Jul 10

U2 – “Desire”

Popular155 comments • 7,558 views

#616, 8th October 1988, video

“Music’s become too scientific, it’s lost that spunk and energy that it had in the ’50s and ’60s. When I listen to most modern records I hear a producer, I don’t hear musicians interacting. And that quality, that missing quality is something we were trying to get back into our own music. What I like about Desire is that if there’s ever been a cool #1 to have in the UK, that’s it because it’s totally not what people are listening to or what’s in the charts at the moment. Instead it’s going in exactly the opposite direction. It’s a rock and roll record – in no way is it a pop song.”
– The Edge, October 1988

So the lead single from the new album by the biggest rock band in the world sneaks to the top of the charts for a stray week – as the Edge’s comments suggest, rock and the singles market had essentially given up on each other long ago. But in one respect he’s quite right – reissues aside, you have to go back six years to find a song quite as firmly guitar-led as “Desire” at number one. And yes, it’s rather refreshing. Doesn’t hurt, either, that U2 are using the Bo Diddley beat, which is as near to a can’t-lose strategy as rock ever devised.

What I don’t hear in it, unfortunately, is much spunk or energy. “Musicians interacting” implies some kind of spark or spontaneity to me, a group playing off one another. But not this group: U2’s music has always been ball-tighteningly self-conscious, and the aggressive traditionalism of the Rattle And Hum period sees their self-awareness cripple them.

It ought to be so obvious it doesn’t need saying, but the 50s and 60s music U2 were reaching back to wasn’t itself reaching back to anything quite so consciously. This puts the revivalist rocker in a twisty situation, caught between the content they’re resurrecting and the gesture of resurrection itself. The content is old but spontaneous, the gesture new but calculating.

A favourite way to align content and gesture is to treat both as oppositional, a rejection of now. And so since 1967 at least there’s been an idea of rock music as something you retreat to – a purifying force, like a musical and spiritual detox. This rootsy, Edenic version of rock is something musicians often make a great show of rediscovering: U2 hardly the first and certainly not the last, though setting this spiritual rebirth out in the desert was a very Bono touch.

The Joshua Tree worked, though, because it mixed revivalist aspirations with more interesting musical choices, breaking its rock songs open and turning them into lattices of sound, Edge’s guitar criss-crossing and rippling across the tracks and forming the perfect structure to support Bono even at his most messianic. I can’t listen to all of it without wincing, but on its own terms that album is a success because it acknowledges and dramatises the revivalist gesture. It makes the band’s quest for Truth In Rock something emotionally real but just out of reach.

But it’s often the way with rock bands: they don’t get number one singles off their world-beating album, they get them from the first new material after that, often with painful consequences. Rattle And Hum is what happens when Bono finds what he’s looking for and spends a double album showing it off. It’s a series of proofs of the worth of roots music that ends up demonstrating how dusty and exhausting it can be.

“Desire” is far from its worst example, but even at three minutes it meanders. At the end Bono plays harmonica, because That’s What You Do In Rootsy Rock Records, and his jaunty little solo manages to dissipate most of the mood poor old The Edge has spent the song building. At the start Bono groans “Yeah….” as if rock itself has just sucked him off.

Get past that and there’s an effective, muscular rock number that doesn’t quite lift off. The lyrics are part of the problem: fevers getting higher, red guitars on fire, needles and spoons, bright lights, city streets and so on. It’s a concentrate of cliché which Bono dilutes with his customary passionate solidity, and I can’t help but feel a Springsteen (or a Bolan, or a Reid brother) would have used that concentrated quality and turned the song into something more like an incantation or a spell. In other words, contra The Edge, maybe Desire’s problem is that it’s not enough of a pop song.



  1. 1
    punctum on 12 Jul 2010 #

    Maintaining a pattern in the British singles chart depressing in its predictability, U2 achieved their extremely belated first number one single with possibly their worst single. The rolling disaster that was Rattle And Hum – not least for the integrity of the British music press, for which it was a death blow – need not be understated; aching to please their newly-won American audiences, U2 confessed to roots they never had, cantering like a monowheeled Model “T” Ford though interminable dirges like “When Love Comes To Town,” “Angel Of Harlem” and “Death Rescue Me” (or should that be “Love Rescue Me”? Still, Dylan’s performance suggests the former title to be far more apposite) and hamfisted live cuts, all designed to demonstrate their mulleted Authenticity.

    I would guess that “Desire” was supposed to be their “Get Back” switchback, clocking in as it does at 2:56, but it remains a turgid “Not Fade Away” retread with Bono initially sounding (check the “bright lights” and “red guitar” in the first verse, if these highly original images have not already put you off doing so) like Ian Astbury of the Cult. But whereas the intentionally hysterical likes of “Love Removal Machine” and “Li’l Devil” somehow (Rick Rubin) ingeniously managed to make the old rock live and breathe again, “Desire,” despite its attempted dub-like dropouts and topicality (“She’s the promise in the year of election”) halfway through, is so enthralled and suffocated by its perceived need to Honour and Respect its antecedents, down to Bono’s spectacularly inept harmonica playing for which I would not even give him an empty bottle of lighter fluid in Tottenham Court Road tube station, that it squats in the vivid fields of 1988 pop like a stuffed, staid reproduction antique, or an old wino who needs to be moved along before we all end up breathing the spirit of meths.

  2. 2
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 12 Jul 2010 #

    4:10 is actually what I gave Rattle and Hum in my review for NME, combined with an aggressively dismissive review they declined to print.* I was away the week of publication; they assigned the review to someone else, who gave it a kinder notice and a much better mark (8:10). I read this while abroad, handed in my (slightly theatrical) resignation** and never looked back. Obviously it gratified me over subsequent months to see record and tape exchange fill up with returned copies of R&H, which still has the capacity to annoy me (most of their records leave me unmoved either way; not this one).

    *Sadly I have no surviving copy of this review. I don’t now recall if it was well written or just a rant.
    **As a freelancer, this was in a sense meaningless.

  3. 3
    Tom on 12 Jul 2010 #

    OMG I’d forgotten “Angel Of Harlem” :(

  4. 4
    punctum on 12 Jul 2010 #

    In the Hit Singles Citing John Coltrane League “Angel Of Harlem” is as distant as possible a second to “Reasons To Be Cheerful Part 3.”

  5. 5
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 12 Jul 2010 #

    haha i can feel myself getting riled up all over again — i shall let others comment before i return to the fray

  6. 6
    Kat but logged out innit on 12 Jul 2010 #

    Watching the video to this I am struck by how much Bono looks like Tommy Wiseau in his waistcoat and long flowing black locks…

  7. 7
    lonepilgrim on 12 Jul 2010 #

    i’m pretty sure that I bought ‘R &H’ on the strength of the positive NME review and having listened to it was bewildered why it got such a positive press. Subsequent revelations on these pages have shed some light on the whole murky business. ‘Desire’ is too mannered – and not in a good way. For all it’s attempts at energy it never takes you anywhere.

  8. 8
    TomLane on 12 Jul 2010 #

    I can’t claim to be the biggest U2 fan, but when their singles work, they work damn good, and this does just that. Not quite sure what Tom Ewing doesn’t hear as far as energy or spunk, I hear a lot of it wrapped indeed around the legend of Bo Diddley.
    Musically, it’s all over the place, and you wonder if it knows where it’s going. Sometimes Bono seems to be catching up to the band, probably the record’s one weakness, yet the way it moves to it’s finish makes up for it. Clocking in at just under 3 minutes this achieves what The Edge was talking about; it’s a good old homage to Rock ‘n’ Roll of the 50’s/60’s.
    A #3 in the U.S. and a solid 8 for me.

  9. 9
    Steve Mannion on 12 Jul 2010 #

    Having loathed The Joshua Tree singles this is the first instance I can recall of me doing at least a brief 180 turn on a band. Desire’s basic urgency and propulsive JANG felt suitably vivid and arresting and I’m not sure I’d heard anything much like it before at the time unless that Scotch VHS advert featuring a pastiche of ‘Not Fade Away’ was doing the rounds at this time (with the Stones themselves having continued to struggle thru the 80s until the Steel Wheels tour) – more authentic/centric blues-rock being too far from a chartscape bombarded by metalists (with Iron Maiden making their major shift to regular top 10 hitters this year). Wasn’t half as keen on the subsequent R&H singles but this is still a 6 for me.

  10. 10
    Tom on 12 Jul 2010 #

    R&H is like cartoon straw-man lazy definition “rockism” come to ACTUAL LIFE, I think the fact that even U2 realised it was a bad idea within a year or so suggests that it IS a bit of a straw man.

    Vacillated between a 4 and a 5 on this though, I had to check the last couple of years and realise I’d prefer to hear all the 5s I’d given before deciding.

    (Plenty to say about U2: The Irony Years too but there’s a good opportunity for that upcoming.)

  11. 11
    23 Daves on 12 Jul 2010 #

    I keep forgetting this single even existed, never mind got to number one. It’s surely one of the laziest sounding chart toppers ever, a completely lethargic dirge dressed up as “real rock and roll”. It’s almost as if they turned up to the studio and thought a half-hearted one-take rehearsal of a new song constituted rawness and authenticity, and was therefore worthy. Rather than sounding edgy and thrilling, it manages to give over the impression of “Will this do?” Bono even sounds as if he wrote the lyrics on the spot.

    Listening again, this almost sounds like B-side material by The Alarm rather than a proper, fully fledged single by one of the biggest rock bands of the late twentieth century. I can’t allow myself to give it any more than a 3.

  12. 12
    Alan Connor on 12 Jul 2010 #

    On the one hand, how disingenuous can an Edge be? But then, if you’d never heard Desire, and you read this description of a production-conscious band working on their “no production” production, it’d give you an honest and accurate description of the sound. 

    And oh, that lyric! The music teacher asking the Head Boy for something straightforward: “just some simple earthy images – it shouldn’t sound like it’s trying to Mean Something”.

    “Sorry, Sir – I guess I couldn’t help myself.” (secretly pleased)

    (Thinking of school because I went to see the film. A bunch of other boys were, on a Friday night. Throwing Polos at the screen might have been involved.)

