Hallelujah

There are songs that are famous from the original singer. There are songs that are famous from someone else. And there are songs that are famous in a lot of different ways. This is a story about one of those third kind of songs. It is a song called Hallelujah, which has been sung by many different people and made famous in a number of different ways. One of those singers was Bono, which is why I am talking about the song today, although it is also because the sentiment of the song is very much related to the whole idea of U2.

Hallelujah was written and performed by Leonard Cohen, which should give you an idea that the original artist made it famous. But actually, it was a guy called Jeff Buckley who really took it to the peak, and a hundred others since then have sung it, including Bono. Buckley’s version is still the most famous, it is still the one that I think of when I listen to the song.

Bono’s version is, well, let’s say not good. I guess being so used to Buckley, Bono’s is kind of wild in comparison. It’s one of those songs that if it was a U2 song, it would be appearing on the b side of something, probably something off Pop, that’s the era it sounds like. Chanted, or spoken word, rather than sung, with weird sound in the background too. I have to say I dislike it, and dislike having to listen to it again for this review. Need to wash my ears out with the Buckley, or with Tower Of Song. Or there’s a video on YouTube that is Bono singing the Buckley version, as an intro to Streets, that’s a much better one to listen to.

The word itself has been used many times by U2, most notably in their own song titled Hallelujah (Here She Comes). I mentioned when I reviewed that song that the Here She Comes part is my trigger from the word Hallelujah, although I would be more correct in noting the mood I am in at the time drives the trigger. If I am in a bouncy mood, then yes, Hallelujah brings on Here She Comes, but if I am in a more melancholy mood then it is the Buckley version of the song that pops into my head.

Not going to rate the song today. Just not sure if it is U2 enough to be worth rating. If I were to give it something then I would be depending on knowing the specific version that I was rating. The original would get maybe a 5, Buckley a 9, and Bono, well, somewhere around 1 I think. It just doesn’t stick in my head the way the Buckley version does, except as a scab you want to pick at. I guess that’s the price you pay when you record a song that’s already famous, you have to do something weird to get noticed. Not like say Still Haven’t Found, which has been sung a bunch of different ways since it was first released. Maybe Streets, try singing that differently and see if you can get as well-known as the original

Bad

Of all the songs in the U2 pantheon, the ones that make the top of the top are the ones that are great songs whenever you hear them. It doesn’t matter if you are listening to them on an album, or one of potentially many live versions of a song. What matters is that excitement you feel the moment you start hearing the sounds of the song, or in some cases the anticipation that builds when you know that song is coming on next.

When I first started listening to U2, I began with The Joshua Tree, and not long after began working my way back through their catalog. On listening to The Unforgettable Fire, there were a few songs that I liked, but the one that stood out immediately was Bad. It is always a good sign if I like a song right away, often I have to listen to a song many times before I “know” it, and only then can I begin to like it. But for Bad it was an instant love, and it was a love that has carried over to this day. I was so happy during the Innocence and Experience tour every time they played Bad (although I wished they had played it more, in fact there are times when I wish they would play it more than once during a single show).

Bad is for me the top of the top in U2 songs. It’s not number one, Streets already has that position, and in reality there are other songs ahead of it too, but not many. Sneak preview of a review I will be writing at the end of the year, with a top 20 in it, you can expect to see Bad very close to the top. I love the song from the album, I love it live in every variation (I actually downloaded the Boston 3 show this year just because I liked that version of Bad so much, with the tributes to Lou Reed in it).

Bad is perhaps the ultimate live song, because it has such a good middle section that can be repeated while Bono goes off on a rant, or off telling a story somewhere, while the band just plays on and on until they get the signal to continue the song. That’s probably why it has all those variations, because it is so easy like that. That’s probably why it is one of the few U2 songs I can play pretty well, because the notes themselves are relatively simple, it’s the combinations of echo that really make this song stand out. I am often surprised by how little Edge is actually playing, when he hits three or four notes and you get ten out of the pedals he is using. I have played around with it, not really good at it, but I think many U2 fans would recognize what I was playing.

I think on this tour I learned much more about the history of Bad that I didn’t know. I knew it was about drugs, but combining it with Raised By Wolves, and Bono’s statements about that song, helped give it much more intimacy. Basically Bono’s friend was at the bombing talked about in Wolves, which tells of him going into drugs to try and forget. Then Bad is a much deeper part of the drug story, the same person’s story. A really interesting connection between the two songs. It was also good to hear Bono talking about that guy coming to their shows in Dublin, having apparently solved at least some of his demons. I wonder if there might be a third song in the future, telling us about that part of the story.

My rating for Bad: 10 / 10

End of the road

Over? Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? (Might have been a better reference on Monday than today) No, of course not, it’s not the end of the road, it’s not even the End Of The World. We’re just taking a little break, letting them dream it all up again, re-energize, maybe release the new album and then get out there. Yep. That’s exactly what’s going to happen next year. I guarantee it. Bono guarantees it. Pretty sure he’s told us the exact release date already, right? Although I hear he can’t be trusted with dates.

Okay, so the HBO show on Monday night was great, except for the bittersweet part where it was the finish of the 2015 legs of the Innocence + Experience Tour. I will admit that I loved that they brought Eagles Of Death Metal out to end the show, singing People Have The Power and then leaving the stage so that Eagles could sing one of their own songs. I loved it, but I also disliked it. Great tribute, a great moment, but I would have rather had U2 finish their own tour, and I would rather have had Patti Smith on stage for People Have The Power. She did the night before, and once before on the tour, and it was great. Wish it could have finished that way. If the rumor that the HBO show will become the video for the tour, then the EODM ending isn’t quite as good as you would want. It is extremely topical, related to this moment in time. I prefer the timeless shows, the ones that don’t date themselves. Heck, even the stuff just after 9/11 doesn’t seem that dated, because it was One, a forever song, and because it was about 9/11, an event that continues to reverberate to this day. Not sure we will say the same about Paris in a few years (remember the London bombings? Or Mumbai? Or Moscow? Not so much for a US audience).

