Ruminations on TV Shows, Comics, And Music
I don't know if there is a moment when a person becomes insufferable. But I know there is often a moment when you come to the conclusion that a person or group of people is insufferable. And for a lot of people, U2 became insufferable with the release of their documentary, Rattle & Hum. With its deep stares out windows, long political rants, fixation on the band's relations to famous American rock pioneers, and bland covers of obvious songs ("All Along The Watchtower"? Really? "Helter Skelter"? Come on.), it is a tough watch for a night at the movies, but a fun watch for a night at home, taking a shot every time someone says something pretentious.
The backlash was so severe, and so understood by the band that they changed their entire image, and drenched themselves in irony before they released their next album.
This was the second U2 album I owned. It contained live versions of some of the songs I enjoyed from the previous album. The gospel choir version of "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking Far" is still, in my opinion, far superior to the original. Depending on the day, I go back and forth about whether the Joshua Tree or Rattle & Hum version of "Bullet The Blue Sky" is my favorite. I really enjoyed the whole album at the time.
I wouldn't call it "good".
For this alternate universe I've removed all the live tracks. All of them. Every interview clip, gone. I've inserted a few b-sides and covers, but they're not the covers that appeared on "Rattle & Hum". This version is so different, that I think it deserves a different name, so I'm calling it "Desire". The cover at is the art from the "Desire" single. Shadowy Larry Mullen Jr. is my favorite band member from this era.
Whereas The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree started with atmospheric music, and then the lyrics crept in, Desire starts off with brief, janky calliope music, and then Larry Mullen Jr. starts pounding on some drums. Everything about this album is American, in a way only four white dudes from Not America could conceive. The music sounds like it's written to filled a vast, empty landscape. The lyrics are all about love and longing (hence the title).
"Hawkmoon 269" sounds like it was conceived of in a creative writing class, where the instructor said "Write some lyrics about love, using only similes." This is not a dig. I really like the lyrics in this song because they are dopeily simple. Bono just needs your love, guys. GIVE HIM YOUR LOVE OR HE WILL CONTINUE TO WRITE SIMILES ABOUT HOW MUCH HE NEEDS YOUR LOVE. I also love the choir that builds behind the final verse. It's possible Bono actually wrote this song from this alternate universe, as he's always maintained that the title comes from a town he passed through in the Dakotas called Hawkmoon. But no such town exists in the universe I live in.
If Bono were more a metaphor guy than a simile guy, then "Heartland" would be a flat song. And while he's not on perfect pitch for this whole song, he's not nearly as flat as he was on The Unforgettable Fire. He is occasionally breathy, especially when he says "Heartland". Luckily, that's not, like, the most used word in the song.
While I wouldn't call this album joyous, there is a lot more love and contented wonder contained in this album than any that proceed it. It's more joyously adolescent than Boy, whose whole premise was surviving adolescence.
The first single, is the eponymous song, "Desire". I love this song. I, unironically, love the lyrics, even though I don't know why the red guitar is on fire. While I don't think the concept of desire is uniquely American, we do have a flavor of desire that the tone of this song encapsulates. It's all over money money money money money money /money money money money money money/and the fever is getting higher. I think I recall this song being used to advertise the NBA playoffs at the beginning of the 21st century, and instead of thinking "sellouts", I thought "That actually makes sense. Both for what it's advertising, and to be a song that you sell the rights to for advertising."
If you want an uncomfortable and awkward explanation about why U2 was obsessed with Elvis Presley, you can check out the Rattle & Hum documentary. If you want to hear an absolutely wretched song about it, you can look up their song "Elvis Presley And America", which does not exist in my alternate reality. If you just want a general sense for their Elvis reverence, "A Room At The Heartbreak Hotel" should suffice. In our universe, it was a B-side for "Desire", but I think it's just as good as anything on the album, particularly the choir repeating the song title ad nauseum at the end before finally deciding to say hallelujah.