  13. 13
    thefatgit on 12 Jul 2010 #

    I had a lot of time for U2 in the 80’s. I saw them live, twice. I bought all the albums. And R&H was eagerly anticipated…

    …but what a let-down it turned out to be. “Desire” sums up for me, all that was wrong with U2’s obsessions with Rock & Roll and Americana. If you’re going to convince anyone that in walking the footsteps of Bo Diddley, (collaborator) BB King, Bob Dylan, Gram Parsons, Bruce Springsteen et al, will allow all that “essence” to permeate your music and your songwriting, in order for you to deliver something you believe to be a bouillabase of Canon, Mr Bono, then at least try and convince us that it MATTERS!

    And that’s the biggest let-down. I never once believed that U2 believed that any of it mattered, unless it was money in the bank that mattered. I fell out of love with U2 at this point.

  14. 14
    MikeMCSG on 12 Jul 2010 #

    I remember Q giving Inxs’ 1992 LP “Welcome To Wherever You Are” a begrudged good review and saying “Inxs are hardly U2”.
    Maybe not but both of the latter’s first two number ones sound not unlike the Aussies.

    I have a problem with U2. I quite like them, have the first two LPs and two of the later ones but they’re so ludicrously over-praised it makes me feel like I hate them. I’d be interested to hear what the older posters here think of them as all the fiftysomething rock fans I know who were into Led Zep, Clapton etc think they’re rubbish, a mediocre New Wave Act (only one of whom can actually play) who got lucky.

  15. 15
    MBI on 12 Jul 2010 #

    I love U2 very much and think the score too harsh, but I took my first look at the Rattle and Hum documentary just last month and it is an unconscionably bad piece of filmmaking. If the director’s goal was to make Bono and co. look as ridiculous as possible, it’s a mammoth success. Otherwise it’s just unbearable — the scene where they intercut footage of MLK during a performance of “MLK” has to be seen to be believed.

  16. 16
    wichita lineman on 12 Jul 2010 #

    I don’t hear the ‘spunk’ of rock’n’roll present at all. Without getting bogged down in definitions, a bunch of r’n’r signifiers are present but the cliched lyrics are – in spite of what The Edge claims – all post 50s/60s. Even restricting ourselves to the r’n’r entries on Popular, all of them are an and/or combination of fun, witty, tongue in cheek, exuberant. Desire wouldn’t sound like much fun at all at a fairground, my favourite r’n’r yardstick. Stating the obvious, The Edge’s quote is nonsense anyway, as 50s rock’n’roll is surely as POP as anything before or since in the Top 20 era – Peter Blake, for one, would likely take issue.

    One collaborator lifted a Rattle & Hum track out of the mire of self-conscious trad rock tedium: All I Want Is You would be no more than a Springsteen-alike ballad without the woozy unsettling string arrangement by Van Dyke Parks – his first Top 10 hit since Heroes & Villains in ’67.

    I was intrigued that Tom regarded The Joshua Tree as ‘canon’ in a post a few months back – I was surprised that one U2 album stood out from their catalogue as canonical. Boy still sounds mysterious and exciting now, the only record of theirs I can go back to. Any other shouts for it?

  17. 17
    LondonLee on 12 Jul 2010 #

    I had a fair bit of time for U2 in the 80s too, at least early on. I saw them at the Hammersmith Palais in 1981 (with Altered Images and This Heat supporting!) and thought (still do) that they were about the best live rock band I’d ever seen. But God this was such utter rubbish, such a dreadful backward step into dinosaur rock that I couldn’t believe they were serious at first. Hard to imagine that their first single was produced by Martin Hannett.

  18. 18
    Conrad on 12 Jul 2010 #

    I don’t think words can adequately convey my loathing of approximately 98% of U2’s output. A couple of their disco pastiche singles are entertaining, but the rock U2 I find indescribably awful.

    The sound of the Edge’s guitar, his trademark delayed note sound, actually makes me slightly nauseous. It’s the most unsexy sound rock music has ever conceived.

    You know guys, rock music is about sex and swagger. It isn’t about some half arsed notion of ‘authenticity’. What bullshitters they are.

    This particular record – from it’s pick a cool sounding, rock title down – is laughably bad. beyond laughably bad. that they had the nerve to rope in a blues legend for another one of the singles from this ahem ‘project’ to add authenticity (that word again) just makes me want to vomit over Bono’s sunglasses.

    God, I’d rather go down the disco and boogie to Your Love is Like Bad Medicine, if I want to hear third hand Springsteen retreads.


  19. 19
    thefatgit on 12 Jul 2010 #

    “Boy” could possibly hold the balance between New Wave and New Pop. If you replaced Edge’s guitar with a synth on “Twilight”, you’re pretty close to The Associates.

  20. 20
    flahr on 12 Jul 2010 #

    Am quite probably missing a lot of context here, but rather like this one – the riff is suitably springy and the “desiiiiiire” at least reaches for the hedonistic sound I think it’s trying to convey. Agreed it would be better if it finished before the harmonica bit. 5, 6?

    EDIT: reaching for The Joshua Tree I recall that there was plenty of rootsy harmonica on “Trip Through Your Wires”. And of course we’ve just despatched a harmonica-drenched single too. I hope this isn’t an omen.

  21. 21
    Alfred on 12 Jul 2010 #

    Everything Tom wrote made sense, but not about this song — by some distance my favorite U2 song between 1985 and 1991. No higher than a 6 because it doesn’t go anywhere with that striking guitar sound, but Bono blusters convincingly.

    Ex-rock critic Neil Tennant:

    Rock critics liked RAH because they want a return to the traditional rock values. What they basically want is for it to be like 1969 again. It’s this thing where British — or in U2’s case Irish — groups discover the roots of American music. U2 have discovered this and they’re just doing pastiches (his voice rises) and it’s reviewed as a serious thing because `Dylan plays organ’ on some song and B.B. King plays on some throwaway pop song `When Love Comes To Town’ that could have been written by Andrew Lloyd Webber. It could be in `Starlight Express’ if you ask me.

    The fact is that the PSB stand against all of this, so it’s quite right that people like that should slag us off. Because we hate everything that they are and stand for. We hate it because it’s stultifying, it says nothing, it is big and pompous and ugly. We hate it for exactly the same reasons Johnny Rotten said he hated dinosaur groups in 1976.

  22. 22
    Rory on 12 Jul 2010 #

    In mid-1988 I bought my first CD player and CDs, which made Rattle and Hum one of the first I ever owned. What great value it seemed, 72 minutes for a single album price… until I actually listened to it. Soon it became clear that the live material was inferior to that of Under a Blood Red Sky and half the studio tracks were also sub-par. For someone who still hadn’t completely warmed to The Joshua Tree, I was wondering if my teenage U2 fandom was nearing its end. Maybe Under a Blood Red Sky, Boy, and odds and sods from The Joshua Tree, War and The Unforgettable Fire were the full extent of it.

    I aired this ambivalence in my last issue as editor of our university student mag, giving it an all-too-predictable title (I Still Haven’t etc.) and describing U2 as “just not a band that I can devote myself to wholeheartedly” and the album itself as an “uncohesive jumble”. Out of its nine studio tracks, I spent most of the review talking about “God Part II”: the song chimed perfectly with my obsession that year with John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, and in hindsight showed the way forward for U2, its sound a stepping stone to Achtung Baby.

    Of all the reviews I wrote for the mag in 1986-88, this was the only one I felt worth posting to my site when I was first building it a decade ago; the only review that still sounded the right notes after a decade of 1990s alternative rock and Britpop (not to mention Achtung Baby). In 2000, I saw no reason to add a footnoted caveat to my 1988 opinion that “Desire” was “a brilliant song, punchy, catchy, and complete in under three minutes – the perfect single”; and in 2010, after a decade of so-so U2 albums, so-so Bono antics, and so, so many disparaging remarks about U2 in the comments threads of Popular… I still don’t.

    There’s something about the opening of “Desire” that gets me every time: the strummed announcement of the Edge’s jangling guitars, Bono’s “yeah”, and the establishment of the rhythm in that first 12 or 13 seconds are among my favourite rock-song openings. And to my mind, the rest of the song delivers: once it shows you what it’s got it doesn’t go anywhere unexpected, but it does the necessary and then it’s over, wham, bam, thank you ma’am. “Desire” is a red-light district of a song, a quick turn of tricks, for love or money, money, money. From a band that already had a reputation for preachiness and worthiness, it was an effective rebranding, even if the rest of Rattle and Hum failed to follow through. The follow-through had to wait.

    Reading some of the criticisms here, the attacks on its lyrics feel nit-picky: okay, there’s a cliche or two, but so what? Not every song has to be a sonnet. The point of “Desire” was surely never its lyrics but its mood. Its whole three minutes are effectively a vehicle for a single word, and it’s an effective word.

    But then, I feel I’ve been here before…

    After the November 1988 issue of our mag hit the refectory tables, I expected that would be that; this was before every student paper had a website where letters to the editor could turn into never-ending comments threads, and nobody bothered to write actual letters when there was no hope of publication before the summer break. But shortly afterwards I was surprised to find a letter slipped under the office door – three or four pages of hand-written analysis of my U2 review, taking issue with it. Or some of it. Actually, very little of it – the writer agreed with my overall view of the album, and agreed about most of its songs, but vehemently disagreed about two: “Heartland” and “God Part II”. The first I had dismissed as a sub-Unforgettable Fire warble, while my critic adored it; the second she didn’t rate at all, and figured I must be a “boring political-type person” to have admired it. Well, I was studying political science, so she might have had a point; but as I would have said if I’d had a chance to reply (she gave no return address), the lyrics weren’t the main attraction of “God Part II” for me, or the problem with “Heartland” come to that: it was their sound. Most of the time I don’t give a toss what Bono is singing; what makes (or breaks) his performances is how he sings it.

    Same with “Desire”. I was 20 in 1988, and Bo Diddley beats meant diddly to me, but I knew a solid foundation when I heard it, and I heard it here. Twenty-two years later, never having got around to exploring the Diddley back-catalogue, I still get what I need from those opening bars and this tight three minutes. Rattle and Hum would get a three or four from me at best, and few of its tracks would do much better, but “Desire” gets an 8.

