Achtung Baby Video Collection

I have talked a lot about Achtung Baby this year, as befits one of the greatest albums of all day, an album that resonates to this day through the U2 universe. The album produced so many hits, so many bits, and so many different looks at the band from that time. One of those looks was the video collection that they released for the album, which showcased a lot of the period, a lot of what was happening around the band, and a few other bits and pieces, along with a whole lot of interference.

The thing of it is that not only have I spilled a lot of words about Achtung, but so have so many others. Even though The Joshua Tree is the better album, I would guess that Achtung has had more written about it. I think this is a function of the times, the wider availability of the music, of the ability to write and be published, of the whole ecosystem around the album. I think there were many more releases for Achtung Baby, official releases that is, than there were for Joshua, which means more opportunity to talk about it. This might have been the period when the U2 marketing was at its peak, and perhaps before there was the public backlash which caused them to back down a little (even if it didn’t seem like it). So yeah, more things to write about means more writing, and it seems that I have followed suit this year. I don’t think it has been a detraction within this project, like I said there have been plenty of things to write about, each of them worth it.

This video is enjoyable, one of those ones that I can put on when I want to just relax and see some old U2. The problem I have is that I have it in VHS, believe it or not, in fact I’m not sure it’s even available on DVD. If it is I should probably get it sometimes (hmmm, wonder if there’s something coming up that I might have a reason to ask for it?), since my VHS recorder is getting pretty long in the tooth, and becoming kind of difficult to use any more (bottom of the rack, requiring some switching of wires, so it’s not just a pop it in and run thing).

I have said several times this year that I like when we get to see behind the scenes, I have talked about that especially with the books about the band. The videos here show a similar thing, they are not just a collection of videos, but all the interference parts in between actually show little clips from here and there within the recording and the tour, just a slice of life of the band if you will. There are of course parts when it gets a little too much, it wouldn’t be Achtung Baby if it wasn’t at least somewhat over the top, but they are few and far between and usually can be laughed off pretty easily. I remember saying once earlier in the year that I cringe at the thought of Bono dressed as MacPhisto, and I do, but that flush of embarrassment can be covered up just by singing along when the next video starts (which leads to an entirely different flush of embarrassment).

My rating for Achtung Baby Video Collection: 8 / 10

Everybody Loves A Winner

Back in the day, that day being the late 80s and early 90s, U2 did a whole lot of covers of different songs. I think they did more during that period than any other time, maybe all other times combined. Not counting the early days, when everything they did was a cover, I guess I should qualify it by saying they recorded more covers at that time, whether they released them then or later. Some of those covers turned out to be great, some of them meh, and some of them pretty terrible. Today we talk the latter category.

Everybody Loves A Winner was written in the 60s by a couple of guys called William Bell and Booker T. Jones. I had never heard of Bell, and only tangentially of Jones, and googling them didn’t help much either. Jones is moderately famous, in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, while Bell has had a successful career but not the same heights. I am sure they are both famous in their respective circles, they just happen to not be the same circles I hang in. Not that I hang in circles.

The song itself wasn’t even famous enough to get a mention on either of their Wikipedia pages, so I’m not sure how U2 heard about it. I think I read that it had been recorded by several other artists, and I’m pretty sure there’s a famous version of the song out there, but I don’t know who recorded it and when. It’s one of those really common phrases that are difficult to google, and given that the song isn’t that good in the first place, I’m not interested enough to find out more about it.

Everybody Loves A Winner was recorded by U2 and Maria McKee, someone else I hadn’t heard of. She was apparently around the band at the right time, her band Lone Justice opened for them a bunch during the Unforgettable Fire and Joshua Tree tours. There is a story that Bono sang Sweet Jane once with them live, although I don’t know anything about that. I have run into that song a couple of times this year, and a like it, so I might one day try and find it. Or maybe not, I’ll probably have forgotten about it tomorrow.

Anyway, she sings on this song, quite a lot actually, not just backing but at least one whole verse to herself. There are other parts of the song where it sounds like a woman singing, but it is Bono, who frankly doesn’t sound very good on this song. To be fair the rest of the band don’t either, it is just a slow and dreary song. I don’t listen to it much, and when I do I tend to get tired of it quickly and skip to the next song.

I also must admit that when I listen to it, for some reason “when a man loves a woman” pops into my head, is it the same music, the same tune, or just the same feeling of drudgery that infects the song? I don’t know.

My rating for Everybody Loves A Winner: 2 /  10

One

A song that feels like it should be sung by everyone in the world, every day, One grabs you and doesn’t let go. One of the greatest songs that U2 have written and performed, I have the feeling that it gets better and better every time I hear it.

For me the ultimate version of One has for the longest time been the version they sang just after 9/11. I remember seeing it live, seeing the song and the names scrolling up on the screens behind the stage. I saw it live twice, and have seen it several times since on video. Those times I saw it live, it was the most powerful moment I’ve ever felt at a U2 show. It was a month or so after 9/11, and obviously the feeling nationwide was one of fear, of anger, of sorrow. Much like the feeling these last couple of days after the Paris attack. But it had been ongoing, for a month or more, that feeling of waiting for something to happen, that we were getting ready to go to war with someone, anyone, in the end it didn’t matter who because the bloodlust was up and there wasn’t any reasoning with people. And we go into the show with that feeling, with the idea that U2 are going to take us away, and they did, of course. They have commented on the feeling in the US, I have mentioned it more than once in the last few days, that it was quite rabid for a while.

And enter One into the show, they drop the screens and start displaying something on them, and you know it’s One and it’s quite a sad song in many ways, and then you realize that these are names, and you realize what the names are, victims of 9/11, and the floodgates open. Not a dry eye in the house. It was so sad, it was so happy, it was so cathartic, Bono leading the congregation in the mass - as he has said many times on the current tour - and I can honestly say that for me it was that breaking of the dam. I had cried on 9/11, I had cried a couple of times after that at various memorials and services, but that moment, in the show, that was absolutely the moment where I felt that weight lift off my shoulders. The feeling was a shared grief, but it was that feeling when you’re sick with a fever and the fever breaks. I literally had that fever break happen to me one time in my life, when I was a teenager and very sick, and I remember going from terribly sick one minute to a broken fever and feeling much better the next. That was the feeling. That we as a nation had been sick with grief, and this allowed us to let go and get back to ourselves. It was incredible.

