Indian Summer Sky / Elvis Presley and America / MLK

A Sort of Homecoming ��� Laced with echoed guitars and a reduced bass presence – which did the song the world of good – ‘A Sort of Homecoming’ was a restrained but triumphant opening to this marvellous album. Pride (In the Name of Love) ���� So much has been written about this song that it hardly bears analysis – and yet ‘Pride (In the Name of Love)’ still stands up, a touch overearnest perhaps but still a song that woke a new generation up to the work of Martin Luther King and the impact of his murder. Bono in particular is on fine form here. Wire �� No offence intended to Adam Clayton, but U2 songs with a funky bass line tend not to work as well as the straight ahead ones – a fact which, to his credit, the bass player has remembered over the years. ‘Wire’ sees him stretch out unnecessarily, spoiling a perfectly reasonable song somewhat. The Unforgettable Fire ����� Perhaps the most beautiful song U2 have ever written – and their most underrated – the album’s title track is a stone-cold classic, all orchestras, piano waterfalls and gorgeous rivers of sound. Utterly excellent.

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Promenade ���� Another sheer expanse of glittering notes with all the band content to sit back and let the fantastic vocal melodies carry them forward, ‘Promenade’ is another head trip into the ether. 4th of July ���� A slight but effective piece of atmospherics based on Adam’s slides and harmonics and the scintillating echoes of The Edge, ‘4th of July’ is akin to a marine diver’s viewpoint as the sun rises – it’s that chilled. Bad ���� The Live Aid show-stopper ‘Bad’ is another heart-in-mouth moment: all background keyboard washes and beauteous melodies. ‘If I could, you know I would…’ sings Bono, and you believe him. Indian Summer Sky �� Surprisingly, ‘Indian Summer Sky’ is another upbeat anthem from the old days – and yet it doesn’t quite have the same power in such scintillating company. In fact, the jolt the listener gets from the juxtaposition of old and new U2 isn’t quite comfortable. Elvis Presley and America ���� However, the understated croon of ‘Elvis Presley and America’ – the first signs of the Americana infatuation which would culminate in ‘Rattle and Hum’ – restores the balance to ‘The Unforgettable Fire’. It’s a lovely, heartfelt offering. MLK ��� This hymn to Martin Luther King is just that: a piece of sacred music in which the singer exposes his heart for the listener. It’s a fine way to end this stunning record. 89


Conclusion ‘The Unforgettable Fire’ isn’t usually regarded by U2 cognoscenti as their finest hour, but this is arguable. It’s a fabulous studio creation that holds the listener spellbound, with only the odd duff note – when the band depart from the hypnotic atmospherics – to stop it receiving the full five stars. Rating: ����

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The Joshua Tree (21 March 1987) Tracklisting: Where the Streets Have No Name / I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For / With or Without You / Bullet the Blue Sky / Running to Stand Still / Red Hill Mining Town / In God’s Country / Trip Through Your Wires / One Tree Hill / Exit / Mothers of the Disappeared

Where the Streets Have No Name ����� The ultimate U2 live song thanks to its unbelievable opening – uplifting organ plus The Edge’s jangle – which still raises hairs on the backs of millions of people’s necks every time U2 tour. There simply is no substitute for the rush that this song provides if you’re a fan. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For ��� The logical successor to ‘Pride (In the Name of Love)’, ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ shares that song’s upbeat evangelism and, unfortunately, some of its slightly cringeworthy earnestness. However, it’s more restrained and thus has aged better. With or Without You ����� A love song based on a simple four-note bass line and a twonote arpeggio, ‘With or Without You’ was one of the ultimate U2 ballads – perhaps the ultimate until ‘One’ came along four years later. But it’s still a heart-rending song, all swells and tides, building until the song breaks down into a soothing end. Bullet the Blue Sky � Many fans love this song, but to these ears it represents the worst of U2 in the 1980s. A clanking, dissonant – and worst of all, politically naïve – song in which Bono addresses the subject of US 91