  23. 23
    swanstep on 12 Jul 2010 #

    The main version of Desire strikes me as just OK, but I didn’t in fact hear that until much later (and I didn’t ever see Rattle and Hum) because the version everyone played in bars and in jukeboxes and on MTV was the Hollywood Mix, which I took to be a bit of a revleation actually. Plenty of people who hated U2 *loved* that track precisely because it didn’t sound much like U2 – it was not anthem-like at all and, yeah just felt v. fun and energetic – especially in the full 9 minute version which was the vid that MTV and bars with promotional copies played.

    The 5 minute version of the Hollywod mix is on youtube here, but not the nifty vid (which incorporated much of the main vid but had lots of additional great stock footage). As a recent emigre from Australia to the US landing right in the middle of the Reagan-passing-the-baton-to-Bush-1/Dukakis election and having to deal with the extremes of the US (and pre-internet the insularity of the US media meant when you moved there you really felt *inside* something and out of contact with the rest of the world), feeling alternately thrilled and menaced by all that, the remixed track (and the longer the better) captured all that pretty brilliantly as far as I was concerned. Just as with the Coldcut remix of Paid in Full, or the DNA remix of Tom’s Diner later, the remix of Desire is the real Desire in my view, and it’s an 8 at least. The main version is a kind of muted 5 by comparison.

    In hindsight, the main version of Desire feels backward-looking whereas the remix looks forwards to achtung/zooropa/production opened out/’ironic’ U2.

    @16, wichita. I still like Boy – An Cat Dubh/Into the heart and the first 20 seconds of I Will Follow still excite – but Joshua Tree is canon (for better or worse) in that it’s never gone away! A good chunk of music in the charts ever since has had that sound – if you don’t hear a new Josh Tree band in the charts for 6 months, just wait a month or two and, amazingly, as if some fundamental physical quantity is being conserved, one or more will be right along.

  24. 24
    Tom on 12 Jul 2010 #

    #16 Important point of order! I didn’t pick that canon list, it came from list aggregator site Acclaimed Music, I just took the top 40-50 of their Most Acclaimed Albums Ever, which goes up to something insane like #3000.

    My favourite U2 single is “The Unforgettable Fire”, and I wish it had been a #1 as it would have been a challenge to write about – it’s not as if any of their faults are absent from it! That said, they’re a band who are quite well-served by Popular from here on in, I think their future #1s are pretty representative of what they got up to.

  25. 25
    George Tait on 13 Jul 2010 #

    # 24, Tom. My favourite U2 single is also ‘The Unforgettable Fire’. In fact, it’s the only U2 record that I have any strong affection for. I’m sure I read Neil Tennant saying that it was his favourite too.

  26. 26
    LondonLee on 13 Jul 2010 #

    It’s my favourite too. Nice to know it’s not just some personal oddity of mine.

  27. 27
    Jet Simian on 13 Jul 2010 #

    Number one in New Zealand as well, and – notably, a consecutive number one after their previous (and NZ-only released) single ‘One Tree Hill’ the rather slapdash video for which incorporated clips from the ‘Unforgettable Fire’ video!

    As for ‘Desire’ I think it must be rather dispiriting for a band as old as U2 were then to have worked away for as long as they did on their signature sound, only to achieve their first chart topper by means of such a studious pastiche. The Bo Diddley/hand jive rhythm seems to be one that receives a lot of goodwill from audiences, similar to the tried and true Motown beat, and both have served modern artists well in hit parade attempts. My reception of ‘Desire’ was something like relief after the ominpresence of Joshua Tree. It was U2 but didn’t sound enough like a U2 song to be wearying, and indeed didn’t lurch along enough to really outstay its welcome unlike, say, ‘Angel of Harlem’ or ‘Still Haven’t Found’. Consequently I bear this one no ill-will in itself, though as part of the whole of Rattle and Hum there’s a larger problem discussed above, and that whole was enough for me to distance myself from the band’s output for a good number of years.

    At my age I feel I should be able to tell a ‘good’ harmonica solo from a ‘bad’ one, but I don’t think I ever will!

  28. 28
    tonya on 13 Jul 2010 #

    Everyone I knew despised U2 by this point, and this tuneless record and film did nothing to mitigate it. Maybe I should have admired Irish people turning the “visit the old country and look for my heritage” on its head, but at least when Americans go to Ireland they leave after a few rounds of golf. Was this the third or fourth video of them on the streets in America? Bad enough Bono thought he was Jesus, now he wanted to be Elvis, too.

  29. 29
    Rory on 13 Jul 2010 #

    @24, “The Unforgettable Fire” redeemed that entire album for me, and it only clicked when I heard it out of context as a single; in the album it was lost in the fog of Eno, as it felt then. It was years before I warmed to his production in general, but my ears were different back then.

    “Desire” was number one in Australia as well, I should have mentioned, for two weeks at the end of October on the AMR charts, three on ARIA.

  30. 30
    vinylscot on 13 Jul 2010 #

    Mike @14 sums up my feelings about U2 well. Even by this time (1988) I was sick of the hype surrounding U2 – was this a hangover from their admittedly brilliant spot at Live Aid, which, along with the “Blood Red Sky” mini album and the “Red Rock” video, was what really propelled them into “supergroup” territory?

    Whether it was or not, I felt it was all a bit “emperor’s new clothes”, and I felt sure that, sooner or later, everyone would see that.

    I had enjoyed early U2 – saw them live around “I Will Follow” time, and had a lot of time for the three pre-“Blood Red Sky” LPs, but after Live Aid my interest/tolerance quickly waned.

    Anyway, this osng “Desire” – another example of a band long expected to get number ones, finally getting one with one of their less impressive singles. It’s just nothing, really, not strong, not memorable, not even bad enough to be enjoyable, and certainly not “authentic”, whatever that is. Tom’s about right – a 3 or at most 4.

  31. 31
    swanstep on 13 Jul 2010 #

    Haw haw, thinking over some of the more vociferous comments above I’ve been reading through a few wiki pages about U2. According to the wiki page on ‘Beautiful day’ (apologies to the bunny), “The oft-critical NME published a negative review of the song after its single release that suggested John Lennon’s assassin Mark David Chapman should be released from prison to shoot Bono”. Compensating for their Rattle and Hum blunder perhaps?

  32. 32
    punctum on 13 Jul 2010 #

    #16: You mean “All I Want Is You” would be “Ocean Rain” by Echo and the Bunnymen.

  33. 33
    Rory on 13 Jul 2010 #

    For a bunch of non-rockists, there seems to be a lot of concern about this song’s lack of authenticity. Surely it shouldn’t matter one way or another? Wouldn’t that be the authentic postmodern stance? Personally, the one positive I see in the Rattle and Hum project (apart from one or two tracks) is that the dead end of authenticity led U2 to that postmodern stance, and to their best work. Bad luck for everyone who wrote them off and missed it.

  34. 34
    The leveller on 13 Jul 2010 #

    i lived in Ireland in the eighties and early nineties and despised U2 – if people here think the UK press were fawning, try the whole of Irish society under 40… Ireland has always had a huge USA fetish, from the bizarre ‘country & irish’ spin-off, the way ‘Dallas’ took over the nation’s mindset and the thousands working in the US every summer – U2 added another patch to this quilt when they belatedly decided to become a southern revivalist rock’n roll band (I thought they saw themselves as post punk dervishes until then) during the Unforgettable Fire tour. The 80’s America, with Ronnie in the White House, took to this messianic, irony-free bluster (The Boss was more circumspect on Born in the USA, coming out in the same year as TUF) and we have this single to thank for it. 4 is about right…

    (Once I left Ireland in 92 I realised I liked some of Zoo Station and Zooropa with its (now slightly tarnished) euro cool…)

  35. 35
    Tom on 13 Jul 2010 #

    #33 I’m not really bothered whether they were authentic or not – avoided the word on purpose – but I think it captures the legitimate exasperation at the time when a band comes on with this kind of rhetoric. B-b-b-but YOU’RE JUST NOT.

    I am biting my lip about the ‘postmodern’ U2 – anything after Rattle & Hum would have been a step up, obviously, and credit to them for er capturing a zeitgeist as effectively as they had done in 1987, but…. no, it can wait ;)

  36. 36
    Tom on 13 Jul 2010 #

    That said I think Wichita at 16 is onto something with his “fairground” thing – one of the things I find it particularly hard to forgive U2 (and bands in a similar vein) is that I was gullible enough to believe that rock’n’roll, blues, etc ACTUALLY SOUNDED LIKE the shite on Rattle And Hum, and it put me off exploring for years.

  37. 37
    Billy Smart on 13 Jul 2010 #

    God almighty, its not exactly U2 playing to their strengths, is it? Good at expansive, allusive, romantic, (sometimes) political… but a sexy, roguish, rock ‘n’ roll number – No! No! No! They just come across as lumbering poseurs.

    For a contemporaneous example of how superstars can do roots rock homage, I draw the attention of the court to exhibit A, ‘Faith’ by George Michael.

  38. 38
    punctum on 13 Jul 2010 #

    “Faith” doesn’t strike me as having much or anything to do with roots or rock but there you go.

    Meanwhile, the forthcoming debut solo single from Bono in which he displays his remarkable multi-instrumental virtuosity has landed.

  39. 39
    Billy Smart on 13 Jul 2010 #

    Its scarcely credible the excitement with which the release of Rattle & Hum was greeted in the fifth form of Dulwich College. These rock figureheads/ hero musicians had written anthems for all time, and here they were – back again the very next year – with a DOUBLE ALBUM and FEATURE LENGTH MOTION PICTURE. Truly they were treating us! They were reinterpreting their greatest songs in a yet more soulful way. The presence of weatherbeaten revered elder musicians elevated them to the upper echelons of the canon of credibility. And so forth, a narrative reflected back in every single magazine and newspaper in the land for the next six weeks.

    I’m afraid to say that I bought into this as buying the single of Desire went. then I turned violently against them for years. These days, I quite like All I Want Is You, but try to forget that the whole thing ever happened. As I sometimes suspect that U2 wish they could do.

  40. 40
    Billy Smart on 13 Jul 2010 #

    Well, I remember Faith being promoted at the time with a narrative about George Michael hearing two old studio engineers regretting that it was a shame that people couldn’t write two-minute simple rock’n’roll songs any more, and George turning up at the studio the very next day saying “Hey! Listen to what I’ve just written!” so that must have skewed the way that I’ve listened to it ever since.