But the tour is over, and things will get back to normal here and there. The band will do what I suggested in the first paragraph, and we’ll have a tour next year sometime. Will it be the same show? I hope not, I loved this tour but I’d like to see something new. Will it be in arenas, or in stadiums (I refuse to say stadia)? I really love the intimacy of the arena tour. I just hope they come down Texas way next year. Actually, I sat watching last night (and following a bunch of people on Twitter during the show), and I began daydreaming about quitting my job and going on tour with the band. I don’t know how feasible that really is (not at all), but I will go see the shows that I can. I got lucky this year, I happened to be in Chicago the week U2 was there. Hint to the band: next year I will be at a convention in Miami at the end of July. Just, you know, if you’re scheduling things right now. And don’t forget Texas, I’ve gone to Houston and Austin shows before, I will definitely do that again, just get here.

A great tour, perhaps my favorite U2 tour ever (along with all the others). Let’s keep it going if we can.

Treasure (Whatever Happened To Pete The Chop)

I love that the title of the song was Pete The Chop, named after a friend of a friend, and when they left the song off the album, the record company said “Whatever Happened To Pete The Chop,” giving the song a subtitle. It wasn’t released until many years later, on the War anniversary version, but it was around for many years in U2 fandom, as bootlegs from live versions, and in myth and legend. Pete The Chop is one of those early songs that I heard of but never heard, that sat in my U2 wish list for many years until finally I heard it.

Edge says that this song is “Stylistically quite different to anything else on ‘Boy’” which I really have to disagree with. I think it sounds a lot like the rest of Boy, musically and lyrically. There are parts where I think of other songs on Boy, but also on other albums. Quite a lot of it reminds me of songs like Electric Co., at least the music does, but also Out Of Control. Then there’s the line “sing it, sing my, sing my song,” which comes back to Gloria, a song that was released a year later on October. So this could very well be one of those songs that reverberate through the ages, bouncing around here and there and giving echoes of itself.

But really, the song is quite similar to many of the others on Boy, and despite the record label liking it and wanting to keep it, I think it was a reasonable decision to drop the song. As I’ve said before this year, several times when reviewing some of the b sides or songs left off, they’ve not made the cut because they sound too much like something else. That’s what I think happened here. You don’t want every song on the album to sound the same, but it all depends on the theme you’re going for. I think that Songs Of Innocence had the best theme of any U2 album yet, going back to that innocence and making the sound just like the old days. But even then, they’re good enough to get the theme floating through rather than making everything sound the same. The theme on Boy, not so obvious, and the sound not too much the same either.

I write this before watching the HBO show tonight. I expect I will talk about that tomorrow, although it may even take a few more days for it all to sink in. I have read several items about the show, some spoilers here and there, and I fully expect to be crying my eyes out as I watch certain points. If you have seen stuff from yesterday’s show (Paris 3), or if you remember the show after 9/11 which I have talked about a few times here and there, then you might be able to guess what I am talking about. Enjoy the show, and come back to see what I have to say about it.

My rating for Treasure (Whatever Happened To Pete The Chop): 3 / 10

Neon Lights

I don’t allow comments on this site, it was a conscious decision given that my previous experiences with comments were rather dubious. In prior blogs I would guess maybe half of the comments were spam, mildly tiresome to deal with, but of the rest, a fairly sizable portion were insulting me, which is one of those annoying things about the internet. If you don’t like something, just walk away, you don’t have to be rude about it. So when I started this project, I decided simply that I wouldn’t allow comments, and if you had something to say to me about it, then there’s a Twitter button at the bottom of every page that you can contact me on. The fact that there have been so few comments during the year is interesting in multiple ways. Am I not writing anything worth commenting on, or is it more difficult to go via Twitter to say something? If the latter, then in theory the worth of the comment should be higher the more difficult it is to make.

Neon Lights is a cover of a Kraftwerk song, it was released by U2 on the Medium, Rare and Remastered fan club CD. I suppose U2 got some influence from Kraftwerk given that they were fairly well known around the time U2 were forming, and also because they spent a lot of time in Berlin during the recording of Achtung Baby, and presumably got some influence from that too. I’ve listened to the U2 cover of this song and the original Kraftwerk version, and frankly they’re both terrible.

Now, why did I make that opening paragraph all about comments? Because if you go on YouTube and check out the song, you will not surprisingly see a bunch of nasty comments. The usual few by people who hate U2 and will put bad comments on anything. A lot by Kraftwerk fans rushing to defend their band against anything (my favorite are the ones that questions the legality of U2 covering it, like they’re lawyers or something). And I realize that you shouldn’t read the comments on YouTube (every time I think of having a YouTube channel I think of the comments and it stops me), but sometimes I can’t help myself.

But it makes me think about the people who have covered U2. There have been a number of those covers, but of them I have heard very few, that is one of the things I don’t go out of my way to do. Why listen to a cover when you can hear the original? Of the ones I have heard, some have been interesting, like the variety of things that have been done to Still Haven’t Found, repurposing it to a completely different song at times. Since I haven’t gone looking, I don’t know about the YouTube comments on those songs. Are there fans who will say that the original U2 is much better? Are there fans out there trying to defend U2’s legal rights? I don’t know. I’d like to think that Bono’s comment at numerous shows about U2 fans looking after each other applies, but that can work both ways. Looking after the band means going and defending them, but defending them isn’t really necessary. They’re big enough to look after themselves. All this may be just to say be cool. Or maybe the ultimate idea is that maybe the world would be a better place if everyone would just mind their own business.