foreign policy with stunning oversimplicity, ‘Bullet the Blue Sky’ is musically and lyrically unbearable. Adam’s bass line slogs along, The Edge throws in some embarrassing sixth-form dive-bombs and Bono seems to have adopted a kind of breathy voice sound effect just to show off. No, never again… Running to Stand Still ��� A sweet ballad in which Bono croons his affectionate lullaby to an unknown listener, ‘Running to Stand Still’ is affecting and beautiful – an adjective which, more and more frequently now the band had found their feet as songwriters, could be applied to their work. Red Hill Mining Town ���� A simple pop stroll with an uplifting chorus (‘I’m hanging on…’) over a gritty guitar sound and a plodding bass line, ‘Red Hill Mining Town’ is an excellent example of U2’s ability to write an uplifting chorus – designed to make people shiver and scream in delight – and not sound contrived in the process. In God’s Country ���� Another beautifully executed song, ‘In God’s Country’ is a thrill from the opening harmonics forward, all searing guitar and a soft bass line that makes its mark even though it is understated. Trip Through Your Wires ��� An unexplained song – is it an anti-war anthem, a wry social commentary or a simple observational narrative? We aren’t told, but ‘Trip Through Your Wires’ is an effective rock song anyway, with a stop-start chorus that sticks in the brain. One Tree Hill ���� A simple song where melodies and harmonies interact to form a 92


whole landscape of scenery, ‘One Tree Hill’ is another high point on this record full of high points. Exit ���� This dark, dark song is the most laden with tension that U2 have ever recorded, oscillating between a simple, throbbing bass line and single-note guitar drone and a full-on storm of paranoia. Too intimidating to listen to more than a few times, it is nonetheless a key song in the 1980s U2 pantheon. Mothers of the Disappeared �� With its electronic instrumentation and sombre atmospheres, ‘Mothers of the Disappeared’ – named after, and dedicated to, the Argentinian women of the same name – is a downbeat ending to the album, with perhaps the intention of leaving the listener with something tangible to think about in its wake. Songwise, however, it doesn’t really stand up. Conclusion ‘The Joshua Tree’ is widely regarded as U2’s best album, for its songwriting, its production, its atmosphere and its innovative studio techniques. It’s hard to argue with this viewpoint, even if ‘Achtung Baby’ was catchier and ‘The Unforgettable Fire’ was more pioneering. Rating: ����

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Rattle and Hum (22 October 1988) Tracklisting: Helter Skelter (Live) / Van Diemen’s Land / Desire / Hawkmoon 269 / All Along the Watchtower (Live) / I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (Live) / Freedom for My People / Silver and Gold (Live) / Pride (In the Name of Love) (Live) / Angel of Harlem / Love Rescue Me / When Love Comes to Town / Heartland / God Part II / The Star Spangled Banner / Bullet the Blue Sky (Live) / All I Want Is You

Helter Skelter (Live) ��� A reasonably deft take on the classic Beatles song presaged by Bono’s now-famous statement of ‘Here’s a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles: we’re stealing it back’, ‘Helter Skelter’ is riotous and surprisingly heavy. Van Diemen’s Land �� A solo rendition of a grisly old folk tune sung and played by The Edge, ‘Van Diemen’s Land’ is a little hard to take after a couple of listens and remains best avoided to this day. Desire ��� The single, which had made a deep impact on the public by the time the album appeared, was already a firm fan favourite and needed little introduction once the listener had entered the album. It’s interesting to wonder what might have happened had U2 chosen to record a whole LP in this style: would people have found it too much? Hawkmoon 269 �� A subtle but unremarkable song that seems a little out of place on this highly variegated record, ‘Hawkmoon 269’ sees Bono 94


alternately croon and rasp his way through a few minutes of crisp guitar strumming with no real resolution. All Along the Watchtower (Live) �� Another cover? Yes indeed, and a fairly dire one – this time the band took the Dylan classic, took due note of Hendrix’s cover version and attempted to U2-ise both, resulting in a song that sounded politically crucial but also sonically pedestrian. The scene in the film – where the band jam it minutes before going on stage – is gripping, though. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (Live) ��� A superb cover version of an already excellent song, this take on the recent classic is enhanced by the gospel choir who take the chorus line and run with it, leaving The Edge and Bono to accompany them in what appears to be a form of stunned respect. Freedom for My People �� A few seconds of street performance from an unknown pair of musicians – until their identities were revealed in the Rattle and Hum movie – ‘Freedom for My People’ was an interesting, and slightly pretentious, soundtrack snippet from the movie, detailing the sights and sounds of the musical journey on which U2 found themselves in the wake of ‘The Joshua Tree’. Silver and Gold (Live) � This tedious live rendition of ‘Silver and Gold’ marked the apogee of U2’s snoozeworthy political earnestness and is highly skippable. Pride (In the Name of Love) (Live) ��� A vastly impressive version of this huge live song – and one that urgently needed to appear on the album, which increasingly resembles a soundtrack rather than an LP in its own right. Still, 95