I mentioned all this before, in the Walk On review, and it really was a combination of the two songs, that were played together, and gave that amazing feeling. They are great songs to play together.

This year of course they have been playing One differently, it has been sung by the crowd in a karaoke way with Bono leading the way, guiding to the correct lyrics in a couple of places. It has been another fantastic finish to the shows, and gives a little different perspective. Wonderful again, I do like this version very much.

I’m not going to talk about the videos, I actually reviewed them a month ago so you should go check that out too. It helps to give a complete look at the song.

My rating for One: 9 / 10

Ultraviolet (Light My Way)

Achtung Baby was loaded with hits, songs that are still being played today and still as fresh as they were a quarter century ago. Among those hits was the song Ultraviolet, which came with the subtitle Light My Way, just in case you got confused about it and needed a little reminder. Actually that came from a song called Light My Way, which ended up being merged into Ultraviolet, creating the fusion of the two that works so well.

The song starts quietly, Bono singing slowly, but the noise quickly builds and explodes as drums crash and everybody kicks in. The song then takes off, it gets into a rhythm and doesn’t let go. It’s a moderately fast song, it has a great beat, the band works well together, the singer(s) sing perfectly. The song is one of the best songs on one of the best albums the band produced. I have a strong feeling we’ll be hearing from it again later in the year, when I pick my all-time top U2 songs.

Ultraviolet is obviously a light that cannot be seen by the human eye, meaning it feels like darkness, and the song does a great job of giving that feeling. The music is excellent, but has a very dark vibe going with it, the bass really pulls you down deep. And then once it gets going the lyrics pull you along in the same direction. The song is about love, or maybe about religion, or maybe both. But it’s not a light and bubbly song, it’s dark just like the title.

The opening verse, where I feel like I don’t know and I want to check out, that whole thing is a huge trigger for me. There are so many words in it, checking out, strong, and so on, I’m always singing that verse in my head. But then he’s singing to someone, wife I think although not necessarily Ali, but generic wife, and it’s a love song but again a dark one. The love like a secret that’s been passed around, that’s a really haunting line. Was she cheating on him, or did she just sleep with a bunch of guys before they married? And the silence that comes to a house, I have read that someone else wrote that line, proving once again how literary aware Bono is.

I love the “when I was all messed up I heard opera in my head,” which I read a long time ago was a reference to his father who loved opera music. Was he messed up because he was a teenager at the time, or was he messed up because he was listening to opera. And the love being a lightbulb hanging over his bed, couldn’t be any clearer a reference to what would eventually become part of the Songs Of Innocence tour.

The song possibly peaked live during 360, when Bono had the circle microphone, and the light-up jacket, and there were reflections and lasers everywhere. Bono swung from the microphone at times, I seem to remember cases where he would hold it and swing out over the crowd, although perhaps I am imagining that. But it was certainly spectacular, an amazing rendition that was even better seeing it live in the flesh. It is one of those songs where each time you see it you see something different in the performance, a song that has things going all over the place.

My rating for Ultraviolet (Light My Way): 9 / 10

Fortunate Son

Fortunate Son is a song by Credence Clearwater Revival that U2 covered, and released on the back of the Wild Horses CD. In terms of U2 covers this isn’t bad, although I don’t think it stands out that much. I don’t see it as being that good, it didn’t inspire me to go and check out anything else by CCR or John Fogerty, as so many other songs the band covered has caused me to do. I had to go check out Fogerty on Wikipedia to remind myself what he’d sung, and as I thought I’d heard of several of his songs. A very middle of the road musician I think, which makes me wonder about the choice of this song to be sung by U2. I think it has the political leaning that they like, which was probably enough for them to be interested in it. CCR has a little bit of a cachet in history though, so maybe it’s okay. The song itself, nice and bouncy, but nothing much to grab you really.

The song was talking about rich people in the Vietnam era, where they were getting their kids out of any kind of military duty or the possibility of having to go to war. The idea being that if you have skin in the game - your kid’s life - you will act differently as a leader. Well, you saw all these kids of politicians ducking out of any chance of being drafted, and funnily enough so many of them came back thirty and forty years later and were now the leaders. I’m thinking of a certain president and vice president, of course. And when they became the leaders they did the exact same thing - actions without any kind of consequence. Their parents taught them a great lesson, didn’t they?

And really now I’ve answered my own question about why U2 would cover this song.

Lots happening in Sweden today. Putting this here as a little kind of a diary. First of all the show was cancelled, because there was some kind of problem. Many rumors, nothing official that I can tell. First report was there was a problem with the ticket machines. Then it was reported that there was a bomb threat. Then that a man had pretended to be a cop and got in with a gun, which makes no sense at all (I’m a cop, so let me in with this gun). And reports that there was a credible threat against a specific person, which the world has assumed means Bono. Whatever the story, it’s kind of weird but at least everyone is safe. And I am reminded of the time there was a threat against Bono in Arizona many years ago, but the show went on. And during whatever song it was where they had speculated the threat would happen, Bono was singing with his eyes closed - presuming that the shot would come - and when the song ended he opened his eyes and Adam was standing in front of him, ready to take the bullet. Now that’s friendship.

My rating for Fortunate Son: 3 / 10

Heaven And Hell

Yet another of the leftovers from the fertile period of Achtung Baby. This one feels quite a bit different to the rest though, and feels different to most if not all of Achtung Baby. I definitely agree with them about leaving the song off the album, because it wouldn’t fit, and I’m not sure what other album it would fit on. Now that I think about it, this is one of the more unique U2 songs, I can’t think which album it might fit on at all. Too slow for many, too organy, too, I don’t know. Definitely none of the early albums, something after 2000 I think. But even then it doesn’t fit on them, the sound really isn’t right anywhere. A true oddity.