My rating for Neon Lights: 1 / 10

Dancin' Shoes

I recently reviewed The Million Dollar Hotel movie, and this is one of the songs from that. Unfortunately the song suffers from the knowledge of the movie, which was terrible, so I don’t know if I can judge the song fairly. The other part of it is that the song is not by U2, it is technically by “Bono and the MDH band” so it loses points there too.

The Million Dollar Hotel band is a bunch of guys I’ve never heard of, along with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. I must admit to being very conflicted on Eno and Lanois, they have clearly given a great deal of influence to U2, with some very positive results, but then there are times when their results may not have had the effect I might like (Passengers). In general their side projects - in any form, album, single, b side - aren’t as good as when they have been working with U2 as a band. I wonder what that tells us about U2, how they are able to resist the total influence of Eno at times, drag his flights of fancy back toward reality. I might even say that this is the Larry Mullen influence, that it seems, from listening to his talks about things, that he is kind of the rock that the band is held on, and he won’t allow things to get too far away from what he likes. When he gets lost is when Eno becomes in charge, like with Passengers.

So since it’s not a U2 song, I’m not so sure I can review it properly, but here I am. The only part I can review is the singing, and perhaps the lyrics the way they are written, if I assume that Bono wrote them. The singing is weird, in places terrible, it doesn’t sound like him at all. I have in fact listened to this song several times and I am almost convinced that the first verse is not sung by Bono at all. It’s hard to tell, and the credits for the song don’t help much, they imply that it might be Daniel Lanois singing on the song (he gets vocals credits, but along with several other things, and on several songs, so not sure). But the way that the voice morphs into Bono in the second verse, and again later in the song, it just feels like he is singing weirdly. Either way, I don’t like it.

Paris again tomorrow, I guess we call it Paris 3, right? Anticipation is high, last two shows of this leg of the tour, I am expecting there to be a lot about the events in Paris, although I was expecting more about it in the Belfast and Dublin shows too. Seems they have said a couple of times that they want to bring their show, as it has been, and changing it up because of events isn’t necessarily what they want to do. Anyway, we shall see, and hopefully some announcements soon about next year.

My rating for Dancin’ Shoes: 1 / 10

Conspiracy Of Hope

Back in the day U2 did a tour called the Conspiracy of Hope tour. I suppose you might say they’ve actually been doing that tour ever since they formed the band, that idea has been a theme throughout their lives, the idea of people being full of hope, or that hope will bring us through together. But in this case, the Conspiracy of Hope tour was a short tour that was used to raise awareness for Amnesty International. Only a half dozen shows, and only for a month in 1986, but it still resonates to today.

It is interesting that U2 were involved in this, I mean of course they were due to the subject matter, but at the time in 1986 they were in between the Unforgettable Fire tour and the Joshua Tree tour, and I can’t say they were the most famous band around just yet. The Police were the headliners during the Conspiracy of Hope tour, with the rest being really a bunch of b level bands, people who had been moderately famous at one time but perhaps weren’t quite so much any more. Looking through the list of performers U2 kind of stand out a little, most of them had already had their time of fame but U2 had so much of theirs ahead of them. Of course you look back now and recognize many of the names, they’re still famous, but none of them are U2 famous.

One of the songs that came about at the time was Sun City, a protest song against apartheid and South Africa. U2 were fairly big in that song, as they tended to be in protest songs around that time. These days they now and again do random fund-raising songs (Haiti comes to mind), but mostly not. They do still support Amnesty though, and promote them to their audience in various ways. It is interesting looking back at the tour, reading the Wikipedia page where there are people asking whether it would have any impact at all. Clearly it did, clearly Amnesty is much bigger and much better known now than they were then. This is one of those examples of people asking if you can do anything, if you can have any kind of impact on the world. The response these days is pretty clear, Bono quoting Nelson Mandela when he says “it’s always impossible until it is done.” In a lot of ways that has been a theme through U2’s life, not only their own career but also all the different places they have had an impact.

One of the other places where there will be a conspiracy of hope will be this weekend in Paris. U2 return to perform after the terrorist attacks, and I am guessing that it is going to be an extremely tight level of security around the shows. Rumor today is that the Eagles of Death Metal will come on stage with the band at some point during the weekend, I don’t know how much chance there is of that happening, and it would be great if it did happen, but if I was them I’m not sure if it would ever be possible to get on a stage again. I guess you need that conspiracy of hope that Bono and U2 have brought to them (fantastic stories of how U2 supported them in the days after the attacks, so proud to be a U2 fan when I hear things like that).

Films Of Innocence

Films Of Innocence was a release of videos for Songs Of Innocence, apparently U2 had commissioned a bunch of artists to make these videos, then put them together to make the film. Never heard of any of them, except maybe the first.

Oliver Jeffers does Every Breaking Wave, I think he’s the guy that did the Ordinary Love video, and he uses similar techniques, with stop motion, moving around a bunch of pieces. It looks good, but it gets more interesting when you start seeing the process he used, and then even better when you see them painting a mural on a wall. I guess I’m a sucker for seeing the behind the scenes stuff, as I’ve mentioned it several times this year with the band.

Next is Robin Rhode with Every Breaking Wave, fun, again with the animation, but a little more literal for the song (holding a surfboard at the start for example), although I do like the surfing on the wall.

DFace with California, entirely computer animated, weird driving scene, didn’t understand or like it much at all.

Mode2 does Song For Someone, back to live action and closeups of the painting process. Similar to the first video in the way they hide the result until the end, but in this case we never seem to see the full final picture. I really liked this one except for that.

Chloe Early brings us Iris, and Ron Weasley, who is taking a walk through nature, happy as he can be, at least until we get to the end and it appears he has drowned himself (sorry, spoiler alert). I know it’s a slightly dark song, but that was really creepy. Disappointed in it.

Ganzeer has Volcano, again animated, at least this time we see Bono, or at least a cartoon of him, and they also seem to follow the lyrics, which is a first. But not that great, about average I think.

