Friday Song: U2

What can one do about U2 at this point? I can’t think of another band that’s stayed on a plateau of popularity since their brilliant big hit debut in 1983 with “New Year’s Day.” I soon grew weary of the group, despite their superior songwriting. Red Rocks gave way to Madison Sqaure and beyond. Bono bugged me for his self-aware pomposity, though it’s clear in terms of politics and charity he’s done more for the human race than most of the planet. I can’t ignore that, or his obvious passion. But after the Eno-esque masterful “The Joshua Tree” (their Sgt. Pepper’s) they veered onto many different paths.

And of course, I loved “Achtung, Baby” — a more wily, less somber dirty pop-rock showcase. I particularly loved the apocalyptic anthem, UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD, written for the Wim Wenders 1992 epic of the same name. Next to WINGS OF DESIRE, this is my favorite Wenders film, featuring what to me is unarguably one of the greatest collection of pop songs ever assembled for a motion picture. From David Byrne to Depeche Mode to REM to Julee Cruse to Tom Waits, this is an awesome selection of original music from bands I’m not always partial too. U2 got their licks in with the title track that aporopos conveys the globe spanning vibe and angst of Wenders beautiful science fiction road movie. Here’s the video he directed for the band and film.

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12 Responses to “Friday Song: U2”

  1. You took the words right out of my mouth. I, too, go back & forth on U2 (& Bono) and at this point, though I don’t follow them too closely, they do seem like they are trying to expand their musical parameters when, let’s be honest, they have no reason to do so. I go way back with the band as I saw them twice in one year, in Atlanta, when they were still playing clubs on tours for “Boy” & (insert name of 2nd record here).

    • I think I reached my tolerance level when I saw the theatrical trailer for RATTLE & HUM. I thought it was a preview of the Second Coming. I laughed out loud. I’m sure Bono regrets that too. A nicely shot film though.

  2. Hey Christian! Great site.

    As for u2: Because I’m in my early 40s, u2 was one of the bands that was sort of a soundtrack to my life as I grew up during the 80s, 90s, and beyond. I think they’re one of those really seminal bands. Like the great acts of the 1960s, they’ve evolved their style and had different musical periods. I respect them for that. And their catalog is loaded with great and varied songs.

    But I think they’ve gone too corporate, and have probably been this way since the early/mid 90s. They want to be the biggest act in the world so freaking badly that’s it’s painful sometimes to see these earnest young men from the 1980s grow into empty formulaic characters. They’re so afraid of doing an intimate record or tour because that won’t “sell.”

    And by the way – “New Years Day” was off their third record “War” in 1983. The first record was “Boy” back in 1980 with the single “I Will Follow.”

  3. christian Says:

    Thanks for the correction. Duly fixed. It’s true, they were part of the soundscape for my youth, but I always kept a somewhat cynical distance from them. The big spectacle tours bother me, and I can’t get into the running around a giant stage ramp thing. My friend met them in a New York bar and they bought her drinks and sat with her so they sound cool. But I love the thought of Bono spending the night at Frank Sinatra’s.

  4. Was never much of a U2 guy. Like you said, it’s the self-importance — Bono could give Sting a run for his money in that department. They even both made ludicrously gassy documentaries.

    Whenever U2 are mentioned, I always think of the story I read years ago in a magazine (Spin, I think) about The Pixies being invited to open for them. Well into the tour, the sign on Frank and company’s dressing room door still read “Support Act.” Classy.

    • christian Says:

      That’s a hilarious Pixies story.

      I should point out of course U2’s most fascinating moment, duly recorded in Craig Baldwin’s SONIC OUTLAWS documentary about the band Negativland being sued for putting the words “U2” on their album cover. The high point of the doc is the phone call between The Edge and Negativland — and the band didn’t want to sue Negativland, even offering to pay their court costs (which they never did). The Edge says, “This is the weirdest conversation I’ve ever had.” See SONIC OUTLAWS.

  5. I’m pretty much with you on U2. They peaked with The Joshua Tree, which is an amazing album. Achtung Baby was amazing, but not quite as good, I don’t think. Rattle and Hum and Zooropa both have their moments of excellent.

    After that I think they’ve done the same thing REM have done: they’ve not released anything “bad” but they haven’t released anything “amazing” in a long time, imho.

    • christian Says:

      “Zooropa” had some cool crazy shit on it. I like that when they finaly recorded a song with Johnny Cash (“The Wanderer”), they made it a synth driven epic.

  6. the unforgettable fire was unforgettable.

  7. I always thought “Gloria” was one of the best songs they ever did and love the choruses that just seem to soar sonically. ACHTUNG, BABY was the last album of theirs that I felt was uniformly great but they’ve had their moments here and there over the year. I still think/hope that they’ve got another great album in them.

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