Actually it at times gives me a little Beatles vibe. The song seems a little jazzy, like they were just noodling around and something popped out, as it usually does for them. The lyrics are quite well developed though, which suggests they’d been working at it, otherwise Bono would just be mumbling around trying to come up with something. That tells you that they at least for a while thought it was good, right? If you get something that far developed, you have been working on it and working on it, it just doesn’t pop out of your head that good (look at this blog, it’s just popping out of my head as I write, and it’s terrible).

I read through the lyrics and try and understand them, but it’s not easy. I do get the feeling that this is Bono trying to be really literary, I’m not talking magnum opus or anything like that, but maybe he had just read some Tolstoy or something and was feeling a little bookish, or nerdy. It’s one of those songs where I feel like everything is a reference to something else, a line from some novel, or mixed up words from something like the way he took 40 from the bible and gave a slight twist to the words. Not in the meaning, but like it was a slightly different interpretation of the original foreign language. Maybe like the way that using Google Translate doesn’t quite give you the natural language.

Okay, in minor seriousness, I think this song is about a relationship, but a relationship that has sparks between the two participants. The title obviously tells us heaven and hell, one of the two being heaven and the other hell. I guess that all depends on your perspective, right? But there are little bits back and forth that tell you all is not roses any more. I mean, the opening line is “You used to think I was something special” and that’s a dive into the wallowing right away. Actually, that’s a good way to put it, it’s someone sitting there looking back and feeling kind of melancholy about things.

See, I do make this up as I go along. And eventually I get to some place that seems kind of sensible. But I don’t go back and edit, which would make me look a lot smarter, right?

Listened to Stockholm 2 this afternoon at work, was really annoyed that I was interrupted by people while trying to listen. Why the heck would people do that, expect me to work at work when U2 is playing? It was just as Bono was doing some speechifying too, early in the show. Guess I’ll never know what he said. Maybe I should just start taking afternoons off every few days, or at least take a late and really long lunch.

My rating for Heaven And Hell: 3 / 10

Zoo Station

I rate Zoo Station as one of the worst songs on Achtung Baby, which overall makes it above average because that album was so good. On a few other albums it would be top three or four.

Perhaps my biggest problem with Zoo Station is that I’m always conflating it with Zooropa, all because of the title. I mean, how many times can you put Zoo in the title of a song (or album)? Three, apparently.

I don’t know if this is true or not, but I swear I vividly remember listening to Achtung Baby the first time, putting it on and listening to Zoo Station, the first song on the album, and asking myself what the heck I was listening to. It was so wildly different from the previous albums that I didn’t know what was going on, and it took quite a while of listening for the whole thing to gel for me. This is one, like I said, where the rating didn’t rise as much as others. 

It starts with a blast, the guitar jumping right out at you while everything else (drums, bass, kitchen sink) steps in from behind, then the weirdness takes a turn into rock when Bono starts making noise. Of course his voice is all distorted, it wouldn’t fit with everything else if it wasn’t. Actually from that point on most of it is fairly similar sounding, it doesn’t wander off up it’s own navel here and there.

Too many lines in this song that pop into my head all the time. Waiting in line. Gridlock. Shuffle (that one irks my son when we’re playing cards, and I start singing “ready for the shuffle”). Pretty much any time someone mentions a zoo, although that one flips back and forth between Zoo Station and Zooropa.

And the weird thing is that the song just fades off into nothingness. It has all this excitement at the start, really seems to be rocking things along, and it seems like they just run out of gas at the end, or out of ideas, or of a way to finish the song, and just sort of stop. Not a dead stop, like you might think would work, but more the kind of stop where they each individually run out of things to play, and just stop playing, but not at the same time so it’s like they just wander off stage when they’re done.

Had a great afternoon at work, put on earbuds and listened to the show from Stockholm. Really glad for the streams that popped up, for the first couple of songs I was watching on Periscope and sure my battery was going to die, but then I found a Mixlr feed and listened to that instead. Thanks to the person that did that, hopefully they’ll be there again tomorrow. I’ve talked many times before about how great it is to have the internet and people who wrote these apps and people who are willing to use them. The only problem I have with it is that it’s really hard to cry in the middle of the office while I’m listening. Quit making me cry, Bono.

My rating for Zoo Station: 6 / 10

Acrobat

Acrobat. What more is there to say? Okay, lots. This is a beloved song in the U2 archives, and yet it’s never been played live. All the begging going on during the Innocence + Experience tour, fans wishing and hoping, but nothing (yet). It seems like the band isn’t as happy with the song as the fans are, definitely a different take on it.

I love the song, I love everything about it. It was a serious struggle to not give it a ten, I wanted to, but I couldn’t justify the slot in the end without having another couple of songs come in too. I wanted to limit the tens, and I did. But I will put it this way - when you see my top ten U2 songs, Acrobat will be on the list. Sorry for the spoiler there.

This is musically a great song, all the way through. I’ve been talking the last few days about how their early stuff was interesting but they weren’t working together, well, this is the band at their peak. Achtung Baby, so you might say just past the peak, but certainly way up there. Maybe sitting on top of the mountain that you’ve just conquered. Achtung was where they took the left turn, made things a little interesting, and this is perhaps the best of the bunch. The drums are very standout on this song, they clearly drive it along from the very start, the opening where the drums come up and take over is great. Then you get the guitar warbling from the start, coming around throughout to grab your interest. The bass is understated in places, but you’re listening away and you suddenly realize that the sound you’re concentrating on is the bass sitting in the back as usual, pushing the song around to where it needs to go.