Raised By Wolves is by Vhils, and amazingly enough features wolves. I like this one, they get to the explosion (not following along with the song, but sort of), and it explodes and shows a pattern and that was really well done.

Then Cedarwood Road, by Maser, and it starts psychedelic, then switches into interesting. I think I saw something once that showed how they were doing those lights, not just computer generated, but I may be wrong about that. But if this is the result, I like it, artistic and interesting having lights crawling all around Dublin.

ROA does Sleep Like A Baby Tonight, cartoony and dinosaurs, another not like (biased because of the song though).

This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now by DALeast, this is the story of a homeless vandal. At least he does good art. I’ve always wanted to find and explore an old abandoned building though. 

Todd James with The Troubles, one of my favorites. Reminds me of Keith Haring somehow. Another video following the lyrics a little, oddly compelling.

Overall I liked these videos. Different takes on things, some better than others, but all interesting in their own way. I also like the idea, a collaboration on a grand scale. This is broken up by each different song, but imagine if it was a whole movie directed in this way, with each scene taking a different direction. That could be cool, or it could be confusing.

My rating for Films Of Innocence: 5 / 10

Glastonbury

Glastonbury is a festival of music held every year in the UK, from what I’ve seen and hear it’s kind of like Woodstock over and over, where everyone drinks and fights and gets covered in mud and listens to a hundred bands and gets sick and tired and diseased by the end. So yeah, I don’t know much about it, right? Anyway, a few years ago U2 were supposed to play Glastonbury, but Bono got hurt (seems to be a pattern) and couldn’t perform, so they had to cancel. They went back a year or two later and did a show, and it was big and good and blah blah blah and, well, nothing really outstanding, just a U2 performance at a festival. Now, U2 live is great, but I don’t know, it really seemed like the festival is so hyped that they should have had the best performance of their lives. Maybe it was because the standard response to U2 playing something like this is the people who say they shouldn’t have been there, that it is a festival for the smaller, newer, cooler bands. Again, I don’t know. But what I’ve seen of it wasn’t anything special.

But the interesting thing that came out of it is a song called Glastonbury. Okay, it didn’t actually come out of the festival, but obviously they were thinking of it when they created it. They have never released it, it has only been played live a few times during 360, so you’ll have to jump out to YouTube if you want to see it and hear it.

The start is taken straight from Volcano (wait, it’s the other way round) and the “you are rock and roll” segment in Volcano is in this song several times, the music that is, and the “you are” but the other words are different. So it is clear that this song was a precursor to Volcano, which showed up a few years later on Songs Of Innocence. So for me to say that it was never released, I should say that it wasn’t released in the original form, that it morphed some of it into Volcano. This is the way things work, we’ve seen this a hundred times this year, where a sound or lyric in some partially completed song is taken somewhere else, and the partial song is dropped, never to be heard again.

I must admit that I’m not sure about this song, I don’t really know what the lyrics are about, or what the song is meaning. There are parts that are talking about mountains and sunshine and so on. There are parts about love and so on. Comparing them to a rose. Just bits and pieces that stick out. One line that really shows up is “Under the flower of American dreams,” and I am totally lost on that one. Is it them, the band, dreaming about going to America and making it big? Or something else, I can’t really see it as sinister (somehow the line reminds me of Vietnam). I just don’t know, the song seems to be happy but there’s always an undercurrent of mystery hanging around somewhere.

My rating for Glastonbury: 3 / 10

On The Road With U2

This is a review of the book On The Road With U2 by Deena Dietrich.

Deena Dietrich is what you would call a super-fan, one of those people who obsess over something. Oftentimes obsession is a word that is used negatively, but I don’t mean it that way in this case. I feel like I have had a U2 obsession this year, writing every single day, listening or watching the band for hours each day this year. I’ve traveled and taken my family to a different city to see them, all because I love the band. I still can’t remember how many times I’ve seen them live, I think Chicago 4 was my 19th, but I lose count just tracking that many. Need to write it down. But if I’ve been obsessed with the band this year, Deena has been obsessed with them (especially Larry) for a couple of decades. I am most impressed with someone who can count to a hundred shows or more, or who writes a book about them. That’s Deena, who is arguably one of the most visible fans of the band.

I’ve known Deena online for less than a year, but somehow I feel I know her pretty well, having followed her tweets and read her book. I said hi to her from a distance at one of the Chicago shows, she said hi back, and that was the total of our in-person conversation. But following her on Twitter, I’ve seen the good side of things and the bad side of things. The good is all the things she’s done, communicated, people I have followed because she has retweeted them, jus the news and the experience of being that super fan. It is much like the book, except in real time.

The bad is the (few) people who have attacked her online for various reasons. It is hard for me to fathom those kinds of people, they are the kind that has to knock someone else to feel good about themselves. The implication of some of those people is that Deena is stealing from other fans, by getting in front and going to all the shows. This is obviously not true, anyone could do exactly what Deena does, spend their money and time to follow the band, go to the shows, hang out and wait and get to the places she does. So it frustrates me to see those people when they say mean things, they could be doing those things themselves instead of whining about them.

I have found myself in many ways living vicariously through Deena this year, following her travels like I said. That’s the good thing about the book, it ends up being a diary of her past trips to see the band. It is a travelogue, it is advice for being on the road with the band, it is the sheer fun of wishing you were in her place when she was doing all those things. One day I’ll have the time to do it all, I don’t know when (maybe next year, when they tour the US again?). It doesn’t have the inside scoop with the band that I like to see in a book, but it is perhaps the best fan perspective I’ve seen. So if you can’t make it to tour with U2 yourself, reading Deena’s book is a great way to imagine being in those places.