who could deny the band the right to blur boundaries when they chose? Angel of Harlem ��� Another originally-executed blues cover, ‘Angel of Harlem’ is so close to the authentic Chicago blues sound – albeit a very modernsounding blues, it’s true – that you can almost see ‘1959’ printed in its grooves. The brass section adds a whole new dimension to the sound, too. Love Rescue Me �� Not all the songs on ‘Rattle and Hum’ cut the mustard, and ‘Love Rescue Me’ was basically a workout for Bono’s shredded vocal chords. Avoid. When Love Comes to Town ��� A high-profile collaboration with Chicago blues legend BB King (one of the ‘Three Kings’ of the blues, alongside Freddie and Albert), ‘When Love Comes to Town’ featured the veteran blueswailer swapping vocal lines with Bono and adding a slightly weak solo atop The Edge’s lashing chords. BB’s career was completely revitalised by the song. Heartland �� Too ponderous to be truly enjoyable – although it does take off after a while – ‘Heartland’ is a dragged-out exercise in songwriting for its own sake. God Part II ��� Recorded with the original Sun Studios vocal slapback that had made Elvis Presley’s voice sound so thrilling, ‘God Part II’ is a simple 12-bar anchored by Adam’s bass line. This song above all others on this album sounds like something from the ‘other side’ – 96


post ‘Achtung Baby’ – with its short stabs of guitar and calculated bursts of noise. The Star Spangled Banner ��� Simply a recording of Jimi Hendrix’s take on the US national anthem melody at the Woodstock festival in 1969, this snippet features crowd noise from the event but then segues into the dismal (and apparently never ending) ‘Bullet the Blue Sky’… Bullet the Blue Sky (Live) � God save us from this tedious, utterly pretentious song, which goes on forever and which simply cannot be borne more than a few times, other than by people who literally worship U2. All I Want Is You ����� Refreshingly, the hideous ‘Bullet the Blue Sky’ is followed by the superlative ‘All I Want Is You’, a simple A/D/F# ballad that builds into a firework display of guitars before falling slowly into an orchestral sea of bliss. This is a truly great song: one that may well live forever. Conclusion And so the overblown, overweight ‘Rattle and Hum’ concept – movie, LP, mullet and all – trudged into the public consciousness, resurrecting some old songs both well and badly, introducing us to some upbeat blues of reasonable quality and giving us one career-best new song, its last. The idea of documenting a ‘musical journey’ (which they meant perfectly seriously even if they mocked the idea in the film itself) is an ostentatious one, even if it worked in parts. It’s a sign of the times that if any band tried such a thing nowadays, they would be mocked mercilessly… Rating: ��� 97


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Achtung Baby (30 November 1991) Tracklisting: Zoo Station / Even Better Than the Real Thing / One / Until the End of the World / Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses / So Cruel / The Fly / Mysterious Ways / Tryin’ to Throw Your Arms Around the World / Ultra Violet (Light My Way) / Acrobat / Love Is Blindness

Zoo Station ��� Taking Berlin as its central motif – Iggy, Bowie, Lou Reed, Nico, you know the drill – ‘Zoo Station’ somehow captured the zeitgeist of glasnost and East meeting West, with its images of Trabants and European unity and all. The song was a bitty affair, nowhere near as cohesive as the rest of the album, but it served as a useful introduction to the wholly shocking reinvention of U2 that lay ahead. Even Better Than the Real Thing ���� The song which really encapsulated the newfound U2’s obsession with something other than God, America and war, ‘Even Better Than the Real Thing’ examined trash culture and found it wanting. Musically, the song is astounding – all falsetto yelps and urgent bass lines. Genius. One ����� The biggest, fattest ballad that U2 have made or will ever make, ‘One’ united Europe with the whole planet and made the whole galaxy weep with its eternal theme of broken love. Say no more: ‘One’ will probably be the best song ever to emerge from this band. Until the End of the World ���� After ‘One’, with its gobsmacking effect on the listener, ‘Achtung 99