    Its unquestionably a hell of a lot sexier than ‘Desire’, anyway.

  41. 41
    Billy Smart on 13 Jul 2010 #

    Oh, on a personal note, can I just say that at last I am following in the Popular footsteps of Doctors Mod and Casino, and can as of yesterday call myself Doctor Smart?

  42. 42
    Rory on 13 Jul 2010 #

    @35 Pistols at dawn, sir! Or, failing that, at #668.

    How dull it would be if we all agreed on every band in Popular.

    Further to this “authenticity” point (and here I’m stealing some of what I might say about #668, but what the hell): once again, context is important. 1980s culture in general still hadn’t caught up with academic postmodernism; even many corners of academia still hadn’t. I encountered it as late as 1991 as a postgrad, which was par for the course for anyone who wasn’t a French philosopher or an architect, so I’m not surprised that an Irish rock band were on a similar curve. Which is not to say that there weren’t other pop artists ahead of them (not to mention, um, Pop Artists)… but yes, U2 were fairly attuned to the zeitgeist for a while there/here. Unfortunately, as we have seen, the 1988 zeitgeist was largely rubbish, both on the pop side and the rock side (with honourable exceptions, as always). The largely rubbish Rattle and Hum captured that beautifully!

  43. 43
    Rory on 13 Jul 2010 #

    @34 Surely the single that warmed the US to U2’s messianic, irony-free bluster was “Pride”? Although I see that it only reached 33 on the Hot 100… number 2 on the mainstream rock chart, though.

  44. 44
    punctum on 13 Jul 2010 #

    #42: A few mediocre number ones in a given year does not mean that the zeitgeist for that year was “rubbish.” Going beyond the number ones, it was quite the reverse. See also 1967.

  45. 45
    Rory on 13 Jul 2010 #

    @44, I’ve Got a Hyperbole and I’m Gonna Use It.

    I wasn’t just thinking of number ones; or music, come to that. 1988-1990 were pretty ordinary years for popular culture, or so it felt to me at the time. However, my favourite album was released during them, so there’s that.

  46. 46
    punctum on 13 Jul 2010 #

    I’m bound to say that, as I lived and experienced it, 1988 was one of the best years for music – well, let’s not hyperbolise and say “ever,” but certainly one of the best years within my lifetime.

  47. 47
    The leveller on 13 Jul 2010 #

    @43 Rory : you’re right – but I think Rattle & Hum & Desire was the end product of the whole process that began with Pride/TUF, which U2 toured in 85, then released the ‘Wide Awake in America’ EP with the 10-minutes (maybe less but it felt more) version of ‘Bad’, then the slick Joshua Tree, followed by Rattle & Hum to put some pseudo-authentic rough& tumble onto it

  48. 48
    wichita lineman on 13 Jul 2010 #

    Re 46: … the best year EVER according to Melody Maker, who then looked a little foolish when ’89 shaped up to be better still.

    I do find this run of number ones intriguing as they are fighting violently against the pop culture zeitgeist – Strings Of Life, Acid Tracks, etcet. 1967 is a pretty good comparison. REAL music versus this unwashed sweaty weirdness. Desire is This Is My Song.

    Re 32: Ocean Rain, oh dear it really is. Except fed through a Joe Cocker filter. I almost feel sorry for bitter and twisted Mac.

    Re 43: I began to smell a rat on New Year’s Day, but bought it anyway (double pack 7″, hard to resist). Sunday Bloody Sunday was a step too far, and I was a definite un-fan by the time Pride came out. If I want wholly empty bluster I prefer Status Quo’s In The Army Now, which is a like a job centre description of a soldier’s lot that makes no kind of socio-political points AT ALL.

  49. 49
    punctum on 13 Jul 2010 #

    Well, I rather like “This Is My Song”; in terms of American ‘67 number ones, “Desire” would be the equivalent of something like “Kind Of A Drag” by the Buckinghams – it looks/tastes like the real thing but really do they know what reality is? No wonder Uncle Eno called them in for a lecture shortly after this and instructed them to listen to the period’s more forward-looking musicians.

    Overall on a qualitative level I’d still rate ’88 above ’89 but the number one journey there will still be something of a gruelling and somewhat misleading trek (although there are a few classics in that line-up to relieve the general torpor and Dale Winton-ness of the ’89 charts).

  50. 50
    Rory on 13 Jul 2010 #

    @46 We were on opposite ends of the earth, though… some of the things that made this a great time in UK music didn’t filter down my way. Or to me, at least. I was stuck in a Rolling Stone mindset at the time, which was pretty unhelpful: umpteen roundups of the Best Albums of All Time, interviews with aging ’60s and ’70s stars, etc. All useful catching-up for a twenty-year-old, but it blinded me to some of the Now. And the now that filtered through – top ten hits, “next big thing” albums like GnR’s, pre-grunge Australian indie – didn’t do much for me.

    Imagine a 1988-90 minus acid house and Madchester and you have the Australian rock fan’s zeitgeist, more or less. No second summer of love there. “In the 1988-1991 national Drug Household Surveys, only 1-2% of the [Australian] population had ever tried [ecstasy]“, and all that that implies.

  51. 51
    punctum on 13 Jul 2010 #

    Anyone remember the time – ’82, ’83 – when U2 and the Bunnymen were essentially rivals, more or less on the same commercial level? Never mind Blur vs Oasis; when “New Year’s Day” and “The Cutter” came out the same week and they landed up on the same TOTP there was a right kerfuffle. In my college everyone bought either Porcupine or War, never both. Must admit I was more inclined towards the Bunnymen camp at the time – they were simultaneously more interesting, musically, and funnier – but then the mullet, the flag and the Red Rocks and that was that.

  52. 52
    wichita lineman on 13 Jul 2010 #

    Re 49: I rather like Kind Of A Drag, which rather than being a re-tread is the gentle dawn of Chicago/Blood Sweat & Tears brass rock, though I prefer the Buckinghams’ Susan – sweet bubblegum-soul with a psychotic mid-song interlude. Does he stab her in the neck? What’s going on?

    Yes, it seemed like arrogant ignorance to suggest no one knew what to do with guitar/bass/drums in 1988. Pardon my own ignorance, but did Eno help them out immediately post R&H?

    The U2/Bunnymen parallel: it was all matching footsteps until ’84 – both took ’82 out, bar the odd single (Back Of Love trouncing A Celebration in chart terms). The game was up by ’85, with that flat grey nameless thing up against The Unforgettable Fire. What a shame Mac didn’t give Eno a bell, that could have really saved their career. The Cutter’s (intentionally?) hilarious lyric and tuff brass/baritone Mac middle eight really tears New Year’s Day to shreds, too.

  53. 53
    thefatgit on 13 Jul 2010 #

    Hah! I bought Porcupine AND War within a few weeks of eachother. I’m racking my brains to pin down what the year was when I saw Echo & The Bunnymen live at Guildford Civic Hall…81? 82?

  54. 54

    I too was a bunnyfan and here is my um cryptic contribution to the EatB vs u2 squabble (disclaimer: claimed droit de blogeur to get it down and done, if only as one step up from rough notes to self: time required to make it easier to follow not at that point available; apologies)

    (if i have a moment later today i will expand w/ref to u2 and rattle&hum specifically)

  55. 55
    swanstep on 13 Jul 2010 #

    “the pop culture zeitgeist – Strings Of Life, Acid Tracks, etc”.

    Er, but that’s a very parochial bit of the zeitgeist to single out as ‘what was really going on’ beneath the froth of sales and #1s. Surfer Rosa, It takes a Nation of Millions, Straight out of Compton, Daydream Nation, Green, Nothing’s Shocking, Virgin Beauty, And Justice for All, Land of Rape and Honey, Temple of Low Men, 16 Lovers Lane, and many other things were much more important… unless you were in (some bits of) ol’ blighty.

    Oh, and strictly in terms of the airwaves, Milli Vanilli and Def Leppard and G’n’R owned a lot of the end of 1988 (certainly more than anything that’s touching Popular or than any of the things that I believe were more important in the long run).

  56. 56
    Matthew H on 13 Jul 2010 #

    In 1988 – and probably more so now – I couldn’t have given a flying about rock authenticity. ‘Desire’ was alien to me, although I picked up R&H because I’d loved The Joshua Tree. Somehow (even though it clearly was), TJT wasn’t reaching for that rock purity as far I was I was concerned; it just had fat, rousing tunes. In 1988, I was much more about the plastic jazz, erm, authenticity of ‘Oh Patti’.

    But I’d like to echo Rory @ 20’s shout for ‘God Part II’. That was a thrill. As much a reclaiming of some kind of rock past as everything else, sure, but you could dance to it. And it phased between the speakers. And the drums scattered.

  57. 57
    punctum on 13 Jul 2010 #

    #55: Depends what you mean by “important.” To some of us all of these were important in one way or another.

    #52: Basically Eno got involved again, at the band’s request, round about the beginning of 1990, after they’d come off the R&H tour and had absolutely no clue where to go or what to do next. We do get to Achtung via Popular so more discussion there but essentially Brian gave them the Capello treatment, here’s your homework for the weekend, I will be ASKING QUESTIONS on Monday, &c (see also Lindsey Buckingham and Tango In The Night – “We will be doing NEW POP,” cue cries and groans of “oh NOOOOOs, Steve Miller man, where’s me yacht?” and so forth).

  58. 58
    Tom on 13 Jul 2010 #

    #49 yes the patch ahead is pretty grim, a year-long descent into the real actual bunny’s lair with the occasional gem to seize on.

    re. #50 – I think unlike in 1967 where it was pretty clear which way things were going, 1988 was far more contested ground. There was a definite counter-narrative to the house/hip-hop/indie ones (which were far from coherent or consistent themselves), with U2 at the centre, and which was as much a zeitgeist as the stuff I liked: Joshua Tree and Rattle And Hum were big, successful, mood-catching statements. U2 were in line with a general rediscovery/reverence for roots music and black music in particular which we have seen poking into Popular a lot. They weren’t some kind of weird anachronism in 1988, definitely.

  59. 59
    punctum on 13 Jul 2010 #

    On a very basic level I resented R&H at the time ‘cos it kept Introspective by the Pet Shop Boys at number two in the album chart.