And the lyrics. Well, first the singing, this is confident and strong Bono, again at his peak. Taking you up and down as the song needs, just like the bass did. Holding your attention, bringing in points of emotion and interest and really sounding so good. The lyrics themselves hold your attention from start to finish. Meeting a girl with fire, now she’s melting snow, what happened? The start of an amazing story (back to the movie idea I have had a couple of times this year). The whole segment of religion in the song, from “I’d join the movement” to “to drink it slow,” I so often reference that in my personal life, it has a great deal of feeling for me.

The whole final section of the song, the staccato delivery of short lines, the instructions, the feeling of giving of power, it is a great moment in the song, when you come down towards the end, it is very much lifting you up. I want to say that of all the U2 songs of religion, this one just might be the most powerful, the most giving in that aspect. When Bono talks about the show being their Sunday morning, this is the feeling he should be reaching for. And of course don’t let the bastards grind you down, that should be a no-brainer.

I don’t know anything about Delmore Schwartz and In Dreams Begin Responsibilities, but it was a major influence on the song. Guess that’s something else I need to add to the reading list.

And don’t forget there’s a Kindergarten version of the song, which in some ways is as good as the final, and in some ways maybe better. There are definitely lyrics on the Kindergarten that I wish were on the final song.

My rating for Acrobat: 9 /10

From The Sky Down

I always want to see backstage, I’d love to see the bit from “okay, let’s go,” leaving the dressing room to getting on stage. Basically the part that is while People Have The Power plays. I saw one setlist this tour that showed a couple of times at the top, and I think they were meaning when each of the guys has to go. Which is why From The Sky Down grabbed me at both the start and end, showing them heading onstage at Glastonbury. At the end they show the stage manager, and he’s literally reading a stopwatch and telling each of them to go at certain points. How detailed do you have to be to get that detailed? Very.

From The Sky Down is a documentary about the making of Achtung Baby, although it ends up being much more than that. There’s a lot of material about the early days, through The Joshua Tree, in fact the Rattle And Hum segment doesn’t end until almost a third of the movie is over. I actually think that was a weakness of the show, a little too much concentration on the earlier stuff. Now sure, you want that part about tearing down the Joshua Tree, that’s what kicks off Achtung, but much of the rest of it was fairly superfluous. In terms of the movie, not the band’s history. I mean, I could watch it all day long. It just didn’t fit the point of the movie that much.

There’s a scene near the start of the four guys on a stage, with everything and everyone revolving around them. I looked at that as amazing, it reminded me of the scenes from It Might Get Loud, the amount of work that has to happen around the band to get them just to play.

There were several parts, especially early in the movie, where Bono was playing up to the camera a little. “More abstract, sonic abstraction” kind of bullshit that he was saying to Edge. I didn’t like that much. He says he doesn’t know how they put up with that, and I don’t either. Doesn’t put Bono in a good light.

Interesting to see them walking into a hotel without a horde of people watching. They couldn’t get that today. Or rather they might be able to, there would be times when they’re away from the tour where that could certainly happen. I mean, if they walked into a hotel here in Dallas tonight, how many people would be around to see them, how many people would recognize them? Not too many I don’t think.

Most interesting part was listening to the DAT tapes of the Achtung sessions. Hearing the DAT and realizing it’s Mysterious Ways (before Bono did BTW) was fun. And then hearing the actual birth of One, that was outstanding. And calling it “Young Blood” on the tape, the first name it ever had. A whole bunch of work, having it come out of a guitar strand in Mysterious Ways, taking that one sound and pushing it into an entire new song. That’s got to be a great feeling to have that happen.

They weren’t convincing Larry and Adam about what they were playing because there wasn’t anything to show them, but then they get to that point and as they said the magic happened. But a lesson to everyone is that they had to put in the work to get to that point. It’s something you’ve heard before, lines like “luck is the residue of design,” or “the harder I work, the luckier I get.” It’s something I’ve been thinking lately because of some stuff I’ve been reading about motivation. Work hard and the rewards will come.

Really great moment in Berlin, where Larry is driving the Trabant and the cops stop them. Camera crew filming and the cop says turn it off, someone says those times are over, and he says “No. These times are not over.” Larry just standing there trying not to laugh. That was so funny.

They mentioned the drum machine during the show, but didn’t give any reason for Larry not drumming, except a short bit that he couldn’t even move. Nothing said about his back injury at the time.

I absolutely loved the model of the set, that was brilliant. Really want one of those. Maybe I could build one. Yep, just as soon as I get time.

My rating for From The Sky Down: 8 / 10

Achtung Baby

I know you’ve been waiting for this, and I’m going to start with the spoiler: I have Achtung Baby rated as the second best U2 album, a little behind The Joshua Tree. You may or may not be surprised by this, there are people who think that Joshua is the best U2 album, there are people who think it’s Achtung, and then there are some misguided folks who think it’s neither of those. But for me the best is Joshua Tree, Achtung just behind, and honestly a fairly big gap back to third place.

What do those two albums do that none of the others do? They have a short tail. By that I mean that while any album can get a song that’s a 9 or a 10, the best albums push their worst songs as high as possible. In this case, both Joshua and Achtung’s lowest rated songs got a 6, whereas there’s not another album who’s worst is better than a 4. That’s what I mean, if you care as much about that last song on the album as you do the first, it’s going to be good. I’m not saying that U2 haven’t cared in other cases (well, not all of them), but there are cases where there are songs at the end of an album that you think to yourself “wow, this is the best of what they had left at the end?”

So, Achtung Baby, right? You can’t go wrong, start to finish. It starts in with the weird sounds of Zoo Station, you immediately feel you’re heading into uncharted territory, especially after the Joshua Tree/Rattle and Hum pairing in the years beforehand. As Bono said, “the sound of four men chopping down the Joshua Tree.” And it is, it is wildly different. Even Better Than The Real Things follows, you’re starting to take off, then One hits, and that’s one of those instant classics we’ve talked about. Until The End Of The World, which is so light on top (believe it or not) but so deep and dark and mysterious underneath, it’s amazing. Then jumping back and forth between a slow cut like So Cruel to fast and wild like The Fly. And finally rolling downhill through the end, the last few songs slowing down (interestingly, just like The Joshua Tree did) to Love Is Blindness. Great stuff all the way through.

