Thursday, March 05, 2009
Monday, March 02, 2009
I've read 100's of reviews lately on the new U2 album. I've listened to the whole thing several times on My Space (it's good...I need a copy in my car before I can say for sure though). Of all the reviews I've read so far, this is my favorite:
March 02, 2009
By D.K. Row
Let me diverge a bit away from the art world.
On Tuesday, U2 releases its latest, "No Line on the Horizon." Hard to believe that Bono and the lads have been around for more than three
decades stirring up some incredible music and always looking to
reinvent. There's a lesson there for every creative person.
I confess I can't listen to them terribly objectively; I'm a fan. A
mad one. But the always insightful Ann Powers over at the Los Angeles
Times can. And she did, right here.
After the jump, however, is a story I wrote NINE years ago about the
band, on the eve of "All That You Can't Leave Behind." Like the band,
I was in the midst of transition at that time, one that would take me
back to the New York of my college years and then back to Portland.
Such are the nutty ways of love.
By the way, Hiroshi Sugimoto contributed the cover photograph for the
There are some things in life you can never let go right away. The
beloved baseball glove, the well-worn shirt and, not to equate the
three, even an old girlfriend. And there are some bands you never
stop listening to, even when you think you should have outgrown them.
But even rarer is the band that grows up with you, shedding, like
you, its youth, and reinventing its music into something fuller and
I've been listening to U2 for 20 years, when its propulsive guitar-
based sound and passionately sincere lyrics first gripped me in a way
that I knew wasn't merely "of the moment."
Ever since, I've blindly followed singer Bono, guitarist The Edge,
bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen wherever their music
has traveled, from the political anthems of "War" to the industrial
glam-rock of "Achtung Baby" to their latest, "All That You Can't
Leave Behind," which hits the street Tuesday.
I'm not a casual U2 fan, but I don't belong to a fan club or avidly
follow their whereabouts. I don't know much about them personally,
and because I hate crowds, I've seen them live only once. To me, it's
about buying the music and listening to it -- over and over. I've had
to replace a couple of CDs because I've worn them down to the last.
Now, the quartet -- with the same lineup since they began -- is no
longer young. Like the rest of their earliest fans, most of the four
lads from Dublin are now men with wives or serious companions and
families. But the music is still powerful, evocative. And as I listen
to the advance copy of "All That You Can't Leave Behind," I feel the
band's history and my own entwining.
1980 I hear, for the first time, "Boy." Growing up in Southern
California listening to Journey and spending most of my life in the
library, I experienced this as not simply music but some kind of
Rosetta stone in the form of heavenly sound. Authentic power-rock
songs about young love and growing up -- "Out of Control," "Stories
for Boys" -- transport me into that world beyond the imagination:
real life. The record isn't close to being a chartbuster, but Bono's
unabashed emotion and the band's refreshing sound create word-of-
mouth groundswell -- and personal solace of sorts. I've never been
out on a date, and a pretty girl actually asks me out. I turn her
down out of shyness.
1983 The band follows the disappointing "October" -- hastily
assembled after Bono reportedly lost some of the lyrics --
with "War." The Olympian call for peace in Northern Ireland, "Sunday
Bloody Sunday," will become one of U2's signature songs. As will "New
Year's Day," which features The Edge's most blistering guitar solo
ever. While Duran Duran and other fop-haired bands dominate the
charts, U2 becomes a critic's darling, making idealists out of us
all. I'm a dutiful student with a passion for sports. Although I grew
up in the seductive world of swimming pools, sun and Los Angeles-area
beaches, I move to New York to fight my own good fight: getting an
1984 I spend my first Thanksgiving away from home. I barely know how
to cook, so I eat a slice of cheese pizza the size of a Frisbee.
Somehow, I don't mind that I saw a rat running through the pizzeria's
kitchen, either. In New York, coping mechanisms -- called denial --
are everything. The band teams up with ambient sound masters Brian
Eno and Daniel Lanois for "The Unforgettable Fire." The music is more
sophisticated, but also muddled and diffuse. Bono's lyrics are even
more emotionally abstract and The Edge subsumes his ego. The once-
blistering ax is now layers of jangly, melodic echo.
At the time, I'm not sure Eno is the right producer for the band, but
in retrospect, this is U2's breakthrough record, intimating the grand
sonic landscapes ahead. I triumph with my own breakthrough. I get my
first girlfriend, a smarty-pants Ivy League girl who speaks English
like one of Lord Chesterfield's daughters. She thinks little of U2 --
"The spy plane shot down by those Russians?" We will not last.