  60. 60
    Rory on 13 Jul 2010 #

    @51, oh yes! I bought War and Porcupine in short succession too. I must have heard the first few bars of “The Cutter” on a listening post and bought it on the strength of that and the general buzz, because I can’t remember a thing about the album apart from that track and its icy cover. I sold it a year or two later, and haven’t heard it since. Hmm, curious now…

    Not just a two-way contest, either. The third corner of the triangle, at least as represented in biro on the back of my wooden ruler, was Big Country. (Very handy, wooden rulers were, as you could sand off old loves and write your new ones across them – out goes the big black texta “WHAM!”, in comes the teen angst rock.)

  61. 61
    Tom on 13 Jul 2010 #

    #55 in a site about number ones in the UK charts, it makes sense to contrast them with the UK zeitgeist, no? (without making any implicit claims for that particular ZG to be globally more significant)

  62. 62
    MikeMCSG on 13 Jul 2010 #

    1989 was absolutely dire. I used to do a personal Top 40 singles at the end of each year and I remember really struggling to fill numbers 30-40 with anything.

  63. 63
    Hofmeister Bear on 13 Jul 2010 #

    Tennant and Lowe would get revenge of a sorts three years later.

  64. 64
    punctum on 13 Jul 2010 #

    You know how some say you don’t really get American AoR unless you’re listening to it in an open-top car on a vast freeway on a hot, sunny day? Big Country were a bit like that; unless you were striding across huge expanses of green and grey glen in Scotland – a day’s stroll up the Creggan Road, for instance – with sun, sky and God all on your righteous side, the hearty cadences of the late Stuart Adamson and his colleagues’ bagpipe guitars can’t wholly be appreciated. Big with everyone in ’83 of course, as were Simple Minds after Jim Kerr had that famous chat with Bono on the beach.

  65. 65
    MikeMCSG on 13 Jul 2010 #

    #64 Never as good as The Skids though

  66. 66
    Rory on 13 Jul 2010 #

    @55 How I wish we had more of your zeitgeist down my way. Imagine not hearing The Stone Roses until the end of 1991, and only because I’d just moved to England. I still bristle every time I read Americans online dismissing it as an overrated parochial oddity. A lot of Aussies never got it, either.

    I like your idea of competing zeitgeists within the UK, because surely not everyone was dropping E’s and raving in a field. The interesting thing about “Desire” is that it tapped into a global mood, not a loved-up local one.

    Was there a regional effect at work here? Were U2 bigger in “the regions”, and in Irish-heavy cities like Liverpool, than in London and surrounds?

  67. 67
    DietMondrian on 13 Jul 2010 #

    This really marked a moment where it became apparent to me that my tastes had separated from those of my increasingly rockist friends, who couldn’t get enough U2. I recall listening to Domino Dancing (in the charts around the same time, I think) and hearing mates sneer “is there something wrong with the tape?” at a point where the drums are broken down; and I began hearing phrases like “it’s not real music, it’s just made with computers”. (*Sigh*) And yet they had been into Pump Up the Volume shortly before. I think they’d all started reading Q magazine.

  68. 68
    Rory on 13 Jul 2010 #

    @64 A subject close to my heart. Closer than U2.

  69. 69
    pink champale on 13 Jul 2010 #

    um, i know, i really do, but i quite like the ramshackle smear of ‘desire’ and am prepared to take it pretty much as they intended. just this once though. pretty much the whole rest of the last thirty years of U2 is confined strictly to the indifference/hostility scale for me.

    #64 not sure “come to scotland, you’ll start liking big country” would be that good a tourist board slogan.

  70. 70
    punctum on 13 Jul 2010 #

    #68: Now I’m faced with the problem of what new to say about BC; Steeltown was a number one album here and so I must write about it. Not too sure how I’ll feel about it when/if I get to it (it’s #303 on the schedule so don’t hold your breath) but yes…all that confidence, that pride, and then when the world changes (but you didn’t change! Everyone and everything else did!) and you’re left behind; I remember hearing Adamson being interviewed by Janice Long on Radio 2 at the turn of the millennium and he seemed so defeated in the attempt to sell his new music (which was OK but not exactly rousing or stimulating); it really was sad.

    December 2001; well I nearly went then myself. But at the last second I decided to turn in the opposite direction and start a blog. Good job too.

  71. 71
    swanstep on 13 Jul 2010 #

    @66, Rory. Hang on, I was back in Sydney and Melbourne for the northern summer/southern winter of 1990 and the Stone Roses were *huge* in clubs then. And E-culture felt massive to me in inner-city Sydney even before I left in 1988.

    @61, Tom. Fair comment.

  72. 72
    Alan Connor on 13 Jul 2010 #

    #23: Archive on 4 recently replayed the Coldcut boys animatedly talking us through the Paid In Full samples in real time. It’s before the halfway point here and is a treat!

  73. 73
    LondonLee on 13 Jul 2010 #

    #65 I’ve never read anything that connected U2 with The Skids but weren’t they the template for that big, ringing-guitar, Steve-Lillywhite-produced sound Bono and the boys first rode to glory on?

  74. 74
    Tom on 13 Jul 2010 #

    #50 – To be honest a 2% penetration level for E probably wasn’t far off the UK figures then*, given that in self-reported surveys 50% of people claim never to have taken any illegal drugs.

    *well, in 1988 anyway – by 1991 it would have been a bit higher I guess. And the surveys wouldn’t have included under-16s.

  75. 75
    Rory on 13 Jul 2010 #

    @71 A 13-week run for “Fools Gold” on the Oz charts, starting 15/4/1990, which saw it peak at number 13 – perhaps inner-city Sydney and Melbourne accounted for most of those sales? I remember seeing the video once on TV and shrugging it off, which was why the album was later such a revelation. The album charted for 11 weeks in 1990 and peaked at 36 (admittedly, its initial UK peak wasn’t much higher), so was pretty limited in its reach; it had nothing like the reputation attached to it in 1991 UK student circles, where it was already considered a classic. Its reputation in Oz grew a bit as JJJ-culture spread in the 1990s, but relative to the UK… well, compare the number-two peak of “Love Spreads” in the UK with the 36 it managed in Australia. Both a fair measure of the general level of anticipation among each country’s music fans, I reckon.

    As for E-culture, maybe it’s another case where the Sydney/Melbourne inner cities were a world unto themselves; those usage figures suggest that its Australian heyday was several years after the UK’s. Which is not to say that it had no impact, just that it was limited compared to the late-’80s UK scene.

    @70 Good job indeed.

  76. 76
    Tom on 13 Jul 2010 #

    Actually I’m well overestimating it – in a 2002 survey the % who said they’d EVER done E was at 4% – obviously higher in younger age categories though.

  77. 77
    wichita lineman on 13 Jul 2010 #

    Swanstep at 55 and 71, you’re being rather cake and eat it. Besides, the music was largely being made in Detroit and Chicago so it can’t really be seen as a parochial M25 (and Sydney) scene. I’d love to think of 16 Lovers Lane as zeitgeist but its sales were so pisspoor the group split up.

  78. 78
    Rory on 13 Jul 2010 #

    @74 Hard to find comparable UK figures via Google… this is as close as I’ve managed, but it doesn’t cover the years in question.

  79. 79
    pink champale on 13 Jul 2010 #

    we need a popular readers survey to settle the matter once and for all!

  80. 80
    MikeMCSG on 13 Jul 2010 #

    #73 A debt acknowledged of course in 2006 with the cover of “The Saints Are Coming” which unfortunately falls into Lena’s domain.

  81. 81
    punctum on 13 Jul 2010 #

    Oi, watch the “unfortunately”!

  82. 82
    punctum on 13 Jul 2010 #

    “And I can play…I play the violin…”

    “No Bono, you don’t blow into it…”

  83. 83
    punctum on 13 Jul 2010 #

    How fitting, incidentally, that we should be discussing the stars of Live Aid twenty-five years to the day when the Irish imps stole both the show and our hearts.

  84. 84
    Tom on 13 Jul 2010 #

    If I knew I had a write-up of “The Saints Are Coming” in my future I would feel pretty unfortunate, I have to say!

  85. 85
    punctum on 13 Jul 2010 #

    Just because you don’t like smoochers…

  86. 86
    johnnyo on 13 Jul 2010 #

    of course U2 were massive in America at this time, and my older sister and her friends were crazy about them. i remember greeting this song with enthusiasm, if only because it wasn’t The Joshua Tree, of which i’d grown very tired.

    as well as an obvious homage to roots rock, i’ve always thought of the R&H period as the band’s attempt to reposition themselves as heirs to The Clash. releasing an “ambitious” double album so close on the heels of their breakthrough is a pretty transparent attempt to ape London Calling. as the decade moved forward the memory of the clash’s embarrasing excesses (and po-faced musical adventurism) faded away. what remained was the sepia-toned image of the western leather outlaw and LC’s dalliances with bo diddley and hollywood iconography. (i think it was around this time that Rolling Stone pronounced LC the greatest album of all time) this is what U2 seized on.

    *sorry punctuation’s kind of a mess. anyway what i mean is they’re ripping of the clash. it’s “hateful”, right?

  87. 87
    MikeMCSG on 13 Jul 2010 #

    #81 I only meant unfortunate in that it deserved to be no 1, honest !

  88. 88

    #86: yes, i was thinking about the link to the clash also — except not so much london calling as sandinista!* (and of course the clashs’s ambivalent dalliance with western imagery begins with the cover of “give em enough rope”)

    *which i have heard loudly praised for starting the fashion for “world music”

  89. 89
    Steve Mannion on 13 Jul 2010 #

    Just had a peek ahead…yeurgh this really is a pretty uninspiring run of #1s and I would be surprised if anything before March ’89 gets more than a 5.

  90. 90
    punctum on 13 Jul 2010 #

    Sandinista! Pi x infinity times better than R&H; at least it sounded in the present tense (it may even be my favourite Clash album).

  91. 91
    johnnyo on 13 Jul 2010 #

    #88 & 90 – yes, i didn’t mean to knock Sandinista! far and away my favorite Clash album. i think what i meant is that it was received as po-faced upon its release, no? funny to go back and read the negative, patronizing reviews given to LC and Sandinista! upon their release. there must’ve been a certain whitewashing of this stance as the decade wore on. seems by the beginning of the 90s (levis ad and all, but we’ll get there) the clash had been rehabilitated as heroic rockers and been given a pass on all that naughty dub.

    funny that practically the same thing happened to U2 about 10 years later. only in their case they were still around to play into their own rehabilitation, which kinda cheapens it, huh?