Of all the songs on Achtung, obviously One stands out as the best, but it’s two songs down at the end, Acrobat and Ultraviolet, which I actually rate as highly as One (they’re all 9s, although One is higher in the 9 list). I love both those songs, as do a significant fraction of the U2 audience, which is why we see pleas for them to play Acrobat (and the hilarious performance of the tribute band Acrobat the other day). I agree with all those hopes and dreams, and since we got Shine Like Stars yesterday, maybe we can push the envelope a little further and get Acrobat in the mix.

Wildly off-topic, most of this, I know.

My rating for Achtung Baby: 7.4 / 10

Salome

Salome is a song that I don’t seek out to listen to, but one that I enjoy when it comes on. That’s why it gets an average rating. Enjoyable, but not enjoyable enough to put it into a regular playlist, or in any kind of order that it will come up other than when I’m listening to a random list.

Really like the opening, the bass pounding away, followed by the drums, they’re what makes this song completely. There are songs that are all Bono, there are songs that are all Edge, this is one of the - to be honest - not too many that are all about Adam and Larry. Oh, Bono and Edge have their parts of course, but this is one that I couldn’t see Larry and Adam leaving the stage while Bono and Edge play it acoustically. Edge might do his guitar parts but there’d be long gaps between them with nothing but silence or Bono singing (which Bono might just like).

Salome is of course most famous for being the name of the bootleg Achtung Baby sessions, the stolen tapes that were released to the world. Salome was the first song on the tape, which is where it got its name from, and also played again on it.

The song has one of those failings I’ve railed against, namely that the chorus is repeated a lot, and so my standard memory of the song is simply the repeated phrase “Salome.” On the other hand looking at the lyrics, there’s actually quite a bit in there, so I can’t complain too much. I can, but I won’t.

So what’s the song about? I’m not really sure, I think I have more than one interpretation. Option one is that it’s a song to the belly dancer in Mysterious Ways (which is why it didn’t make the album). You get the lyrics “if you untie the knot,” “shake it,” “won’t you dance for me,” as examples of talking to a dancer. That’s the really simple answer, and probably the most likely. Second choice would be that it’s a guy talking to his wife about breaking up, that’s she’s leaving him and he doesn’t want her to. From the following lyrics I get that, things  like “don’t make me crawl,” “untie the knot” (this one works if he’s asking her for a divorce), “I crawled from your door and my blood turned blue” (I think he listened to her with someone else), and of course “you’re spilling me and your precious love.” So, a couple of possibilities for a meaning. I think I prefer the first, it’s a little lighter, a little more sensible, but knowing Bono he’s going for the deeper darker meaning. Actually knowing Bono, he’s either going for both meanings, or more likely a third that I haven’t thought of, or a fourth or fifth or all of the above all together.

Side note: had a quick listen to the first Toronto show tonight on Mixlr. First time I’ve listened on that, previously I’ve watched on Periscope and/or Meerkat. Have to say that the sound quality was very good, although somehow muted, like the highs of Bono’s voice and the guitars weren’t quite there. It sounded a little off because of that, I’m assuming it was just because it was through a phone.

My rating for Salome: 5 / 10

Even Better Than The Real Thing

Even Better Than The Real Thing has become a regular during the Innocence + Experience tour, I saw it at each of the four shows I attended last week. It’s a really fun song, they play it inside the screen (is there a proper name for that thing yet?), with dots all over their faces which are also shown big. The dots slowly dissolve and show the band members, it looks good (much better than what I describe here).

Even Better Than The Real Thing came off Achtung Baby, but it’s one of those songs, or one of those titles, that I often associate with Pop. I mean, I know it came off Achtung, but the Real Thing always makes me think of Coke, and when I think of that I think of both the consumer addled ideas of Pop, and also the idea of soda-pop. One of those strange associations that comes into my head, I guess.

In terms of ratings I actually have it as a well-rated song, definitely above average, but for Achtung Baby it ends up being much more of an average song in the album, showing how strong the album was. That’s not necessarily a good thing for some of those songs, which may hide their lights under a bushel, but Even Better Than The Real Thing actually got a lot of publicity, and has become a fan favorite, especially since it was released as a single. It disappeared for a while from the live playlist in the 2000s, before returning a little during 360 then coming back regularly on I+E.

I switch back and forth on the point of the song. Obviously Bono’s said before that it’s about the culture of the time, where people aren’t trying to get deep into things but just looking at the surface. The famous quote is something like “sometimes you want to read a magazine, not a novel.” I always have the feeling that Bono has read a bunch of novels, a whole lot more than I have (and I read a lot), because he’s always coming up with weird and wonderful quotes and lines from the most obscure of people, along with the most famous people. Technically Bono reads more literary stuff than I do (my genre is fantasy), which is why his stuff doesn’t always have meaning for me.

Even Better begins with the weird whining of the guitar, but really takes off when the whole band comes in together. Then Bono comes in with lyrics and I have to say that the album version sounds somewhat muted compared to live versions. Not a problem, it sounds like it does and it shows the evolution of the song over the years. There’s a section in the middle, about 2:30, where it’s just Edge and I love that short little part of sound, the guitar raising and lowering as it goes. Then the rest of the band come back and finish the song, and it’s just really good as it rolls to an end. A great song.

My rating for Even Better Than The Real Thing: 7 / 10

Achtung Baby: Kindergarten

It’s interesting listening to the Achtung Baby: Kindergarten album. If you don’t know, this is an album that came out on the deluxe Achtung Baby, and it contains early versions of the songs on the real album. The interesting part is comparing the songs to what was actually released on the final version of the album, to see the chops and changes that the band made. I don’t know at what point each song was taken, whether they were the first recording or the hundredth, halfway through the process or almost at the end. But it is still interesting, hearing a part in one of these songs in one place, knowing it moved somewhere else completely by the end. Or hearing the music change, bits added or removed here and there.