1987 "The Joshua Tree" comes out. From the beginning track, "Where
the Streets Have No Name," there is no question this album will be a
masterpiece. Singles are plentiful: "With or Without You," "I Still
Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." I try to write a novel and spend
a year working demoralizing part-time jobs. I listen obsessively to
U2 to procrastinate, carried away by Bono's reach-for-the stars
cliches and The Edge's spiraling arpeggios. I write a grand total of
20 pages for the year, and get mugged for the first time ever on East
90th Street by seven kids. U2, though, becomes a certified mega-band.
1988 The '80s are winding down. That means yellow ties are out of
style, thank heaven. U2 follows up "The Joshua Tree" with "Rattle &
Hum," a buffet of fake blues and overblown anthems. It's all
hysterical polemic with the band's lowest moment: During "Silver and
Gold," Bono gives his famous Bishop Tutu speech, which asks the
question, "Am I buggin' you?" Has success spoiled the once-earnest
four lads? Of course. But that's OK. They still make the most
beautiful noise. As a musician friend tells me, "Listening to U2 is
every musician's secret bad habit." I stop writing and take a well-
paying job as a researcher at a law firm. Twenty floors up in the sky
in Manhattan's midtown, I spend many long days and nights reading and
researching legal documents, wishing I could play the guitar like The
1991 Redemption. The band returns with its finest effort. Recording
in Berlin and Dublin, the band reinvents itself with "Achtung Baby,"
a hybrid of arena rock, industrial soundscapes and ambient touches
that also presages the techno movement to come later in the decade. I
leave the big city and end up in Nepal, the most beautiful place on
Earth. What you don't see in those picture-perfect postcards is the
filth of Third World life. So after four weeks of not bathing and
ingesting what was probably a smidgen of cow dung by accident, I'm
felled by some terrible stomach disorder. In my dark tent, I lie
down, turn on my Walkman, block out the chatter of the sherpas, and
mend my intestines with beautiful sound: U2's sweet, soothing and
sad "One." 1994 I break up with my girlfriend -- someone I thought
was the love of my life. On a lark, I relocate to Portland. I know no
one. I don't have a job. I've never even been to this city. It is
quiet, clean, beautiful, with tons of creative young people. I take
to riding my bike late at night in the Northwest industrial section
of town and then across the Hawthorne Bridge, listening to the band's
1993 release, "Zooropa." U2, I believe, is not popular in the
Northwest, though slightly whiny alternative bands like Pavement and
Nirvana and the "alternative sound" are. What I also realize is this:
The last thing the world needs is another angst-ridden
hipster. "Zooropa," along with another fabulous record, Jane
Siberry's "When I Was a Boy," are my best friends as I fall in love
with the Northwest's own lushly ambient atmosphere: constant dappling
rain, good beer and strong coffee. 1997 "Pop" comes out. The band is
in full self-mockery mode -- the parodic PopMart tour seems just pure
spectacle. Although U2 has outlasted every band from the '80s, and
constantly challenged itself musically and influenced the likes of
Radiohead and a bunch of other alternative bands, "Pop" seems a
disappointment. Sonically, there are moments of gorgeousness, namely
The Edge's guitar work, which often replicates the sound of a
synthesizer. The band, though, seems to try too hard to be current
and cutting, when, in fact, the lads are old men -- in rock 'n' roll
years, that is. But so am I, as I put my art background and love of
writing to use as a local art reviewer.
2000 Older, grayer and, in the case of The Edge, balder, the band
comes out with "All That You Can't Leave Behind," a stripped-down
version of its early guitar-based, powerhook-laden songs. The first
single, "Beautiful Day," announces that U2 is back on its home turf
of emotional directness and grand sound-making. I thumb through the
liner notes that feature, again, the band's pleas to join Amnesty
International. Then it dawns on me, for some reason, that Ronald
Reagan was president when I first heard the band. Post-punk, all that
bad '80's music, grunge, those regrettable revivals of the '70s
and '80s have all come and gone. So, too, have I. Today I write about
art for this newspaper and I have a wonderful girlfriend who has
shown me how to take the right things seriously. The law firm, Nepal,
a failed attempt at writing a novel, and so many other things seem as
far away as "Boy." She tolerates my U2 obsession only because her
best friend, Matt, a former musician, is a bigger U2 freak than I am.
Last week Matt and his wife visited Portland, and we spent a night
drinking beer, talking about U2 and his about-to-be-born first child.
"I know this is not goodbye," Bono sings in one of the songs from the
new disc. I don't know which song it is -- I've just been listening
to the music over and over. And it also dawns on me: If Bono and the
boys decided to hang up their instruments and call it a day, I know
they'd be fine. And I know they'd never get together again, either.
That's how it should be.
And I would be fine, too, even though my favorite band would stop
making music. Because there are some things you never let go of, even
after they're gone.
© The Oregonian, 2009.