My rating for On The Road With U2 (book): 7 / 10

Angel of Harlem

It was a cold and wet December day, when we touched the ground at JFK…

The ongoing series of phrases that trigger U2 in my mind is easy here, every time I hear “cold and wet” I automatically sing that line, either out loud or in my head. One of the many lines that are easy to remember and just stick with you forever. Actually hearing “JFK” also triggers the line in my head. I’ve only once been to New York and I flew into LaGuardia, but I’m pretty sure I sang that line as we landed there, too. I might have changed the name of the airport, yeah, because I’m like that. (Can you tell how late it is?)

I really like Angel of Harlem, it is one of those songs that keep on giving, it gets changed up time and again and still keeps on coming back for more. We’ve seen it played live with the full band, played acoustically, played by fans getting up on stage during the current tour (and during prior tours; I want to say but I’m not positive that they pulled a guy up on stage to play it in one of my first shows, I remember them pulling him up but I don’t know if it was Angel of Harlem for sure and I’m not going to look it up right now). It is a song that is apparently simple and easy to play, although I’ve never learned to play it myself, but maybe I should just so I can get on stage with them sometime next year? Or maybe teach my son to play it, Bono would love that, right? All we have to do is squeeze in near the e stage somehow.

Again on the versions, you have the live version off the Rattle And Hum movie, where they stop and start while Larry complains and they talk about his feet, then the album version as well. The backing band does a really interesting job, the trumpets and horns and whatever, are they the Memphis Horns? I remember that name, not sure if this was the song but I think it must be, right? Since they were recording in Sun Studios at the time (I drove through Memphis once, didn’t stop, don’t have a song about it).

There’s a whole bunch of info about New York in the song if you unwrap it, but the song of course is mostly about Billie Holliday more than anything else. I don’t know much about Billie, I have seen the picture in Rattle And Hum but I don’t know her music (blues, I guess, given that there’s salvation in them).

I really like the different ways Bono sings the title “Angel of Harlem” itself, sometimes stringing it out, sometimes squeezing it together fast, and then he’ll also run the “of Harlem” together, like “ofHarlem,” and it just sounds neat that way. It’s one of the ways you can tell he has fun with the song, when he starts to twist things up like that, make it a little different just to enjoy it. There’s also the version on From The Ground Up where they play a little tribute to Michael Jackson, that’s an enjoyable piece too.

My rating for Angel of Harlem: 6 / 10

November Review

So the second to last month is over, and we enter the final stages of the year. It has been a most interesting month, I have had to switch focus from song after song to doing a lot of non-songs and a lot of b sides that haven’t attracted much attention. This is a consequence of not following through on the plan earlier in the year, and having to do a lot of catchup. I took the easy route too many times, just writing a song, instead of working on all the extras that I had in the list. Now it’s payback time for me.

Like I said a few days ago, I have now made out a plan for the rest of the year, and so far it is working well. This is what I should have done earlier in the year, not necessarily planned out the whole year, but it would have been a good idea to plan each month in advance, then work from that list, rather than just randomly picking from the list of everything. This is a lesson for the future, if I ever get into a project like this again. And maybe a lesson for you, the reader, if you decide to do any kind of project, that it’s a good idea to plan ahead as much as you can.

By my count this month I got 17 songs in, which is a little below the average I was supposed to do for the year, and the result of having to catch up. If I had gone for that balance earlier I would have been around 21 or 22 songs each month, so you can see I had half a dozen to catch up on. Doesn’t seem like many, but it is. Next month is going to be even worse (but keep reading!), I think I will end up with about ten songs for the month, although much of that was pre-planned because I had long ago made a list of things I wanted to cover for the end of the year.

This month also had the first failure of the blog for the year. My aims were to a) post every day and b) write 500 words for each post. I didn’t post every day of the year, but only on a technicality, because of computer problems there was one day where my post didn’t get posted until five minutes after midnight the next day, but that wasn’t really a miss. This month I did have a miss though, I had a post that was only 200 words, that was the day of the Paris attacks, when I sat down to wrote but was overwhelmed by the news and unable to write or think much of anything. I count that as a failure, although again there is at least an excuse for it.

Here’s everything I reviewed this month, with the ratings I gave them:

If You Wear That Velvet Dress 6

Touch 2

Stateless 4

Linear 2

No Line On The Horizon 5.8

U2 Experience (book) 2

In God's Country 7

Sunday Bloody Sunday 10

Winter 3

Street Missions 3

Robbie Robertson

Vertigo 8

How Long? (Paris)

U2 By U2 (book) 9

One 9

Everybody Loves A Winner 2

Xanax And Wine 4

J. Swallow 1

Amazing Grace 5

Making of The Unforgettable Fire 7

From The Ground Up (book) 9

Bono's Big Year

Native Son 2

U2 Go Home 10

Angels Too Tied To The Ground 3

Are You Gonna Wait Forever 6

Million Dollar Hotel 1

Mercy 4

Songs Of Innocence 5.6

Songs Of Innocence

Oh, Songs Of Innocence, how have I misjudged thee? Let me count the ways. I will start by telling you that this is obviously the album that has changed rating the most this year, going up and up as the year has progressed. At the start of the year, believe it or not, I had the album as the second or third worst of all U2 albums, and if you were to go back through the ratings I have given songs this year you would see they do not add up to the rating I have it at now. Far from familiarity breeding contempt, this album has proven an ongoing theme of the year that for me familiarity with U2 songs has bred love for them.

It surprises me that I have Songs Of Innocence rated where it is, essentially even with How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb at around the top third mark, slightly above average but not into really good territory. That seems way too high given where it was at the start of the year, but somehow I feel that it might be too low even now. Maybe the end of the year, and this review, have come too soon for the album. Maybe by the end of next year, when I’ve seen them live a few more times (I hope!) it will have climbed even higher, I could definitely see it pass a couple of albums to sit in fourth place, and it might even have an outside shot at All That You Can’t Leave Behind for third. That’s how impressed I have been with it this year.

