Thursday, March 5, 2009

Playlist: U2

[Playlist is an attempt to distill my favorite artists to 80-minute compilations. If someone asked me to burn them a mix of the bands featured here, I would give them this collection.]

I harbor two great, Irish guilts: Catholicism and U2. One is hopelessly outdated, incapable of dealing with the new challenges and advances of the 21st century. Sure, I applaud its humanitarian efforts, but most of its greatest contributions happened so long ago. All I hear now is epic failure.

Oh, and the other is Catholicism.

U2 released its 12 album this week, No Line on the Horizon, and I've been trying to think of a way to write about the band without actually having to listen to the got-damn record. If you've heard the cluttered mess of a lead single "Get On Your Boots" (linked above), then you know the album is going to suck, without question or apology. If you're a steadfast U2 fan, though, you're faced with a more intricate situation: How do you defend it? The band has squandered pretty much all of the good will it earned with the more modest, quiet success that was 2000's All That You Can't Leave Behind by going back the "experimental" techno-pop of, uh, Pop.

I want you to think of the most famous U2 songs. At what point does Pop pop into your head? Can you name any songs off of Pop, besides maybe "Discotheque?" Pop was a huge failure for U2, burdened with too much half-baked irony and dance beats. I have no idea why bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. would put up with The Edge's stupid electronic experiments on No Line on the Horizon, when they almost left the band in the mid-'90s for the exact same reason.

To help promote the new album, Comcast's OnDemand service is currently offering all of U2's music videos (Yes, even "Discotheque"). Since I was still stupidly interested in writing about the band this week, I opted to watch all the vids and discuss that experience. This was a bad idea. Sometimes it was awesome ("I Will Follow" has great dancing, Larry fucks a mermaid in "Electrical Storm," and "All I Want is You" is perfect on every level), and sometimes it was awesomely bad ("Lemon," the be-leathered "Elevation"), but mostly it was just badly bad ("All Because of You," the 103 different versions of "One"). I quit halfway.

I went into that experiment trying to figure out why people hate U2's music. My girlfriend is extremely vocal about U2's suckitude, and for a while I thought maybe it was because, being a little older than me, she's more a '90s kid than I am. And the '90s are when U2 really did not rock (Do I have to trot out "Discotheque" again?). Now I realize it's something else: U2 simply wrote a lot of shitty songs, many of which ended up as singles.

Right now, I'm sitting my family room, wearing jeans and a brown Beach Boys t-shirt with the Endless Summer album cover. The Beach Boys, or what I wear on my days off from work, isn't too relevant, but what the The Beach Boys' music represents is. As you may or may not remember, The Beach Boys and The Beatles had a creative rivalry for a brief period in the '60s. It ended when The Beatles responded The Boys' Pet Sounds, itself a reaction The Beatles' Rubber Soul, with Revolver and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. BB mastermind Brian Wilson collapsed under the pressure of trying to complete his answer, Smile (which eventually came out in 2004). The Beatles continued to drop classic, perfect records for a few more years before dissolving, while most people considered The Beach Boys to be, a-heh, washed up. Only here's the thing: The Beach Boys kept writing great songs. Check out Surf's Up or Sunflower sometime. Those records boast the same kind of earnest, pure, sunny pop music found on Pet Sounds or Surfin' U.S.A. The Beach Boys were still great; they just weren't a singles band anymore.

And that's what I think U2 might be as well. Now, my favorite U2 song is still a hit ("Sunday Bloody Sunday"). But, my new theory is that maybe people hate U2's music because all of their songs are either A) massively overplayed or B) not played enough. It was in that vein that I crafted this playlist. It was the most difficult one to form yet, as U2 has quite a few songs. I tried avoid singles if possible, which is why I cut The Joshua Tree out pretty much altogether, but I ended up breaking that rule a lot (Look, "Beautiful Day" is a good song, clam-flammit). If my special lady friend ever lets me, I will sit her down and play this mix. It leans pretty heavily on War, but that's because it's one of the best freaking rock records of all dang time.

She's Gonna Live in America
1. "A Sort of Homecoming," The Unforgettable Fire
2. "Sunday Bloody Sunday," War
3. "I Will Follow," Boy
4. "Gloria," October
5. "Beautiful Day," All That You Can't Leave Behind
6. "An Cat Dubh," Boy
7. "Zoo Station," Achtung Baby
8. "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses," Achtung Baby
9. "Grace," All That You Can't Leave Behind
10. "Sweetest Thing," The Best of 1980-1990
11. "All I Want is You," Rattle and Hum
12. "In a Little While," All That You Can't Leave Behind [FACT: Joey Ramone was listening to this song when he died.]
13. "Stories for Boys," Boy
14. "Like a Song...," War [Here's a War block for ya.]
15. "The Refugee," War
16. "Surrender," War
17. ""40"," War
18. "Mlk," The Unforgettable Fire


Paul Tsikitas said...

The Refugee? Really?

No Bad? Ouch.

Joe said...

Refugee rips! It's the surfiest U2 ever got. Not necessarily representative of their overall sound, but I dig it.

Unforgettable Fire kinda got the shaft; I'm think about dropping a few War songs.

Sam Fran said...

Well you definitely covered the extent of my U2 love -- War and All That You Can't Leave Behind. Fact: Markie Ramone sung "Elevation" in a Karaoke last week.

(OK, maybe not.)