  92. 92
    LondonLee on 13 Jul 2010 #

    I still remember Gary Bushell’s nasty review of London Calling in Sounds, the headline was “Give ‘Em Enough Dope (and Watch Them Turn Into The Rolling Stones).” Apparently they had the cheek to learn another chord.

  93. 93
    Mike Atkinson on 13 Jul 2010 #

    I think it was on the last comments thread that Tom admitted to a blind spot re. Bjork – and lo, here’s one of my own Top Three Blind Spots Of All Time (along with Springsteen and – much as it shames me to admit it in public – Dylan). But as I have some dear, embattled and war-weary friends (with otherwise overlapping tastes) who worship the ground upon which U2 walk, I shall refrain from putting the boot in here.

    That said, I didn’t particularly object to “Desire” at the time, and I have no major objections to it now. Nothing wrong per se with re-cycling the Bo Diddley beat; if I can happily lap up endless regurgitations of the “I Feel Love” riff and the glam-rock/schaffel beat, then it wouldn’t do to be too inconsistent. (The rhythm isn’t a million miles removed from “Faith”, either. And I love “Faith”, which fortunately falls into Lena’s domain!)

    I’d give it a 5, but that bloody awful harmonica at the end nudges it down to a 4. Oddly, I’ll be kinder to most future Popular U2 entries, and very kind indeed to a couple of them. Every blind spot has an exception or two…

  94. 94
    Paytes on 13 Jul 2010 #

    @72 Great documentary! Would sit nicely in the MARRS and Yazz threads, too!

  95. 95
    lonepilgrim on 13 Jul 2010 #

    @73 I’ve always thought the template was Public Image/Banshees – but with the contrariness and perversity smoothed away

  96. 96
    Tom on 13 Jul 2010 #

    Best U2 review ever

  97. 97
    ciaran 10 on 13 Jul 2010 #

    Desire is about 2 years away from my from my earliest musical memories so i wouldnt know about how popular they were before this.also i dont know if there is that many Irish contributors on here but ill try to explain some of the appeal of u2 in ireland over the 80s.

    Ireland was going through one of its worst recessions in its short history (not like today!).factories closing, images of emigration burned across the country and as we later discovered the taoiseach (prime minister) at the time was not the most honest politician.the emergence of u2 was a breath of fresh air as you had 4 school lads from Dublin who rose from cult-like group to probably the biggest band in the world by 1988.their success was probably the biggest of any irish band at the time and when you had 4/5 exceptional albums released (october being the exception) it was very hard not to like them.the u2 story was quite remarkable for a band form such a small island.

    You would have had the “brain drain” leading irish men and women to seek work in Britain and the States many of whom would have been U2 and would have helped create awareness amongst friends abroad.

    My brother was/is a die hard fan.Had nearly all of the pre-RAH cassettes and the next 2 albums that followed.Even at 9/10 i could not understand what the fuss was all about personally but after hearing the words “how long how long must we sing this song” most days I started listening and it didnt take me long to become a fan.

    I was more into the u2 of the early 90s than the 80s and probably the main reason for that was RAH.I couldnt understand it.nor id say did so many u2 fans.the singles are okay but really the album is all over the place.although only u2 at the time could really pull this kind of thing off.for another band making an album like RAH could be seen as career sucide.The modern day equivalent for me would be “Rudebox”.

    Desire is ok.not the best u2 single but not the worst either but it hasnt aged well i feel.Its slightly better than the last few number ones we have had but nothing spectacular.id give it a 5.

    i honestly dont believe that any u2 singles before this were number one material either though.in fact only one of the next few of theirs would be worthy but the bunny is staring at me so ill leave it at that.

    interesting time for irish pop music round about this time.no anti- irish sentiment after ray houghtons moment of magic in stuttgart that summer?

    by the way tom is this mark a reflection of dislike of bonos recent history.cant say i blame you if thats the case.

  98. 98
    ciaran 10 on 13 Jul 2010 #

    also just to add its funny how u2s first number one single made it to the top in october.

  99. 99
    swanstep on 13 Jul 2010 #

    @77, wichita. Yeah, fair comment. I was just trying to get at the idea (shared I think by punctum) that there was a hell of lot of good stuff going on just below the surface in music in 1988 that would in fact set agendas for the next decade. Only *some* of that was acid house/dance-party stuff, and not the most important part from where I was standing. But the uk’s media hot-house and general fast-forwardism in music and fashion led to a very different emphasis (so I should shut up!).

    I assume, BTW, that everyone’s seen South Park’s 2007 take-down of Bono, ‘More Crap’ – it’s worth tracking down if you haven’t…. it’s staggering to me that the review tom@96 links to could be written on any college campus after that!

  100. 100
    thefatgit on 13 Jul 2010 #

    #96 Rachael’s insightful review is a work of wonder, is it not?

  101. 101
    anto on 14 Jul 2010 #

    Re 97: Hi Ciaran. Although I was raised in Cheshire my family are from Dublin so I’m familiar with the city and generally get up-to-date news about what goes on in Ireland. Your comments certainly ring true.
    Although I’m not really committed enough to be called a U2 fan – (My older siblings were keener and were excited about Desire getting to #1. My Mum as mentioned in a previous post has never been convinced)-
    I think you have hit on something about the response to the band in eighties Ireland. Around the time Rattle and Hum came out Dublin could be a scary place. Things were hard and there was a feeling that U2 at least were young Irishmen acheiving something. The affluence came later and is a whole other story, but for all the criticism I think U2 did contribute to raising optimism.
    As for their music The Unforgettable Fire is my favourite U2 album.
    9 out of it’s 10 tracks have the sort of sound that I think they should have pursued – merging Celtic influences like Van Morrison and Patrick Kavanagh with sparseness and textures that referred to Joy Division, Brian Eno and Scott Walkers Climate of Hunter. The bulk of Rattle and Hum was a wrong turning.

  102. 102
    Tom on 14 Jul 2010 #

    #97 great perspective Ciaran! And no, I didn’t let Bono’s recent activities colour my review, in that my opinion of him has if anything improved since the late 80s. I’m not well informed enough about the causes he supports to know whether he’s doing harm rather than good, or to know whether his support is a sideshow or has actual consequence, but I’ve no problem with it in principle. Does he still come across as a colossal dickhead? Of course! But he always has done, and at least now this is mainstream opinion.

  103. 103
    punctum on 14 Jul 2010 #

    I really enjoyed Rachael’s piece. I’m always happy to read positive reviews of records to which I might not be particularly sympathetic, especially when they comes from someone who’s clearly a fan since that means that the reviewer is writing truthfully. What puts me off is routine 4/5-star reviews in the music press where you just know that they don’t mean it, that they’re giving the record imbalanced praise because then they won’t get the interview or cover story (see the NME and R&H again). But writing like Rachael’s is useful because it makes me examine the record in a new light – am I wrong to be so dismissive of it?

  104. 104
    Rory on 14 Jul 2010 #

    Despite being a big fan of “Get on Your Boots”, I didn’t give No Line on the Horizon much time when it came out, but returning to it a year later found a lot to enjoy – certainly more than in How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. Its main drawbacks are Bono’s aging vocals, which aren’t what they were (not his fault, of course), and some of the lyrics, which are noticeably naff enough to annoy even a lyrics-agnostic like myself. It’s quite refreshing to hear a U2 album which is a lot better than its chart performance would suggest; makes a change from albums that were the opposite.

  105. 105
    punctum on 14 Jul 2010 #

    #101: The Climate Of Hunter influence actually occurred on The Joshua Tree. In particular Bono has said that “With Or Without You” was directly influenced by the album.

  106. 106
    Gavin Wright on 14 Jul 2010 #

    Re: #101, I’ve also come around to thinking that The Unforgettable Fire is U2’s best album (at least of those I’ve heard) – a large part of its appeal for me is the Lanois/Eno production which makes the Edge quote at the start of Tom’s piece that bit more depressing.

    I must confess I’ve never heard the album in its entirety (I’ve never heard Sandinista! either as it happens) and for the most part I’m no fan of back-to-basics roots-rock type records – I can understand the appeal for both artist and fan but it’s not an approach that excites me. I also wonder how much currency that particular set of influences has today. Obviously it’s a generational thing to an extent but you might expect that the ‘beginning of time’ element of it might elevate its status?

  107. 107
    thefatgit on 14 Jul 2010 #

    #106 There’s always an element of “back-to-basics” kicking around wherever you look. It’s not always roots-rock, but you can sense bluegrass listening to The White Stripes, or folk listening to Mumford & Sons. Someone may decide to put an “alt” prefix next to it to signify “reinvention” rather than “revivalism”, but the main thing to look out for is whether the artist fully respects the origins of the music or if they love it so much, it’s an integral part of their sound, rather than a convenient add-on.

  108. 108
    Lena on 14 Jul 2010 #

    Actually I’m looking forward to writing about “The Saints Are Coming” as I think it reflects more of what U2’s actual ‘roots’ are as such…

    Rattle & Hum as an album has a few good moments, none of them involving Bono in any way; the US is always best reflected obliquely by those from outside (i.e. Simple Minds’ superior in every way Sons and Fascination) and having the group suck up, to put it mildly, to the US was a brutal but effective way of solidifying what had been happening for a while anyway; but too brutal for those who liked The Unforgettable Fire, for instance…

    I like Rachael’s writing because she is enthralled by U2 and she reminds me of my friend Gina who was a massive fan; North Americans, if I may say so, tend to be more enthusiastic for a longer time (that is to say, loyal) about any artists they deem worth it, and that gusto is to be applauded. I may not agree with her, necessarily, but I wonder if U2 do better in the US saleswise than here…

  109. 109
    Erithian on 14 Jul 2010 #

    I’m picturing myself as a Bateman cartoon – the man who really liked “Rattle and Hum”!