Baby’ had two upbeat songs to soothe us with. The first, ‘Until the End of the World’, was the darker of the two, all intoned baritones from Bono and delayed guitar stabs from The Edge. It’s excellent… Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses ���� … as is the rather stunning ‘Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses’, which sees U2 pull out all the stops in a frenzied joyride of a song that canters across their own personal steppes without looking back. So Cruel ��� Taking the vibe down a notch, ‘So Cruel’ was a funky, pianodriven croon that stayed calm and polite until its last moments: a good move on this intense album. The Fly ���� A rock song of no mean power, ‘The Fly’ was a showcase for The Edge and made it very clear that U2 – newly-discovered irony or not – could and would rock out at a moment’s notice while keeping their knack for a beautiful falsetto break ready. Mysterious Ways ��� Clever, very clever – ‘Mysterious Ways’ was an old-school U2 song wrapped up in the glittery new fabric that they had adorned themselves with since the 1990s dawned. Great chorus, very singable breakdown – all the elements were there. Check that funky drummer too… Tryin’ to Throw Your Arms Around the World �� ‘Achtung Baby’ settles into a form of gloom with this almost trip-hop slice of downtempo, and doesn’t quite recover its former glories. 100


Ultra Violet (Light My Way) ���� This song has a great, great tempo acceleration at its beginning but doesn’t really offer much else. However, like ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’, that golden moment keeps bringing fans back time and time again. Acrobat �� A somewhat turgid wailing guitar workout, ‘Acrobat’ should really have been saved for a B-side. Love Is Blindness �� ‘Achtung Baby’ ends with a slow, rather morbid ballad that fades into a sea of nothingness after a few minutes of dark and depressing glumness. Not really recommended. Conclusion ‘Achtung Baby’ wasn’t just an album of songs: it was a whole package, with a photo album, political manifesto and instant set of disposable cool icons rolled into one startling experience. It has its low moments, especially towards the end, but for once this isn’t really the point. It is one of the albums that every music fan must own. Rating: �����

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Zooropa (17 July 1993) Tracklisting: Zooropa / Babyface / Numb / Lemon / Stay (Faraway, So Close!) / Daddy’s Gonna Pay for Your Crashed Car / Some Days Are Better Than Others / The First Time / Dirty Day / The Wanderer

Zooropa ��� In some ways the obvious successor to ‘Achtung Baby’, ‘Zooropa’ shared that album’s arch irony, sexual themes and studio cleverness – and the opening track ‘Zooropa’ was the perfect entrée, all ambience and tension. Babyface �� A dark, depressing elegy of sexual tension and understated malevolence, ‘Babyface’ has all the elements of a creepy murder ballad as Bono intones ‘Babyface, babyface, let me untie your lace…’. Quite scary. Numb ��� A droned trance anthem sung by The Edge and notable for its (excellent sampled?) wah-wah guitar stabs, ‘Numb’ was a useful demonstration of the nihilistic atmosphere that U2 – with the aid of their clever producers – were now able to conjure up. Lemon ��� A song that rapidly outstayed its welcome thanks to Bono’s slightly irritating falsetto, but on first play sounded like the coolest song you’d ever heard, ‘Lemon’ is something of an oddity. Once again, though, the precision of the sound is stunning. Stay (Faraway, So Close!) ����� Most U2 albums have an all-time classic on them somewhere, and 102


in ‘Zooropa’’s case it’s this amazing song. Loaded with Teutonic grimness (Bono was beginning to admit his Wim Wenders influences at the time) and a sense of ‘nowness’ accompanied by the European flag imagery on the album sleeve, ‘Stay (Faraway, So Close!)’ wanders majestically through a tale of domestic brutality and compassion, all anchored by a loping, melodic riff pattern. Daddy’s Gonna Pay for Your Crashed Car �� Damn, U2 were in sombre mood with this album: ‘Daddy’s Gonna Pay for Your Crashed Car’ was an evil-sounding slab of distorted bass guitar, some atmospherics, a beat and not much else. A song to make you shiver when you heard it on a cold night. Some Days Are Better Than Others �� A slight, slippery song that boasts Clayton’s cleverest bass playing in years, ‘Some Days Are Better Than Others’ has a cheeky chorus but doesn’t really stand up with the greats. The First Time �� Mellowness in the extreme, ‘The First Time’ has parallels with ‘All I Want Is You’, but the music itself is much more dissonant, in keeping with the vibe of the whole album. Dirty Day ��� A sinister tale of some unusual meeting in a place of darkness, ‘Dirty Day’ is as unsettling as U2 get. Clearly they were on the cusp of another sea-change, perhaps assisted by the vast tour they were about to produce. The Wanderer ��� None other than the late Johnny Cash sings vocals on this song, which is a kind of U2-ised country 12-bar, comedy Adam Clayton 103


bass line and all. It’s slightly unsettling but also a suitably quirky way to end this eccentric record. Conclusion ‘Zooropa’ has the air of being the unfinished business that U2 had on completing ‘Achtung Baby’ – but much, much darker and more affiliated with the studio technology that was now opening up before them as the 1990s progressed. Although it only contains one classic song and the rest are average, at best, the experience as a whole is worth having. Rating: �����

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Pop (15 March 1997) Tracklisting: Discotheque / Do You Feel Loved? / Mofo / If God Will Send His Angels / Staring at the Sun / Last Night on Earth / Gone / Miami / The Playboy Mansion / If You Wear That Velvet Dress / Please / Wake Up Dead Man

Discotheque ��� A funky riff and a double-tracked vocal do not necessarily a great song make, but ‘Discotheque’ was acceptable enough, lending itself to the requisite tension and release that good live songs so often do. Do You Feel Loved? �� Loaded with that loosened snare drum sound and treated bass that typified so many of U2’s late-1990s singles, ‘Do You Feel Loved?’ didn’t really make much of an impact other than as yet another example of how U2 had ‘gone dance’. Mofo �� Sounding apocalyptic at the time but about as heavy as Sigue Sigue Sputnik these days, thanks to its cheesy synth bass lines and Chemical Brothers-esque club noises and sirens, ‘Mofo’ (a bit of US slang for ‘motherfucker’ that made U2 seem all, ooh, edgy) was destined to lose its appeal rather quickly. If God Will Send His Angels ��� A pleasant, refreshingly non-dancey slab of emotional outpouring that worked well, especially in the context of this album, ‘If God Will Send His Angels’ is U2 near the peak of their form. They clearly hadn’t forgotten who they were in the blizzard of sequencers and samplers… 105


Staring at the Sun ��� A nice pop song and not much else, acoustic pleasantries notwithstanding, ‘Staring at the Sun’ was a deserved chart hit and reassured many fans that U2 hadn’t gone completely overboard just yet. Last Night on Earth ��� A dreamy, bass-heavy song that could have done with more guitar textures to bolster it a bit, ‘Last Night on Earth’ has the feel of a work in progress. Nonetheless, the vibe is attractive: perhaps a remix would be in order? Gone ��� A Doors-like ambient drone that sees Bono provide a lament for the loss of life and love, ‘Gone’ is a small but perfectly formed piece of atmosphere. Miami � Not much more than a breathy invocation over a distorted drum beat, ‘Miami’ must have been concocted in about ten minutes – apparently by a bored studio team and a free-associating Bono. The Playboy Mansion ��� Almost a blues-lounge wedding-band song, ‘The Playboy Mansion’ is a world-weary look at the cult of glamour, wry comments about surgery being the fountain of youth and all. The music is subtle and fairly profound. If You Wear That Velvet Dress ��� More introspective pondering to no great effect from Bono, the lyrics of ‘If You Wear That Velvet Dress’ aren’t a patch on the rather lovely acoustic fingerpicking that backs them. 106


Please ��� A tricky bass line in a progressive time signature – accompanied by Larry Mullen’s twisted snare pattern – sees the band propelled by the rhythm section to a degree unprecedented in recent years. Wake Up Dead Man ��� Like a blackened mixture of Tom Waits and Nick Cave, aided and abetted by a fistful of studio effects, ‘Wake Up Dead Man’ is a fascinating acoustic murder ballad of the type that only the postmodern U2 could pull off reliably. The album ends on this interesting, mysterious note. Conclusion ‘Pop’ is an unusual album, neither traditional guitar rock nor a conversion to the god of dance. It’s hard to buy into it with much enthusiasm, quite frankly. Both ‘Achtung Baby’ and ‘Zooropa’ were superior – and fans wilted away in droves… Rating: ��

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All That You Can’t Leave Behind (11 November 2000) Tracklisting: Beautiful Day / Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of / Elevation / Walk On / Kite / In a Little While / Wild Honey / Peace on Earth / When I Look at the World / New York / Grace