I told the story earlier in the year that I sat and listened to the Apple conference where they released Songs Of Innocence. I had heard rumors that U2 would perform, and even rumors that they would release a new album, and I was astounded and delighted when they were actually true. I was the person sitting there trying to get it to download, not one of the many who complained that they got a free album. I listened to it a number of times over the next couple of weeks, and liked some of the songs, but it wasn’t really impressing me. I had a conversation with a family member a few weeks after it was released where I said that I thought it was fairly weak, that it reminded me of the early stuff (how right I was!) but overall wasn’t that good (how wrong I was!).

Like all the other reviews I’ve talked about during the year, it took a while for Songs Of Innocence to warm up to, and indeed it took seeing several of the songs live to really get to liking them. Getting into the shows, seeing the theme of the shows and the album, really added to it for me, and changed my opinion so much. As U2 have said themselves, they are a live band first and foremost, and that’s where they get the songs to shine.

I’m not going to go through the album song by song, it really has good points everywhere. Take a look at my reviews through the year, and add a couple of points to many of the reviews, and you’ll see their relative good and bad. I will tell you that my top songs are Cedarwood Road and Iris, along with The Troubles, which hasn’t been played live enough for my liking, it was my favorite on first listen. I will also tell you that my least favorite is Volcano, I just never really got into it, and again maybe it hasn’t been played live enough. And oddly enough the two extra songs that only showed up on the deluxe version, Lucifer’s Hands and Crystal Ballroom, have gone from initial dislike to really liked as well. Like I said, I need to hear songs live to really like them.

My rating for Songs Of Innocence: 5.6 / 10

Mercy

Mercy came out of the How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb sessions, it was apparently leaked during the recording and thus never taken any further. Actually they did play it live a few times during 360, and it ended up on the Wide Awake In Europe release in 2010, but that’s it. Listening to it now it doesn’t feel quite finished, like they got to a certain point on it (pretty far along I think), then it leaked and so they stopped. If I was to put a number of it, I’d say something like 85% finished, with some work to do on the lyrics (I think Bono could work on them forever though, and still not be satisfied), and some to do on the music too.

It is a song of opposites, from the very first line which conjures up the idea of the communion service in the Catholic church, but immediately throws a curve into it by asking about the use of religion. It goes on throughout the song, every line being a two-part opposition to each other, like for example “If you were ice, I’m water,” or “we’re binary code, a one and a zero.” This idea of the dichotomy has come in a number of U2 songs I have covered this year, Bono seems like talking about the thought of being opposites, or opposites attracting. He has referred to it in shows as well, in many of his mentions of Ali he has talked about she and he being not quite opposites, but certainly in him wondering what she would see in him since they are different. It makes me think that all of these songs are talking about the same thing, the conflict between two people that somehow keeps them together more than it pushes them apart.

Musically the song is fast, definitely has the sound from How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, reminds me of several songs from that era. Most notably I think the early part of the song sounds like City Of Blinding Lights, but I also get a few echoes later in the song from Always, which was an earlier song for the band, and also Falling At Your Feet in some places. I wonder if they took the music from Always and repurposed it to get to Mercy, then repurposed it again to get to City Of Blinding Lights. Just pure speculation on my part, I have no idea what the history of the song is.

Something else interesting about the song is that there is no bridge, and there is no chorus. Now there are parts where the music changes a little, but it’s not that noticeable, what surprises me each time I listen is that at the end of that change I tend to notice the switch, rather than the switch into it. I don’t recall other U2 songs not having a really different bridge section. And as for the chorus, there are a couple of sections that repeat together later in the song, but again they don’t feel like a chorus, they just feel like the verse being repeated. They have enough similarity to the rest of the song that it’s not chorus-like. I don’t know how else to explain both of these things, there just isn’t the differentiation that we see in most U2 songs.

My rating for Mercy: 4 /10

Million Dollar Hotel

So I finally got around to watching the Million Dollar Hotel movie, which clocks in at around two hours long, and unfortunately that’s around two hours of my life I will never get back. I have seen a few references to the movie here and there and how good it is, and the answer is that all those critics are correct, that this is a terrible movie and you should run away from it. The only redeeming thing is the music, and even then there’s only a few parts of the soundtrack worth listening to (yes, you are correct, it’s the U2 parts). I don’t know why I am reviewing this, other than that U2 had a significant part in the soundtrack and that Bono allegedly came up with the idea for the movie (I bet he denies it now though).

The movie starts with The First Time as the opening theme, while things begin happening, and when you hear that you think wow, maybe this won’t be so bad after all. But then you get to the action, and as the guy jumps off the roof he looks through all the windows as he falls, and all I could think was why everyone was awake and doing things so early in the morning.

The scene cuts to images of a man walking into the hotel, and it only shows his feet as he walks, along with everyone’s reaction to him. I must admit that as I watched that part I kept hoping that they would eventually pan up his body and we would discover that it is Bono, but of course no such luck, it turns out to be Mel Gibson. I liked Mel a while ago, he was good but crazy in the various movies he made his name in, although now he’s known just for being crazy. There’s a line in the movie where the Jewish billionaire is talking to Mel, and he says “My people decide the truth in sixty countries every morning,” and all I could think was about Mel’s recent history and controversies, and how that would play right into his wheelhouse of crazy.

The movie is not good, it is an artsy-fartsy movie, although we know that since Wim Wenders made it. I know he did interesting stuff here and there, I liked Wings Of Desire and Faraway, So Close, although I admit that I didn’t follow all the story lines in them. In Million Dollar Hotel the story doesn’t make any sense other than from a crazy person perspective, which is appropriate since they’re in a crazy person hotel. Maybe it’s because I’m not much into art movies, and I’ve never been in a flophouse hotel, but I don’t like the lighting, the staging, or much else about the movie. I don’t understand it, as the kind of people who make and like these kinds of movies would say.