    Sorry, but looking again at the track listing I’m reminded that I enjoyed every track at the time and they all stand up for me today. Yes, in a sense it was a path from which U2 had to turn away, and did so very successfully, but as Irishmen growing up under the influence of American culture this was the album they wanted to do (to paraphrase John Lee Hooker, it’s in ‘em , it’s gotta come out!), and for me the influences are reflected and the homages paid beautifully. As for “Desire”, I wouldn’t put it up there with the Joshua Tree singles, but by God they do out-and-out rock effectively. Have to disagree about the harmonica bit dissipating the mood – the effect is of a wailing Chicago blues which doesn’t have to be ept (or whatever the opposite of inept is), in fact it echoes the street musicians Satan and Adam whose own song features in an interlude in the album.

    Anyway, I’m not proposing to get into a debate on this – I sense I’m out on a limb in thoroughly enjoying both single and album, but I doubt if I’ll persuade anybody out of their views or vice versa! Incidentally, sukrat, did you know the controversy over your NME review is referred to in the Wikipedia entry on “Rattle and Hum”?

  110. 110
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 14 Jul 2010 #

    the opposite of inept is apt

  111. 111
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 14 Jul 2010 #

    and yes, i did know that, erithian: it has entered the historical record, at a suitably low and not-too distorted level

    haha i guess i was the bateman cartoon in reverse, back in the day…

  112. 112
    thefatgit on 14 Jul 2010 #

    Mind you, if you pronounced “apt” in 1940’s BBC English it would sound like “ept”.

  113. 113
    Chris Gilmour on 14 Jul 2010 #

    Another vote for the Hollywood mix, it changes the whole dynamic of the song from hoary old pub rock toot into something with more depth and a bit of swing. Would love to hear the nine minute version, not sure it was ever released officially. It says a lot that the only U2 tracks I’ve liked since ‘Unforgettable Fire’ have been remixes (Oakenfolds remix of ‘Lemon’ is breathtaking). Four for the original, seven for the 12″.

    For some reason I have a 7″ gatefold of this and I can’t quite remember where it came from; I think my Dad may have bought it for me as he thought the constant diet of SAW and Todd Terry may have been addling my brain and was trying to steer me on a different path. It didn’t work.

    I received RAH for Christmas that year. I don’t think I ever played it all the way through, it was bloody awful. I got the PSB’s Please and Human League’s Greatest Hits too, so not all bad!

  114. 114
    swanstep on 14 Jul 2010 #

    A belated big thanks to Alan Connor, #72 above for the link to the Archive on 4 piece about Crate Diggers/Vinyl Dogs etc.. It’s a seriously great documentary – the Paid in Full exposition is fantastic but, amazingly, the story gets better and better after that for the full hour! I’ll be recommending this far and wide. Thanks again Alan.

  115. 115
    Gavin Wright on 15 Jul 2010 #

    Re: #107, that’s a good point and I think I would draw a distinction – really I’m singling out those eastablished acts who make conscious decision to do a ‘Get Back’-type record as a stylistic break rather than those who work with those influences in general.

    The piece by Rachael linked to above is a good read – although I like a lot of U2’s music, I’ve never entirely understood what their specific appeal is to their hardcore fans (unlike their more broad appeal to the record-buying public, which makes perfect sense) so it’s interesting to see that perspective put across. It’s also refreshing to read a review borne of genuine love for U2’s music, as opposed to Q’s usual fawning which seems based more on industry-minded respect for the band’s status.

  116. 116
    Steve Mannion on 15 Jul 2010 #

    re #113 yeah that ‘Lemon’ remix was major. Oakenfold kept re-using that hook tho e.g. on Grace’s ‘Skin On Skin’ and on Planet Perfecto’s ‘Bullet In The Gun’ which both charted top 40. The moody Dave Morales/Bad Yard mix wasn’t bad either. U2 ended up using a reworked version of that ‘Lemon’ remix as an interlude in their PopMart tour setlist iirc.

  117. 117
    intothefireuk on 15 Jul 2010 #

    Ok I’m late to the party here and most of what I think about U2, RAH & this single in particular has already been stated. I lost my way with U2 during the Joshua Tree (my personal fav prior to this is Live Under a Blood Red Sky). Didn’t like it’s reaching for all things Americana & striving for roots that clearly weren’t theirs. In fact this can probably be traced back to that mini live album Wide Awake In America which included an extended treatment of Bad. Of course the other factor which is impossible to under estimate is that U2 went global after Live Aid and that probably put the kaibosh on it for a lot of fans (as it often does). Desire doesn’t include the Edge’s trademark sound and is worse off for it. It also may be in some small way a contributing factor in the debacle that was Tin Machine (although prob Glass Spider was the bigger factor), Bowie’s own ‘Get Back’. For that alone I can’t forgive it. RAH was completely unsatisfactory and it took me a long time before I could warm to U2 in anyway (and then only lukewarm). If I had a fav single of 88 it wouldn’t be anyhting that’s hit no1 but most likely Inner City’s ‘Good Life’. Which signified which way I’d be going for the next few years.

  118. 118
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 15 Jul 2010 #

    haha world-historical pop crimes i had not yet thought to place firmly at rattle and hum’s door = TIN MACHINE

  119. 119
    Rory on 15 Jul 2010 #

    @117, blaming RAH for Tin Machine seems a bit of a stretch. Surely the chronology doesn’t match up – the Bowie/Gabrels collaboration predated the release of RAH by months. As a brief owner of its first fruits (before flogging the CD quick-smart), I remember thinking it was inspired by the Power Station more than anything.

    Had a listen to the Hollywood remix of “Desire” on YouTube today, to see what the fuss was about. I think I’ll be the Bateman cartoon on that one. I notice that it retains the disputed harmonica, too (which doesn’t bother me on the original, but sounds a bit incongruous surrounded by dance-floor beats).

    Liked your comment @109, Erithian. My opinion of RAH overall is unbudged, but their reasons for recording it seem honest enough to me: a half-live double album of roots rock was hardly the obvious commercial path in 1988.

  120. 120
    Tom on 15 Jul 2010 #

    Wikipedia suggests the Pixies were to blame for Tin Machine (by a very unfair definition of “blame”!) and this gels with my memories of the time.

    Perhaps the confusion arises from the fact Tin Machine called their live album “Oy Vey Baby”?

  121. 121
    Erithian on 15 Jul 2010 #

    Oh, and re #41 – meant to say this the other day, but heartiest congratulations! Mind you, I’d prefer “Doctor Billy”. Do they give doctorates for extensive knowledge of appearances on light entertainment shows?

  122. 122
    Paytes on 15 Jul 2010 #

    #120 More stuff to blame the Pixies for!

  123. 123
    ciaran 10 on 15 Jul 2010 #

    Re:101 Anto.I must say that i would not really know much about dublins inner city as im from the south.living in Cork for a good few years now.ill take your word for it though.

    I only really visit Dublin in September every 2/3 years for the Hurling and Gaelic Football All ireland Finals so I wouldnt have a great knowledge of the city.I first remember going to a final in 1990 and it was very interesting looking back.No proper roads in place, motorways few and far between and even the road signs were fairly outdated.indeed it took us 4 hours to get to dublin that time whereas now it would take just over 2.

    Upon getting to Dublin we used to hit O’Connell street which was like a mystique for someone from the country but when you got near Croke Park you could see a number of housing estates and tower blocks which would awaken you to the harsh reality of what life was like for a lot of people back then.Not that far off Nelson Mandela House standards if I recall.Even back then Dublin had an almost Black and White feel to it.The Commitments would be the best example of this.

    Even the transformation of Croke Park from the 80s and 90s to what it is now is a sight to behold and may not have come about was it not for u2s influence on the city.throughout the 90s and beyond Dublin became the stag and hen night capital of europe.something which u2 may take credit for.they certainly helped glamourize the city.

  124. 124
    glue_factory on 15 Jul 2010 #

    Re: Bowie, the Glass Spider tour and U2, I’ve heard Bowie claim that the kind of spectacle he was reaching for then was later achieved by U2. Mind you, U2’s live shows don’t feature a dancer called “Spazz Attack”, so it’s swings and roundabouts.

  125. 125
    ciaran 10 on 15 Jul 2010 #

    A few other points of note.

    You can see in the videos from the Joshua tree singles the way that u2 were going.shirtless-guitar-playing and singer-on-knees shouting into a microphone for typical american street video for “where the streets have no name” and casino based video for “i still havent found……”. it does seem that TST was made with the intention of testing the water for RAH.They knew full well that they had America in their back pocket and were intent on milking it to the full.

    I think 1988 was a turning point for u2 in Ireland aswell.Football-motormouth pundit Eamonn Dunphy wrote a book called “The Unforgettable Fire” but was plagued with inaccurate content with Bono supposedly very critical of the end product.dunphy then hit out at bono’s arrogance in the media.The resulting controversy was arguably the start of a backlash against Bono in Ireland and probably made Dunphy a satr in the process.

  126. 126
    Billy Smart on 15 Jul 2010 #

    Re: 126. Why, thank you very much, Ian. Almost! I am a Doctor of Television Studies, but my thesis is about old BBC versions of Ibsen and Brecht, so I sort of attain high cultural credibility…

  127. 127
    anto on 15 Jul 2010 #

    Re 123: That’s it exactly.
    The last time I saw The Commitments on Channel 4 a few weeks ago I thought ” wern’t there an awful lot of wastelands in the city back then? ”
    Probably all apartment/office blocks now.

  128. 128
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 15 Jul 2010 #

    @126 Baal! Dr Billy Smart is responsible for Tin Machine

  129. 129
    thefatgit on 16 Jul 2010 #

    @123 I visited Dublin in 1986 with some mates for a weekend pub crawl (much Guinness consumed, very little food). Not knowing the city well, we would set out from our hotel in Ballsbridge, follow the Liffey into the City and branch out to find as many bars as possible. It was mid afternoon when we stumbled upon a run-down area, not far from the centre of Dublin, which could only be described as The Third World, with much deprivation and hardship. In amongst the piles of rubbish and abandoned shopfronts was a bar that could be mistaken for a public convenience. Feeling brave, we entered and ordered our pints. It smelled like a toilet inside, and the toilet…
    …but the Black Stuff was as sweet and creamy as any I had tasted that day with a friendly guy behind the bar and locals from a storybook. Marvellous. I had little or no idea how deprived the inner city was. Quite an eye-opener.