Beautiful Day ���� What a way to a) open an album and b) announce that the late1990s doldrums were over and that good times were back. At least, that was how it felt when the tremendous shout of the opening chorus line rang out. This was U2 back on evangelical form – but in a social rather than religious sense. Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of ��� OK, ‘Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of’ was – like its title – laboured rather than snappy. But it sounded immeasurably less smug than anything on Pop and was all the better for it. Elevation ��� More riffage along the lines of ‘Discotheque’ or even ‘The Fly’, ‘Elevation’ refreshed all our memories. Once again we realised that when it comes to rocking out intelligently – and this was, after all, in the middle of the nu-metal era – U2 could do it like few others. Walk On ���� Old-school anthemic stuff that could have come straight from ‘The Joshua Tree’, ‘Walk On’ was a clarion call to action that stirred the stumps of the most unrighteous listener. Expertly done, Bono. Kite �� An unremarkable filler track – hey, albums have to have some – ‘Kite’ sat comfortably on this record but didn’t really serve much 109


purpose otherwise. Still, U2 have had a long and prestigious history of including songs on albums that seemed lightweight on first listen but achieved a measure of respectability over time. Compared with the fireworks of the big singles, albums need to have a pause for contemplation. In a Little While ��� More understated pleasantries from the band in this unremarkable but nice song. Bono seems to be happy – even in his 40s – to lead the song with a falsetto melody that could have come straight from Tight Fit’s cover of ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’. Not bad for a man who had almost exhausted his vocal chords on many an occasion in the band’s two-decade-plus career, eh? Wild Honey ��� An acoustic song that honestly sounds more like the Mavericks or Garth Brooks (yes!) than a standard U2 song, ‘Wild Honey’ swings along nicely. The bass pushes it forward, of course, but it’s the layers of acoustic and The Edge’s subtle leads that make the song really go. Could a band be any more cheerful about entering the middle of their lives? Peace on Earth ���� With its ‘October’-style title, fans were braced for ‘Peace on Earth’ to be a rant about international crises and capitalist callousness – but no, the song was a beautiful, mellow ballad that saw Bono gently enunciating his world-weary cares. It works superbly in this context and, although ‘All You Can’t Leave Behind’ is beginning to resemble an album of two halves (upbeat plus downbeat), you can’t help but enjoy the ride. When I Look at the World ��� More edgy observation from Bono, ‘When I Look at the World’ 110


has a crystal-clear layer of guitars and ambience that allows the singer to stretch out as he wishes. The song never intrudes on the singer’s exquisite melodies – then as now the ace in U2’s notinconsiderable pack. New York ��� With its ‘In God’s Country’-style harmonic speed-picking, ‘New York’ sounds like an updated song from ‘The Joshua Tree’ archives, even though its content is strictly ‘modern U2 urban’ as opposed to ‘1980s U2 folk Americana’. Either way, it sounds suitably sophisticated – but never ostentatious, something that the brandnew U2 (as opposed to the new ‘Pop’ U2, or the old-new ‘Achtung Baby’ U2) pull off admirably. Grace ���� As always U2 albums end with a song that is either good or poor, and in this case ‘Grace’ is excellent, a lovely glance into atmospheric balladry that sees Bono intone his lyrics to an unknown female. It’s a sonorous, expertly layered outro to an album that has seen both highs and lows. Conclusion ‘All You Can’t Leave Behind’ was hailed in reviews as the sound of U2 hitting their maturity at last, enjoying life and generally feeling as if the baggage that had cluttered up previous albums (religion, war, folk history, international conflict, international resolution… hip-hop) had fallen away at last. The results may not be as gobsmacking as ‘Achtung Baby’ or as cleanly ambitious as ‘War’ but the songs do sound good – and more importantly, still relevant: no mean achievement for a bunch of middle-aged guys. Rating: ���

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How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (22 November 2004) Tracklisting: Vertigo / Miracle Drug / Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own / Love and Peace or Else / City of Blinding Lights / All Because of You / A Man and a Woman / Crumbs from Your Table / One Step Closer / Original of the Species / Yahweh

Vertigo ��� Accompanied by a blinding video that was arguably superior to the song itself, ‘Vertigo’ was a gripping choice of opener for this eagerly awaited album. Most people seemed to like its reverbed vocals, which harked back to the glory days of U2’s most anthemic period, and The Edge’s excellent, descending riff. Miracle Drug ��� An uplifting song of serious weight and euphoria, ‘Miracle Drug’ knew exactly when to lay off the dramatics and recline into a period of calm and cool: always the best talent in U2’s armoury. Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own ��� A big, emotional ballad in which Bono’s vocals are perceptibly troubled, ‘Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own’ can be interpreted globally as a call for universal fellowship. As a wise man said, you can take the Irish singer out of world politics, but you can’t take the world politics out of the Irish singer… Love and Peace or Else �� Not particularly needed on this voyage, the winsomely-titled ‘Love and Peace or Else’ (like, ho ho, dudes) is a quirky waste of four minutes that doesn’t really serve much purpose.