Two other lines stood out for me, the first was “He was playing dumb too, but he was out of his league,” which strikes me as interesting and funny. The other was something that resonates through this whole year, two people talking to each other: “You missed the show.” “Saw it on tv.” “It’s not the same.” That could be an interesting theme for U2, watching on tv or online is definitely not the same as seeing them live. And it does remind me of Zoo TV, Bono’s line that you haven’t come out here to watch tv now, have you?

My rating for the Million Dollar Hotel: 1 / 10

Are You Gonna Wait Forever?

There are songs and then there are songs, and there are b sides and then there are b sides. Few of the b sides I have reviewed have been good enough to make it to an album, which kind of proves the ability of the band to make good choices about what goes on an album. Whether it is because the album has a particular theme, and the song doesn’t fit, because they already have similar sounding songs on the album, because they have a preference for one or another, or maybe just that they flipped a coin and chose one over another. Whatever the reason, they have done pretty well at deciding the songs on the albums, the songs that become b sides, and the songs that get left off, perhaps to be used in a future project, perhaps to be repurposed and become part of a completely new song, or perhaps to be abandoned and never heard again, at least until they need material for a twentieth anniversary album.

Are You Gonna Wait Forever? is the b side from the Vertigo single, and this is one of those songs that falls into the category of really good, perhaps should have made it to the album, but perhaps sounds a little too similar to some of the other songs on the album. It might have been held until later, but it wouldn’t have made it onto No Line On The Horizon, so it was probably a good choice to be a b side.

Musically Are You Gonna Wait Forever? is very good, it reminds me of a few other songs, not the least being Vertigo itself. The start somehow reminds me of Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses, although that quickly disappears when the bass kicks in. It is kind of rocky, featuring lots of everything, guitar, drums, bass and all. It feels at times like it should be faster than it is, and really my impression is that when I remember it I do think of it as fast, but then when I play it again it is a little slower. I don’t know why that is, what part of it is causing that feeling.

Lyrics are interesting, I think it is meant to be a love song of some kind, perhaps the kind where the person singing the song has been away for a while, and is returning home with the hope that their love is still waiting for them. The title gives that away, although I’m sure there’s some deeper meaning there (or perhaps not, since it is the better U2 songs where Bono has explored that depth and gotten down to that more interesting meaning than what is on the surface). Just like yesterday with Angels Too Tied To The Ground, Are You Gonna Wait Forever? has the title being sung in an interesting way, again I don’t know why, but it just sounds good as he sings that line (which he does several times).

About the only problem I have with the song is that the title ends in a question mark, so that every time I type Are You Gonna Wait Forever? my writing software tries to capitalize the first word after it, assuming that it is a new sentence, and I have to go back and fix it each time.

My rating for Are You Gonna Wait Forever?: 6 / 10

Angels Too Tied To The Ground

Just the title Angels Too Tied To The Ground makes me think of Wings Of Desire, with the angels flying around. Of course they’re not at all related, Angels Too Tied To The Ground was done during the War album sessions, but only completed and released a few years ago when they did the anniversary War album. It was re-recorded apparently, Bono’s voice is definitely much more modern, but it’s hard to tell about the rest of it, the music itself, whether it is old or modern, if they recorded that fresh too.

Angels Too Tied To The Ground has piano and bass leading it off, and the bass sounds really good throughout the song. I don’t know if I’ve ever decided on when peak bass happened for Adam, I don’t know if I could decide that, but I think that War is when everything began coming together. It is when the band had several years of experience, which gave them more confidence in what they were doing and meant they would try more risky ideas here and there. Some of them paid off handsomely, and of course got them to where they are today. In Angels Too Tied To The Ground I think the bass is the standout. 

You have the drums which sound fairly similar to the rest of the drums off War, slightly militaristic, a little heavy on the snare, a little loud compared to the rest of the music, nothing wrong with them just needing a little toning down, moving to the background somewhat. The piano is there throughout, but mostly does disappear into the background, that may be because Edge is playing and switching back and forth from guitar to piano, which means when he’s playing guitar the piano is of course gone and forgotten.

Lyrically we see what I have said all year long, that the early songs were much more basic than they are now. Angels Too Tied To The Ground follows that same feeling, you can take half the lyrics away because they are just a repeat of the title, and what you are left with is pretty simple. Essentially just a few sentences beginning with “what is it” that somehow end up about being stopped from love, I think. Either some kind of block from the person you love, or certainly at the end talking about surrender with the white flag. A little obscure, I think, it is mostly just the feeling there. I can’t say it is good or bad, just that it is. Like many of the songs from the early albums, the thoughts behind them are not really coherent, just a display of feelings.

I don’t think I have listened to this song enough to like it, and I’m not sure if I ever will. The one part I do like - the part where he sings the title quite quickly - stands out, but the rest of the song isn’t enough to sustain it.

My rating for Angels Too Tied To The Ground: 3 / 10

U2 Go Home

It seemed appropriate to pick today, the day U2 begin their Dublin shows, to take a look back at the U2 Go Home video from the Vertigo. Any time U2 appear in their home country it is a big deal of course, bringing out huge lines of fans but also huge lines of detractors. As with anyone who gets famous, the “tall poppy” syndrome exists with U2, where there are people only too willing to insult them, be rude about them, or generally take shots. As a fan I always find it irritating to see, but lately I have taken to ignoring those people. Haters gonna hate, as they say, and why should I take my time to listen to them? So, on to the show.

Slane Castle is a huge venue, I don’t know how many people are there but it seems like all of Ireland (okay, 80,000 according to the liner notes). The problem with that is that it makes the stage tiny when you are standing at the back, some of the shots from way back are terrible, a sea of people with the stage an inch tall. Now I know that tv makes everything look smaller, but this is ridiculous. Goes back to recent days when talking about the band trying to get closer to the audience, and you look at something like this and realize why. I don’t remember being at any stadium show where I felt as far away as it looks there.

