Why I Hate U2
I can remember a day when, sometime late in 1983, I thought U2 were the bomb. WAR had just been released and it sounded amazing. One of my favorite bands around that time, Simple Minds, had just released their opus New Gold Dream the year prior and were poised to storm the castle, but this band of 4 Irishmen had something they didn’t; passion. The Minds were fantastically icy where U2 sounded like they were yelling in your ear to “take some bloody action!!”
They were born out of the ashes of punk rock but sounded nothing like the ‘post punk’ music that was so prevalent at the time. They were serious about their global causes, or so it seemed, whereas their peers were content to wallow closer to home. The messages were backed up by some supersonic musical vision; it sounded triumphant. And so it was that I turned into a U2 fan.
I bought The Unforgettable Fire with great expectations, and they were met. It remains more atmospheric than WAR and is my 2nd favorite U2 album to this day. Forget the hit song about MLK; rather, focus on the majesty that is Bad, the Eno-esque soundscapes of A Sort Of Homecoming and the title track, and the thunderous winner that is Wire. As an album, it holds up better than most.
And here’s where they lost me. 1987’s The Joshua Tree was a massive step backward in my opinion and is one of the most overrated pieces of faux Americana ever committed to tape. I…just…hate…this…album. This is an album that is devoid of a soul, a band trying too hard to be popular by absorbing every rock and roll cliché there ever was, and succeeding wonderfully. It, of course, went on to sell trillions of copies, and I believe that I am alone in my venom for The Joshua Tree, I understand that. Even Pitchfork gives it an 8.9, saying “Funnily enough, while The Joshua Tree once and for all catapulted U2 to permanent superstardom, the album marks something of a conscious refinement of the group’s sound. The album was nowhere near as strident as War or as radically overwrought as The Unforgettable Fire (which was, lest one forget, recorded in a frickin’ castle). Reunited with producers Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, it’s as if the band finally took a moment to ponder the wide-open American spaces it had been traveling through for years and applied those musical and cultural observations to its songs. It’s an album made for dusty, empty flyover country.” I don’t care. I hate this record.
My feelings were justified by the odorous mess that was Rattle and Hum. I’ll leave it at that, ‘cause in this case the less said about that record, the better.
I forgot about them for 3 years, and then they go and release the incredible Achtung Baby. Once again they chose to co-opt the popular sounds of the day, in this case house culture, but the difference was, like so many of the great rock and roll chameleons (Bowie, Reed, etc), they turned their influences into something exciting and new. I was so taken by this album that I forgave the band and became a fan once more. Their follow up, Zooropa, was even better, because it was weirder, and fresher. It is a punk rock techno album made by Irish millionaires. It is my ‘go-to’ U2 album, for these reasons and because it wasn’t played to death by radio.
Ok, so it’s now 1997 and the band release POP, supposedly the “proper” follow up to Achtung baby. I happen to dig this record. Everyone I know hates it. Yes, perhaps they went a tad overboard trying to sound relevant, and perhaps the concept of pop culture overload was half-baked at best, but this album still has as many joys as it does failures. Staring At The Sun is one of the best things they ever wrote, and Miami is wonderfully skewed electro-pop, and even MOFO, while sounding like the Stone Roses techno explorations circa “Second Coming”, still thrills. It is the band’s most derided and undervalued album in their discography. Their “Hot Space”, if you will.
I gave the next album a try, I really did, but this is the part of the story where I say goodbye, for good this time, with the band. All That You Can’t Leave Behind, hailed as a return to form, is God-awful. Only A Beautiful Day is worthwhile. The saccharine pap that is the remainder of the record (Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of, Walk On and Peace On Earth being the worst of the bunch) is a travesty and, quite frankly, vomit inducing.
The next 2 albums (How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb and No Line On The Horizon), well, I can only guess were as terrible as All That You Can’t…, because I didn’t listen to them. I won’t listen to them, either. I mean, what’s the point?
I hear the band is working with Danger Mouse for their next album, an obvious attempt to connect with an audience that has moved on, picking a producer who is perceived as hip in order to jump-start the old jalopy that is U2. It’s putting lipstick on a pig, at this point. I don’t think any producer could help this band at this point.
It’s time to retire to the scrap yard, boys.