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City of Blinding Lights ��� Like a reprise of ‘The Unforgettable Fire’ for the new millennium, ‘City of Blinding Lights’ is a piano and synth anthem of significant speed and power that shows just how developed U2 have become as songwriters and producers. All Because of You ��� More like Oasis and Supergrass than the U2 we are accustomed to, ‘All Because of You’ is a keen, eager-to-please loud anthem that would work amazingly well live. On record, it merely sounds singable. A Man and a Woman ��� Like Bowie or a derivative such as Suede, ‘A Man and a Woman’ does the arch pop thing nicely – just as U2 always do themselves. Could there be any more genres for the band to master by this stage in the game? Crumbs from Your Table ���� Mellowing right down to the point of near-coma, ‘Crumbs from Your Table’ is almost a piece of ambient electronica, with Bono’s keening vocals. One Step Closer ��� Could Bono be on about sex again? Possibly, but if so he was doing it cloaked in metaphors of stars and souls. The acoustic backing is utterly sublime. Original of the Species ���� This song – which sounds a little like Placebo with strings – is a gorgeous ballad of serious strength. Every few years U2 pull out one of these überballads, and it works every time. 113


Yahweh ��� Another superb piece of contemplative rock with an obvious chunk of religion thrown in, ‘Yahweh’ brings the album down to earth with a spiritual last gasp. Conclusion ‘How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb’, despite its weak title, is a great album. Every song has something perfect to offer, even if there’s no all-time career classic on it. Let us hope that U2 can maintain their momentum far into the future… Rating: ���

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No Line on the Horizon (27 February 2009) Tracklisting: No Line on the Horizon / Magnificent / Moment of Surrender / Unknown Caller / I’ ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight / Get On Your Boots / Stand Up Comedy / Fez – Being Born / White as Snow / Breathe / Cedars of Lebanon

No Line on the Horizon ����� One of the most popular tracks from the eponymous album, ‘No Line on the Horizon’ was developed during U2’s stay in Fez, Morocco and was released as a single in February 2009. Critics were divided with AllMusic saying ‘U2 strike that unmistakable blend of soaring and unflinching openhearted emotion that’s been their trademark, turning the intimate into something hauntingly universal’. However, many of the bands fans drew comparisons between ‘No Line on the Horizon’ and U2’s previous hit ‘Vertigo’, and the track was only released as a single in Belgium where it reached No. 38 in the charts. Magnificent ��� ‘Magnificent’ was chosen as the second single from ‘No Line on the Horizon’, and has subsequently become the theme tune for the New York Rangers baseball team where it is played before every home game. The single was released in May 2009, but failed to make the UK Top 40 where it peaked at No. 42. In failing to make the UK Top 40, ‘Magnificent’ became U2’s first single not to do so since 1982’s ‘A Celebration’. Moment of Surrender ���� ‘Moment of Surrender’ was only released as a single in Belgium and in the United States, where it peaked at No. 35 and No. 45 respectively. Despite this, it is widely regarded as one of U2’s finest 115


songs in modern times by critics and fans alike. Rolling Stone ranked ‘Moment of Surrender’ as the best song of 2009, and the 36th best song of the decade, calling it ‘The most devastating ballad U2 – or anyone – has delivered since “One”.’ Unknown Caller ��� A divisive track, ‘Unknown Caller’ leads in with gentle guitar and birdsong before transforming in to an unabashed stadium rock epic. Critically, the song’s guitar playing received high praise, however the lyrical content came under fire from various publications with Rolling Stone noting that ‘[Bono] is still singing about singing.’ And Pitchfork stating the song was ‘a wash of shameless U2-isms’. I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight ��� Released in September 2009, ‘I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight’ was the third single released from ‘No Line on the Horizon’, and was promoted with two separate music videos. It significantly outperformed previous album releases reaching the Top 10 in Ireland, Canada, Holland, and the United States, however, it only managed to peak at No. 32 in the UK Singles Charts. The song was first performed in March 2008, when the band made a television appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman. Bono revealed in an interview that several of the lyrics were based on the presidential campaign of Barack Obama. Get On Your Boots ��� The album’s debut single ‘Get On Your Boots’ originated as a demo The Edge recorded in his garage studio, and throughout the documentary It Might Get Loud, The Edge can be seen working on the song’s guitar riffs; experimenting with their sounds and effects. The song underwent many changes, and at one point the main guitar riff was dropped, leading producer Steve Lillywhite 116