Not going to go through each song individually, because if you’re really interested you can listen to it yourself. But there are a few things I want to say about some of the songs. For example Baby Zoo Station, starting off the album, sounding exactly like the final version for the first 30 seconds or so, then it starts to go off track, as you notice the guitar is clipping a little compared to what you’re used to hearing. Then there’s Baby One, which goes off track right from the start, with this weird high guitar sound that is so off the charts different to the final. Or Baby Until The End Of The World, which although it has different sounds in it, you can really hear the final song pushing through.

Baby Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses sounds quite fun with the guitar the way it is, and then you get the lyrics, which are wildly different. It’s hard to tell on some of them, because they’re so familiar, but I was amazed to hear the opening line be “Your innocence, and experience,” a theme that has come back around again today. Baby Trying To Throw Your Arms has just the oddest sound to open the song, there’s a jangly guitar in there that seems so familiar but so different. Baby Ultraviolet, one of my favorites, but the “Sometimes I feel like I don’t know” that starts the full song is pushed all the way to the end. An interesting lesson in not only changing the lyrics (there’s a lot of lines in there that are changed a little, some a lot, some thrown away), but also moving the lyrics around, like this verse working better in a different place.

One of the most interesting things to me, something that stood out in almost every song: the bass in these songs is much stronger than it ends up being in the end. Somehow they decide to reduce Adam’s part in the songs, most every time. Weird, right? And then there’s also a thought that some of Edge’s stuff got toned down a little too. Like they start way outside on both ends, and end up pulling back towards the middle.

I have to rate this pretty low, for the simple reason that it is relatively gimmicky. It’s something that I won’t listen to very often, because if I want to hear the songs I’m going to listen to the full album. Historical interest really, kind of like reading through an author's first draft. Actually what I would say is that this is something that should be listened to by a lot of young bands, and comparing it to the full album, just as an idea of how songs should develop and change, and a little insight into the amount of change and work that the best band in the world does to put their stuff out. In other words, don’t record your first take and release that, it can always use work.

My rating for Achtung Baby: Kindergarten: 3 / 10

Oh Berlin

Oh Berlin is one of those songs that you can definitely get stuck in your head, an ear-bug if you will. There is a college in the US called Oberlin College, I know nothing about it except that if I hear the name of the college I think of the song, and if I think of the song I think of the college. But then I go on and think of the rest of the song, and it really interests me. One of the better songs that U2 have released that haven’t been heard by the vast majority of people, although I also don’t think it would be very commercially acceptable, certainly not these days.

Oh Berlin came off the Achtung Baby b sides, but only on the remastered Achtung, and I can’t tell when it was actually recorded. Do I believe it was written at that time, yes, because there are so many references to Berlin, let alone the song title, where U2 recorded the album. I suspect though that it was recorded much later than that, maybe the band went back into the studio to re-record it, because it sounds a lot cleaner than the old days, and perhaps most interestingly Bono’s voice sounds much more recent than 25 years ago.

Things we know about the recording of Achtung Baby in Berlin include that they did just part of the album there, it was during Edge’s breakup with his wife, which caused a lot of darkness and grief within the band, and that they almost split up around that time. We also know that Berlin itself was on the verge of breaking up, and the band was trying to grab hold of the zeitgeist, and they in some ways did that amazingly.

Things we know about the song is that it grabs hold of that moment too, and splashes it all over the lyrics. From the opening line, the quietly spoken “Hansa, Hansa,” for the studio they were recording, to the address of the studio, which Bono says so well I imagine he said it a hundred times to taxi drivers (assuming he wasn’t driving a Trabant all the time). From the angel wings of the Wim Wenders movie, to the dropping of the name of some German poet that no-one has ever heard of, in the midst of a bunch of names that are well-known both within the U2 community and much more widely.

It is interesting looking at the psychology of the lyrics, too. Knowing the city by it’s name, that’s pretty clear, that everyone has just one immediate thought when they think of Berlin, but that it’s a whole different place to that. He does the “Stare and not be stared,” the idea that the band was very famous and they couldn’t go anywhere without being stared at, so they hide themselves away in Berlin to be able to do the staring themselves. And to “change location rather than change yourself,” a similar idea, perhaps the running away that Edge was doing at the time.

I also really like the way that the song splits between a singing and speaking voice, it works so well like this. My favorite part is the repeated “Every angel is terror,” for some reason that line grabs me every time. And through all that I’ve written I haven’t even mentioned the music, which works well too, I think it might work for different words and tone of voice too.

My rating for Oh Berlin: 7 / 10

The Fly

The great thing about The Fly is that it is such a perfect symbol of the Achtung Baby era for U2. The bad thing about The Fly is that it is such a perfect symbol of the Achtung Baby era for U2.

A great song, a fun song, it has great music and lyrics and everyone loves when it comes on. The problem is that it is very much the image of U2 in the early nineties, or more specifically it’s the image of Bono that everyone thinks of when they think of him. So anytime I’m getting in a debate (read: argument) with someone about U2, all they have to do is talk about Bono and the giant glasses and that whole The Fly persona, and I have no defense to that. I find it somewhat embarrassing myself, I can’t say anything that I don’t really believe myself. Because frankly, that persona really is very much a product of that time, and even though we can say that he chose to do it as a parody, that’s not what casual viewers of U2 have seen.

As for the lyrics, it is a series of seemingly disconnected sayings, but all pulled together like this they really work well. Each of them has a little bit of thought behind it, until you start to realize that they’re really kind of dark and twisted in a way. My favorite is the self-referential “every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief, all kill their inspiration then sing about their grief,” it is a phrase I think of often for various reasons. Can’t tell you a specific trigger for that one, it seems to just pop up in my head all the time. And that is actually a good thing, because I like thinking of that line, and being reminded of the rest of the song.