As I mentioned in the preamble, there were some very On The Nose American covers on Rattle & Hum that I didn't want to include. But, in the spirit of the album I've included two covers that seem more surprisingly American. First off is a hit from Robert Knight called "Everlasting Love". This is a very American song that's not part of The Great American Songbook, nor is it from The Overplayed Book Of American White Dudes.
Next up is a reverse cover. "Slow Dancing" is a song that Bono wrote for Willie Nelson (that version will show up later). It was written during the sessions for Zooropa, which is three albums away. But it *sounds* like it should have been recorded in the late eighties, so I'm putting it here.
Climbing out of "Slow Dancing" is the final cover for the album, "Unchained Melody". A Righteous Brothers song that seemed omnipresent in soundtracks for 1980s movie, but actually was only on the soundtrack to Ghost in 1990. But, oh was that song everywhere in 1990. The song was also popularized by a cover by Elvis, recorded on the final concert film he made before he died. I hate to think that they only recorded it because of its Elvis connection, but it seems, given some of the interviews from Rattle & Hum, that that's probably the case. Luckily, those interviews never took place in this alternate universe, and we can believe that U2 were just really big Righteous Brothers fans.
It's wailing harmonica time, America. And Bono still needs your love. He needed it in "Hawkmoon 269", he needed it in "Everlasting Love", he needed it in "Unchained Melody", and he needs it to rescue him now in "Love Rescue Me". The horns here are also very American, but not as American as some impending horns on this album. This song is the most How An Irish Guy In His Thirties Might Imagine An American Cowboy Song Would Sound. It even has some Biblical lines.
I first heard "Dancing Barefoot" on the Threesome soundtrack. I didn't realize it was a Patti Smith cover, because I was an ignorant teenager. I don't remember anything about the movie Threesome. Even looking at the cover of the album now makes me shrug. I don't know what enticed me to pick it up, aside from my need to own all things U2. But I do still enjoy their cover, but not as much as the original.
"When Love Comes To Town", the third single from the album , features BB King on vocals. BB's growls are super American. At the time of the recording he had recently been inducted into The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, part of the second ever group of musicians voted in. Like virtually all performers who record duets with Bono, King outsings him by a wide, wide margin. It's also good to hear Lucille (King's guitar) take center stage, as opposed to The Edge's unnamed guitar.
I mentioned in the preamble that U2 is about to change almost every aspect of their music. They're about to go super dancey. There is a fantastically fun remix of "Desire" that has a ton of news samples, as well as heavy use of sirens. "God (Part 2)" also has that dancey feel, but without the samples. It's an interesting preview of what's to come on Achtung Baby. It's also got a similar list poemy feel that opened the album on "Hawkmoon 269" centered on faith and belief, as opposed to romantic love.
Taking the tone back to acousticy Americana, we get "Hallelujah (Here She Comes)", another "Desire" B-side. Rarely do I let a song fully fade out, without bringing up another track on these albums, but I like letting this song simmer out in preparation for the next track.
The second single, "Angel Of Harlem" is the brassiest, Americanest song U2 has ever recorded. I wish it weren't about New York City, the most cliche American city to write about. But I love the horns. It's so 80s American rock.
The final track is also the final single, "All I Want Is You" is probably U2's most spic-sounding ballad. Definitely it's most bombastic. In contrast to the first track, Bono is now concerned with what the object of his affection wants. Though he immediately reminds the person that he has only one want YOU. ALL HE WANTS IS YOU. GIVE HIM YOUR YOU. His implication that you are being metaphorical in your desires, while his is pretty straight-forward is a great way to end an album where Bono has been constantly demanding that you love him.
I really do think this album is heads and shoulders better than Rattle & Hum, as its more direct in theme, and doesn't suffer from "Is it a live album? Is it a studio album? Who is this person quietly talking to Larry Mullen Jr before we are suddenly listening to a live track where The Edge is singing lead vocals?" "Were Satan and Adam" (the name of a singing duo) "properly paid for the thirty seconds of Freedom For My People that's randomly inserted into the album?"
I hadn't listened to the proper album, in its entirety, for years before I started making my own versions of U2's discography. But I do find myself, on occasion, putting "Desire" on, when I get nostalgic for U2's Americana phase.