It is crazy to look at the history of the show, that just a week before Bono’s father had died, and just a week later 9/11 would happen. I guess if I were to go all poetic, I would look back at this as a more innocent time, but the reality is that even though this was pre-9/11, I am looking at it post-9/11 and projecting my own thoughts and fears onto it. So when they hit the One/Walk On section, it doesn’t matter that they don’t know what’s going to happen, what matters is that I always connect those songs at that time with the attack, and with scrolling names on the wall. I don’t think I’ll ever get past that.

Sunday Bloody Sunday has a particular power, Bono making a speech saying that “we’re not going back there” amid the sea change in Irish attitudes toward the conflict. Saying “compromise is not a dirty word,” something he has been saying on the current tour. Listing names of the dead at Omagh, perhaps the most powerful moment, not the list of names that you see after 9/11 but their own power in their own country.

It feels like a local show, but then it doesn’t. There are parts - mentions of Ireland’s soccer team, which qualified for the World Cup that afternoon - where they’re talking to the crowd like old friends, but then there are parts where it seems more global. I guess that’s understandable, after all they’re bringing the show they’ve played around the world to town. We see that today, with them back in Dublin, and they have some references to local places and events, but overall it’s the same show as they played everywhere else. I suppose that’s a good thing, I would feel like I’m missing out if they played different things to their local fans than the rest of us.

My rating for U2 Go Home: 10 /10

Native Son

I just reviewed Vertigo a couple of weeks ago, and now I get to talk about the precursor, Native Son. It is difficult to think of what to write about, when I already covered the final version of the song and therefore the music at the very least. There is not much difference between the music in the two, so I guess I could just repeat what I said about Vertigo, but then that wouldn’t be of much use. So I guess I’ll have to find something else to talk about.

In the Vertigo review I said that I felt a little like I had overdosed on the song, hearing it too many times to like it any more. What that means is that by hearing this song, the same song but with different lyrics, should mean that it feels like a breath of fresh air. Well, it does in some ways, but it doesn’t in others. This is another of those cases where the song doesn’t make the cut because it is incomplete. The music may be complete, or close to it, but the lyrics aren’t that good, and it’s clear why they changed the tone of the song and went with the ones they did. I can’t really object too much to the lyrics, they are admittedly half-baked, and if you were eating a half-baked cookie you wouldn’t object that much, because you’d be eating cookie dough.

The music being the same as Vertigo, I’m not going to cover it, with the exception that there is a slight difference at the very start. It sounds a lot like the start to Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses, which is odd, since that was a decade before.

The song itself, Native Son, is supposedly about Leonard Peltier, a Native American who has been in prison for many years for killing federal agents. I have to admit that although I have heard the name, I know nothing about the case, whether he is guilty or innocent as some claim. The lyrics do have some feeling now, given all the political rhetoric around guns and police in recent months, they might have given some thought to it, but instead their meaning is lost in time.

Worked my way through the rest of the year today. Up until now I have largely been winging it, randomly picking an item to write about each day, with the exception of days that were set aside for specific items. Today, now that we’re down to about forty days left, I decided that it was time to set them all up. I already had maybe fifteen of those last forty days set, with specific things to write about (including the last ten days of the year, I had those set for quite a while). Today I went through my remaining item list and randomly assigned them to the remaining days, all the way through the end of the year. This helps a lot, and is something I should have done a long time ago, at least for a while ahead of where I was (for example, I could have done a month at a time). Another lesson learned. It helps me set up, knowing when I need to listen to things, watch things, or read things so I can be done with it all.

My rating for Native Son: 2 / 10

Bono's Big Year

Yesterday while looking through the From The Ground Up book as I wrote the review, I was reminded of the section where Bono had a serious back injury that required surgery, and that postponed the 360 tour for a while. In that section he said he was laid up for a few weeks, unable to move, and spent the time writing songs and generally being productive. That reminded me of last year when he had the bicycle accident, and ended up writing a missive called Bono’s Big Year. Okay, technically the title is “Little Book of a Big Year: Bono’s A to Z of 2014” but I prefer my version. Anyway, some thoughts on what he wrote.

B is for Blogosphere, where I am writing this and I guess I am one of the ones who has the audacity to think others might be interested in what I have to say. I am not invisible, I am here, you might say. Although give it another month and a half and even this blog will not be here (at least not being updated), as the plan for it will be complete. But I will move on, I have other writing projects in mind, although in general they will not be of interest to the U2 fan.

I find it interesting that he has some mild words about Davos, because by the time of the tour he had converted similar words into a rant about being one of those fat cats flying in and out. Yelling at his former self, or rather his younger self yelling at him, and he trying to justify why he is there. I’m still not sure that he is successful in doing that, although it is a powerful message in either direction.

He writes some missives to Adam, Edge and Larry on the appropriate letters, and a little self-deprecation on the B. I guess it is appropriate to write to and about them, and of course he is going to be nice about them (not that I think he wouldn’t need to be). But it does make me think about what I have written here, as I have definitely tempered some of my words here, about anything from the band to my own family to the songs I am writing about. It is interesting to realize that knowing that there is an audience out there has caused me to self-censor in some cases. I might have to work on that.

He throws in a little joke, a little throwback to the old days, when he says “I had a vision… television” while watching Bruce Springsteen perform with the band.

And a final interesting comment: “U2 is a live band. Live is where we live or die. The songs continue to grow night after night.” This is something I have learned, or re-learned, this year, because of my changing thoughts about Songs Of Innocence. I reviewed some songs early on, before seeing them live, and would change those reviews now having seen them. They have grown night after night, they have become embedded in my mind, and now I love them. But that’s a story for another day.