So to the question of the night, and that is which version of The Fly is my favorite. Now I have long had a love for the Zoo TV version, I have always enjoyed watching it with the words running on the screen, all the different phrases. I think I’ve said before that I always wanted that as my screensaver, the words looping over and over again. I’d be fired if I put it on my work computer. Zoo TV was the blow away show that I remember to this day, and I’ve seen the videos so many times, it is really just great. But then along came the Boston video from Elevation, and that quickly became a strong contender. Mainly because of the intro, which reminds me of the Shining Stars coda from With Or Without You, at least musically. Then Bono does a little random chanting, then into the “love, shine like a burning star”, and you realize what the song is, and you think they’re doing a slow acoustic version, which would probably be okay, but then they explode into the song with the full band and it turns into awesome. So yeah, a challenge to pick which one I like best.

My rating for The Fly: 7 / 10

Down All The Days

Down All The Days is an early version of Numb, at least much of the music is the same, but the lyrics are very different. It’s somewhat difficult to review the same song twice, but I’m going to try here, especially since I haven’t gotten to Numb yet, so I can say a few things now before I do that song. I’m not a big fan of Numb though, so I hope that doesn’t color this review too much. 

The song came out of the Achtung Baby sessions, and was discarded for that album, although the band revisited it for Zooropa, taking the music and creating Numb out of it. Now, much of the music is different, but there are many parts that were clearly ported directly from one song to the other. Actually by a minute or two Numb isn’t very noticeable, we’ve switched mostly away from the Numb sound into the sound of Down All The Days.

Something that seems to come to me as I listen to the song is the idea of the lyrics being from the Joshua Tree while the music is from Achtung Baby, which might explain why it didn’t work. If you listen just to the music you obviously get it being more modern or whatever the appropriate word is there, because the song ends up showing up on Zooropa. But try listening just to the words sometime, and tell me that they don’t sound like they could come from The Joshua Tree, or perhaps more appropriately from Rattle And Hum. They do have that almost American West sound, something that you get maybe with Hawkmoon, or perhaps the feeling that comes from Heartland. And like I said, that could be why the song didn’t really work, it was trying to mix the two different sensations together and coming up with one mish-mash. Maybe a bit where they hadn’t really gotten out of the Rattle And Hum mode and into the next album just yet.

So what is Down All The Days about? I can’t really tell, and you’re probably not surprised to read that. Remembering that it is an unfinished song, but there are lyrics to hear. The first part is couplets which are sort of opposites (“My lips are dry, they’ve tasted water”), which are therefore senseless. Meaningful? No. Actually, thinking about just one of the lines (“My heart is heavy, it hears the distant firing”) makes me wonder if maybe the song is from a veteran’s perspective, which I can somewhat see if I look back.

Then there’s the title, which is repeated quite often during the song, especially during the middle sections where it repeats several times in a row. And a final section, which Bono pretty much speaks, or reads, rather than sings, and it is not very coherent both in terms of being able to be understood, and when you do actually go read the lyrics, in terms of making any sense at all.

My rating for Down All The Days: 5 / 10

Blow Your House Down

I seem to be on a bit of a roll with the really good b sides/ unpublished songs. Today we get Blow Your House Down, one of the extras that came on the Achtung Baby deluxe edition. Again from the fertile period of the late 80s and early 90s we get a song that could have been a really good fit on many of the albums they’ve released, instead of being relegated to a twenty year anniversary special.

Really good drums, they stand out as both being loud and clear, and in this case pushing the song along. Several times, during the chorus and at other points, the hard beat of the drums switches into where Larry is apparently banging the drum with one hand and the cymbals with the other, really punching up the song at that point. In fact I have to say that the drums seem to dominate this song, they control the sound throughout, and the guitar is really not that noticeable except for a few select points in the song.

Right at the start someone says “One, two, three, four” as the drumsticks beat together, and obviously that would be Larry talking, but I don’t know why I think it sounds more like Adam’s voice. That would be weird, right, the bass player saying the one two three four lead-in while the drummer hits the sticks? And I can’t even say that I know their voices well enough to tell the difference, especially with the little you hear from Adam, so maybe I’m just imagining things.

I enjoy Blow Your House Down until I start to think of the lyrics. Again this seems to be a song about an ex-lover (“Why, though I’m glad you’re gone, Do I want you tonight”), trying to tell you to stay away, that she’s only going to cause you problems. But the rest of the lyrics, or rather the point of the lyrics, is really kind of obscure. I would say that it sounds like Bono trying to be artsy, or literary, but we know he is and this one kind of is a miss. Don’t get me wrong, it’s interesting, it just doesn’t grab me like much of his stuff does.

The chorus, “she’s gonna blow your house down,” is repeated a little too often for my liking. It certainly seems like one of those opportunities for Bono to take the words and twist them a little, make them slightly different each time and keep it interesting.

There is a bridge near the end which I have to say sounds somewhat like a Beatles song. You know, that wishy washy kind of music, hippy dippy, other words that rhyme with each other. It’s the part that starts with “The wave” and ends with “devil’s hands,” which if you haven’t heard the song you have no idea about what I mean. But listen and you’ll hear it, they just suddenly switch into that lame kind of music for a moment.

My rating for Blow Your House Down: 5 / 10

Love Is Blindness

Love Is Blindness is the last song on Achtung Baby, and really is the perfect cap to the album. This is a nice slow song, makes you remember the words when you’re finishing listening to the album and to a show. I often find myself humming to this song when I’ve listened to the album and have moved on to something else.

You get this slow organ music at the start, then it leads into slow bass, which really sounds interesting. It ripples, I don’t know how they did that, I’m guessing some kind of delay pedal that Adam borrowed from Edge. It hums like that through the whole song, sounds great, makes it almost hymn-like.