to describe it as ‘a Beck B-side’ that could have been cut from the album. However, the song performed fairly well in the charts reaching the Top 10 in Canada, France, Holland, Italy, Japan, Norway, and Sweden. It also reached No. 1 in the bands native Ireland and peaked at No. 12 in the UK Singles Chart. Stand Up Comedy �� ‘Stand Up Comedy’ was first developed during recording sessions in Fez, Morocco, but the band struggled to complete the song and it underwent several title changes during the following sixteen months, being referred to first as ‘For Your Love’, then ‘Stand Up’, and finally ‘Stand Up Comedy’. The song’s lyrics were inspired by the 2008 Stand Up and Take Action campaign, and several lines show singer Bono mocking his own sense of hubris. Reception towards the song was mixed, though many reviewers were pleased to see a funkier side of U2. Fez – Being Born �� Referred to as U2’s ‘most jarringly experimental moment’ by the Irish Independent, ‘Fez – Being Born’ was an unusual piece from U2, originally created to pay homage to the city’s role in inspiring ‘No Line on the Horizon’. The song is certainly some of U2’s most experimental work, combining recordings of a Moroccan marketplace with chanting and distorted guitar. Despite its nonlinear approach towards composition, ‘Fez – Being Born’ did receive some critical support and was described by Q Magazine as giving the album ‘its twist in the tail’. White as Snow ���� After becoming disillusioned by constantly writing about himself, Bono created several characters, including a soldier serving in Afghanistan. This character formed the inspiration for ‘White as Snow’, which focuses on the soldier’s last thoughts as he dies 117


from wounds caused by an improvised explosive device. Critics and fans have often expressed their deep attachment to the song and surprise that it has not been released as a single. Time Out called it ‘the absolute highlight [of the album] without any doubt’, while The Guardian referred to it as ‘unadorned, evocative and suggestive, you don’t even have to know what it’s about to feel its quiet power or sense its sadness’. ‘White as Snow’ is perhaps the most moving and poignant U2 track of all time and is a firm fan favourite. Breathe ��� Formed from collaborations with legendary guitarists Jimmy Page and Jack White, ‘Breathe’ is an experimental guitar track that perfectly showcases The Edge’s guitar playing brilliance. ‘Breathe’ garnered excellent reviews from music critics, with Brian Eno pronouncing the song ‘one of the best the band has ever written’, and AllMusic calling ‘Breathe’ an ‘unmistakable blend of soaring, widescreen sonics and unflinching openhearted emotion’. In support, the band promoted the song extensively and chose to perform ‘Breathe’ during a live session with BBC Radio One and on The Late Show with David Letterman. Cedars of Lebanon ��� An unusual choice of closing number: ‘Cedars of Lebanon’ is a confessional written from the perspective of a world-weary war reporter who finds himself adrift in the Middle East. Despite not packing the driving rhythm and sing-a-long chorus that mark the band’s biggest hits, this song has proved to be a slow-burning fan favourite, thanks to its subtle guitar and poignant lyrics. Conclusion Unfortunately ‘No Line on the Horizon’ proved hugely disappointing for U2, with Bono even admitting in an interview 118


that he was ‘surprised and disappointed at the poor performance of the record’. Despite this disappointment the album has still managed to sell in excess of five million albums worldwide, and garnered some strong critical reviews with Q Magazine, Blender, and Rolling Stone all awarding the album a perfect score of five stars. Rolling Stone’s David Fricke was quoted as labeling the album ‘The groups best, in its textural exploration and tenacious melodic grip, since 1991’s “Achtung Baby”, a triumph of experimentation in music.’ All in all ‘No Line on the Horizon’ marked a strong return to music for U2 after their five-year hiatus. The album showcased a new more experimental style whilst retaining the band’s stadium rock sound and it has become a firm favourite for many fans. Rating: ���

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