U2 – “All that you can’t leave behind”
U2 seem to be the only act in the world of the last decade whereby every album, is treated with critcal acclaim irrelevant of the actual music within. After a creative burst and their reinvention of themselves into something ironic, psuedo-alternative and psuedo-hip in the “Achtung baby” and “Zooropa” sessions (1990-1991 and 1993 respectively), all blipverts and techknowledgy, they’ve been riding the creative coattails ever since. ”Passenagers” – the self-indulgent follow-up to “Zooropa” was so bad they refused to release it under the name U2, and like “Pop” , it was comprised mainly of reheated leftovers and unfinished outtakes from the “Achtung baby” and “Zooropa”. “Pop”was at best a patchy album , with most of its best ideas coming from collaborators such as Howie B who provided drum loops.
Now, U2, find themselves in the position of having to write some songs from scratch again, possibly for the first time in a decade. There’s nothing left in the can for them to reheat, so they’ve had to steal all the best ideas from their collaborators again. The result is an album which unmistakably has Brian Eno stamped all over like an invading American army on the warpath. Huge washes of ambient lush sound, another enoesque chord ringing out with infinite guitar, impassioned yet somehow transparent vocals from the world bets politician – turned-pop-star Bono (he never mentions the Vox anymore). Its no surprise that the vast majority (10 of 11, or 12 in the UK edition) of tracks here feature programming and synths by Brian Eno (now the 5th member of the band to all intents and purposes) : and no surprise that the best tracks are these ones too. It inhabits the same sonic territory, nothing new, warm, safe and no surprises please. All shimmering keyboards and guitars, and as Bono says on the second track “There nothing you can throw at me I haven’t already hear….Im just trying to find a decent melody”. The track itself is called “Stuck In a moment you can’t get out of”. Its an oddly accurate description of U2’s current status. Many of the songs are memorable ear candy, with many a hit single waiting to leap out on the public, (“Walk On”,“Elevation” and “Kite” seem most memorable…) unmistakably U2, unmistakably the stadium rock they once proclaimed to have left behind. Its as if “Achtung Baby” never happened. All that you can't leave behind indeed.
The very sleeve – the band looking lost and bored in an airport, indicates they don’t know where they’re going, wandering aimlessly. Whilst Its an album which retains its very U2-ness of “Pop”, the best indicator sonically is the “Million Dollar Hotel” soundtrack, which features 2 other U2 songs, one of which “the Ground Beneath her Feet”, is included here for crass commercialism alone. Included against the bands wishes, this not only indicates that U2 have lost their status of creative control, but it also seriously unbalances the album. “Stateless” (of the MDH soundtrack) would have been a far far better choice, but realistically, it’s the sound of a band going forward simply because they don’t know what else to do, all rampant egos (c’mon, the singer made a film of his own screenplay and made the music – how much more indulgent and pampered can you get?, a film that the star Mel Gibson slandered off horrendously just recently as a film that should never been made), and an album of creative dead ends, stuck in a moment they can’t get out of. The radical reinvention seems now to be the norm, and makes U2 seems like they’re looking to the past for the ideas they had and lost, not forward anymore. They had the chance to reshape music the same way as they did in 1991, but instead they chose the safe option. Its Pleasant, easy to listen to and easy and easy on the ears, packed full of hummable tunes and choruses you’ll be singing after the first verse…but that’s not enough. Noweere near. Its passable, the sound of a band treading creative water. Maybe someone should throw them a lifebelt.....
6Graham Reed's Score