  130. 130
    ace inhibitor on 19 Jul 2010 #

    Dr. billy@126, congratulations… I (Dr Inhibitor?) attained my own high cultural credibility by doing something vaguely similar to Tom for the years 1830-1860… see Tom, you just needed to WAIT a few years…

  131. 131
    Tom on 19 Jul 2010 #

    Pah! My Doctorate is from the University Of No Life!

  132. 132
    Erithian on 19 Jul 2010 #

    #130 “Can’t believe you gave Mendelssohn a 7 when Schumann got an 8” …

    “why Chopin had to happen” …

  133. 133


  134. 134
    thefatgit on 19 Jul 2010 #

    #130…so you missed out on discussing Tchaikovsky’s “imperial phase”?

  135. 135
    swanstep on 19 Jul 2010 #

    @ace inhibitor, 130. And those years were when Bach’s modern reputation really emerged/locked into place, right? So a Tom-like review of the period would have to struggle with whether to curse this archaic stuff that’s clogging the charts (‘And after its 56th straight week in the top 10, the St Matthew’s Passion is back at #1 again this Xmas…’), or salute its radically mathematical techno polyphony for blitzing the emergent romantic squishes.

  136. 136

    hmph, no bach no chopin: JSB radically enabled the most interesting emergent romantic squish

  137. 137
    ace inhibitor on 19 Jul 2010 #

    I’ll take yr word for it swanstep…. I was too busy poptimistically rescuing the likes of ‘home sweet home’ from the dismissals of the historico-folkist puritans… or something. its been a while

  138. 138
    swanstep on 19 Jul 2010 #

    @lord sukrat, 136. Well, no bach, no beethoven either! I was just struck by ace inhib’s 1830-1860 period choice: post-Beethoven and probably the first generation where Bach’s really widely taught and canonized. The pressure from the past of music on the present is going to feel greater than ever at that point, and the stage is set for *big* arguments about who’s got the right approach to the mighty dead guys who now loom over everything.

    Thinking over my initial quip I guess the nostalgia-prone charts of the ‘late 1980s aren’t (even in jest) a good model for what must have been going on. I do love the idea of Bach’s dancey music emerging out of the past tho’ (things like the double violin concerto sound like I feel love or maybe the SOS band to me! ‘I don’t care about those woodwinds, just be good….’).

  139. 139
    swanstep on 20 Jul 2010 #

    Ahem, an arrangement of some Bach I did to bring out its beats is now up on youtube if anyone’s interested.

  140. 140
    thefatgit on 20 Jul 2010 #

    Swanstep…nice understated beats, but I found myself wanting to hear that meaty kickdrum sample more and more.

  141. 141
    wichita lineman on 20 Jul 2010 #

    Subtract the ‘arach’ from ‘Bacharach’ and you get this loveliness:


  142. 142
    swanstep on 21 Jul 2010 #

    @thefatgit, 140. Thanks. I do hope eventually to figure out a version with kick drum all the way through and a proper, through bass-line. I tried a few things at the time (a year or two back) but nothing obvious worked at all well I found. I liked that Jem song ‘They’ a few years back (here’s its vid) – what happened to her? That’s a great pop use of some stonking Bach I reckon – harder to do than it perhaps looks!

  143. 143
    thefatgit on 23 Jul 2010 #

    Swanstep, it appears that this sort of thing crops up more often than I thought. “Saturn Strobe” by Pantha Du Prince is worth checking out. The source isn’t JSB, but you get the idea of what’s possible. I would provide a YouTube link, but unfortunately my work PC prevents me from doing so.

  144. 144
    Billy Smart on 7 Sep 2010 #

    NMEWatch. Jack Barron, 24 September 1988;

    “Because throwing words at U2 is akin to tossing corn into an idiot wind, the prevailing view amongst the ‘critic’ community, who’ve been rendered impotent by the band’s massive success, seems to be that Bono Vox deserves execution by guillotine: the only problem being that nobody can find a bucket big enough to fit his head.

    ‘Desire’, recorded in Dublin earlier this year, and a taster for the group’s forthcoming double album ‘Rattle And Hum’, needs explanation. Well, it’s startling. A return to basic roots rock after the eerie, panoramic soundscapes of ‘The Unforgettable Fire’, and to a lesser extent, ‘The Joshua Tree’.

    Gone is the cathedral of riding textural space illuminated by The Edge’s pristine stained glass guitar and Bono’s fervent purity Vox. And gone too is the openly spiritual facet to be surplanted by what appears to be a fevered sensuality. On ‘Desire’ everything is sweat shrunk, the band’s stadium etheriality has been compacted down to club level.

    The musical construction of the song reflects this as it rolls on the overdeveloped bicep of Bo Diddley’s ‘Not Fade Away’ motif with Bono, all moans and groans, ripping the lyrics from his pelvis instead of the alter and The Edge blumting his strings with lacerated fingers.

    Retro in extreme, ‘Desire’ is U2 simulating hedonism and sleaze. Maybe that they’ve just learned that sex isn’t a four-letter word.”

    Barron awarded Single of the Week to Pet Shop Boys’ ‘Domino Dancing’. Also reviewed that week;

    Strictly Business – EPMD
    Stop This Crazy Thing – Coldcut featuring Junior Reid
    Freak Scene – Dinosaur Jr
    Why Are You Being So Reasonable Now? – The Wedding Present
    The Killing Jar – Siouxsie & The Banshees
    A Little Respect – Erasure
    New Anger – Gary Numan

  145. 145
    Billy Smart on 28 Dec 2010 #

    MMWatch: Caren Myers, September 24 1988;

    “In which U2 rock on down. I don’t know if its cos I’ve been living on a raft in the middle of the Dead Sea, but I was under the misapprehension that U2 do not rock out, because on the 16th day God said: “Thou shalt not rock out unless thine hymn rises up in a massive anthemic swell of glorious flailing guitars”. This is a very trad rock number, with one of those heavy clap-along rhythms, a secular lust song with harmonica, but it stops well short of exciting. Maybe they should forsake all their worldly goods and go live in a garage.”

    Myers awarded no single of the week. Also reviewed that week;

    Siouxsie & The Banshees – The Killing Jar
    Dinosaur Jr – Freak Scene
    The Lilac Time – You’ve Got To Love
    Alexander O’Neal – Fake
    EPMD – Strictly Business
    Talk Talk – I Believe In You
    Erasure – A Little Respect
    Duran Duran – I Don’t Want Your Love
    The Wedding Present – Why Are You Being So Reasonable Now?
    Whitney Houston – One Moment In Time

  146. 146
    Iron J on 4 Feb 2012 #

    “Desire” is a bulky, dust-encrusted “I Will Follow”

  147. 147
    windy j on 7 Sep 2013 #

    “It ought to be so obvious it doesn’t need saying, but the 50s and 60s music U2 were reaching back to wasn’t itself reaching back to anything quite so consciously. This puts the revivalist rocker in a twisty situation, caught between the content they’re resurrecting and the gesture of resurrection itself. The content is old but spontaneous, the gesture new but calculating.”

    Great point which cuts to the heart of another matter: the lack of convincingly funky drumming in the 90s/early 00s, by which I mean failed attempts to recreate traditional 60s/70s funk/r&b sound, the end result being a kind of characature of funk; funk with quotation marks (exagerrated swing, popping piccolo snares, etc) Nowadays there are plenty of “authentic” retro revivalists that pretty much nail the sound (sharon jones/daptone/soul fire) but instead of coming across as a characature, it’s more like an ultra high-definition rendering of classic retro stylings… Like the musical equivalent of the cgi in the Life of Pi film.

  148. 148
    wichitalineman on 15 Oct 2014 #

    Bono at the weekend: “U2 is in total harmony with our government’s philosophy. Tax competitiveness has taken our country out of poverty. [The inland revenue] accept that if you engage in that policy then some people are going to go out, and some people are coming in. At the heart of the Irish economy has always been the philosophy of tax competitiveness. On the cranky left that is very annoying, I can see that. But [that] is why Ireland has stayed afloat.”

    Phew, rock’n’roll.

  149. 149
    Mark G on 15 Oct 2014 #

    Oh good, a rock group in total accord with the government. That’s what we want, isn’t it boys and girls?

  150. 150
    Izzy on 15 Oct 2014 #

    It would be a bit weird were the rock group composed of 20-year-olds. But for a group of 50-somethings why shouldn’t it be a position to take?

  151. 151
    Tom on 15 Oct 2014 #

    I don’t agree with their position, but I guess I’d rather a band think about this stuff and articulate it rather than dodge the tax anyway and then blink innocently when it’s found out with much talk of ‘our accountants’.

  152. 152
    wichitalineman on 15 Oct 2014 #

    That’s true enough. Then again, I imagine (from experience) most bands leave the whole thing for their accountants to sort out and are therefore genuinely ignorant of what said accountant is up to. So it’s quite unusual for Bono to take a hands-on approach to tax avoidance.

  153. 153
    Cumbrian on 15 Oct 2014 #

    My take on this is that here’s a guy who wanted to get involved with tackling global poverty and is somewhat politically engaged and has spent quite a bit of time with global leaders discussing what is going on and so on. Seemed like his heart was in the right place to start with but now he’s spent a lot of time talking to neo-con politicans and neo-liberal economists, his tune has changed a little. The charitable reading of this is that he’s thought about it and articulated his behaviour. My view is that he’s probably not smart enough to have argued against these guys based on his original principles and has had his mind changed for him due to his contact with the relevant people. Again, charitably, he might have been thinking throughout this process but it’s more likely he’s accepted that which authority has told him. In other words, and much less charitably, he’s been lying down with dogs – is there any wonder he has got up with fleas?

  154. 154
    weej on 16 Oct 2014 #

    Bono is the Tony Blair of pop music

  155. 155
    hectorthebat on 24 Feb 2015 #

    Critic watch:

    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Woxy.com (USA) – Modern Rock 500 Songs of All Time (combined rank 1989-2009) 874
    Dave Thompson (UK) – 1000 Songs that Rock Your World (2011) 889
    Q (UK) – The 1001 Best Songs Ever (2003) 675
    Q (UK) – The Ultimate Music Collection (2005)
    Panorama (Norway) – The 30 Best Singles of the Year 1970-98 (1999) 10
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    Rock de Lux (Spain) – Songs of the Year 25

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