So I did read some stuff about the song that makes it read two different ways, one being the end of a relationship, the other being a terrorist act. Looking throughout the lyrics I do see some of that, the two stories in the same words. The parked car, the crowded street, these are images from terrorism like we see in the Every Breaking Wave video. But then the next line is the thread ripping, knot slipping, and it’s back to the feeling of the doomed love. This is the kind of lyrics I like, where it can be so ambiguous even within the same line. I’ve said before that it’s the genius of Bono at this time, basically through the Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby eras where he was so on his game. It’s not that he hasn’t before or since, still many fantastic songs, but these were the peak of the band lyrically.

“No call and no warning, baby, a dangerous idea, that almost makes sense.” This line I once read was the inspiration for the album title. The theory was that warning in German is Achtung, and because they were in Berlin at the time they got that word, then you add in the baby following it, and you end up with Achtung Baby. Then the next part of the line continues, calling the album Achtung Baby is a dangerous idea, but it almost makes sense, so let’s go for it. Now I cannot at all confirm the veracity of this, I have no idea where I saw or read this twenty years ago now, and I of course don’t know the exact truth. There are always different versions of why an album got a particular name, and it’s often difficult to nail down the correct reason, especially with someone like Bono who likes to keep you guessing.

If you’ve seen Love Is Blindness on Zoo TV, you’ll know how good it is live. They do this whole thing with constellations projected on the tvs, and Bono wearing the MacPhisto outfit, which is very campy now but was a lot of fun when it was live. Then it switches into Can’t Help Falling In Love With You to end the show. It’s really a brilliant end to a show, the two songs together, a slowing down into some great participatory music. There’s also a live version on the back of Stay.

My rating for Love Is Blindness: 6 / 10

Paint It Black

One of the b sides to Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses, U2 released a cover of Paint It Black in 1992. A cover of an old Rolling Stones song, a song which has apparently been covered by every man and his dog since it was originally released. They covered many of those old bands many years ago, in the period from The Joshua Tree to Achtung Baby and beyond. Some of them worked well, some of them didn’t. Personally I think this version is okay, although I’m not a Stones fan and don’t really know their music, so I don’t have much else to compare it to. I vaguely remember the original, but even then I could be mistaken, it might be someone else’s version that I’ve heard and think is the original.

The Stones I think were one of those bands I just missed out on, a little later than the Beatles but still too early for me. I essentially heard their greatest hits as I was growing up, even when they were releasing new albums at the time. They’re one of the few bands with the longevity of U2, although of course they have had a huge turnover of members, something that U2 has never dealt with. By this point in their careers I doubt that U2 would survive the loss of a single member, they’ve been together so long it wouldn’t feel right swapping out any one of them. Even last year when they missed Bono because of his accident, it was weird seeing Springsteen and Chris Martin on the stage as his replacement. Maybe it would be easier with one of the others, given how integral to the group Bono is. Not that I want to see it happen to any of them.

I think the Stones nowadays are a parody of themselves. Keith Richards is a joke, a figure of fun for late-night talk show hosts. Mick Jagger is an elder statesman of rock, also known as an old geezer who still thinks he’s a kid. He does his prancing around still, but it’s really just ridiculous now. A few years ago he came on stage with U2 and sang a duet, Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of. I must admit that this is one of the very few live U2 performances that I skip through, that even though I like the song I can’t stand hearing his voice on the recording.

I really don’t get what the song is about, and I don’t get why U2 would sing it. At some point I think it’s a funeral (the line of cars painted black), but then there’s the girls in their summer clothes, which doesn’t match that. And I don’t see why they want to paint a red door black either. The only line I really like is “If I look hard enough into the setting sun, my love will laugh with me before the morning comes,” which I do see as something that Bono could have written.

My rating for Paint It Black: 3 / 10

So Cruel

So I did some reading about this song before starting this review, and it depressed me much more than the song ever did. I always thought of it as a cool, not quite love but at least somewhat relaxed, song. I mean, musically it is slow, somewhat calming, a very enjoyable song. But to read some of the point of it, and think back to all the stories of the times that were going on when Achtung Baby was being recorded, really makes me feel a little sad about it, but also happy that the band was able to work through it and go on to the enormous success they have had since then.

Now reading through the Wikipedia article on So Cruel, I was struck by the level of academic interest in the song. I know that’s been out there, I know there’s a lot of religious study based around U2, but it’s interesting to run into such detail on a song like So Cruel, which is relatively unknown compared to other songs on the album, or in U2’s history. I remember reading about some U2 conferences that were held in the last few years as well where they were doing academic work on the band (wish I’d been able to be there). But in the more than one hundred reviews I’ve written so far this year, I haven’t had as much interest in anything as I had in this song. Odd, right? You’d think people would pick on the famous songs.

Take a look at the bibliography in the So Cruel article on Wikipedia, and the first thing that you’ll say is “bibliography?” because it is hard to imagine that the article would need a bibliography. More than that, I have a library of U2 books (okay, a shelf or two), and even I haven’t heard of some of those. Additions to the Amazon list, I guess. But then go back up and read the section where they’re talking about theme, and they get into dualism, then Pascal, and differences on what viewpoint the song was coming from. Wow. It’s almost a culture shock, the idea that you can go and look at the band in this way, and that so much of what I’ve always listened to and thought about has been almost on the surface of what might be there.

On the other hand, I also read something the other day from an author, who said that reviewers and academics find way more themes and references in a book than the author ever knew about.

As to the song itself, the music is really good, dominated I think by the drums and maybe the keyboard, along with the strings (which are probably the reason it never played live much, although rumor has it that they’ll have strings with them for the Innocence and Experience tour, so maybe…). Ultimately though in this case it’s all about the lyrics. And I don’t think there’s a lyric in there that doesn’t work for me. Even the repeated part is minimal - two lines, repeated three times, and they don’t even match each time. That’s what I like, those little twists in the lyrics that make them unique.

My rating for So Cruel: 7 / 10