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May 11

U2 – “The Fly”

Popular106 comments • 8,293 views

#668, 2nd November 1991

The Wikipedia article on Achtung Baby is illuminating in unexpected and glum ways. For a start, the demands of Wiki-style are never kind to projects which centre on ambiguity and every last bit of knowingness gets flatly ironed out. But more, the behind-the-scenes material – a boil-down of dozens of books, articles, and retrospectives – suggests what a ghastly and drawn-out process Not Being U2 was for U2. (My favourite factoid: how one proposed album title was Man – as opposed to Boy, you understand – before someone noticed this would squarely poleaxe the whole ‘not pompous any more’ look)

This points to one of the big questions about New U2 – the extent to which this music was impressive, or just impressive because of who was making it. When we watch a film about an ex-con, for instance, we often cheer them on when they reject a life of crime or violence while expecting the drama to hinge on their return to it. In our everyday lives, of course, we don’t find it much of a struggle not to commit armed robbery. Similarly, many bands find it surprisingly easy not to make tedious and overblown rock records, so how much of the interest in U2’s early 90s material comes from them fighting these deadly urges, rather than the fact (or otherwise) of their success?

“The Fly” seems designed to state these changed priorities as clearly as possible. Everything you identify with 90s U2 – the elliptical lyrics, the attempts at funkiness, Bono getting his Bowie on and trying out different characters – is here in force, and for me the later Achtung Baby singles had nothing like the impact this did. Of course, this one had the good fortune to break Bryan Adams’ geological span at number one – after sixteen plays of “Everything I Do” I can report that “The Fly” sounds bloody amazing, and I felt similar goodwill towards Bono at the time.

But even free of context “The Fly” is a good record, as contemporary and striking as it needed to be. It’s built on a loose, loping rhythm which makes the song a harsher cousin of 1990’s ‘Madchester’ sound, with the breezy wah-wahs of the Farm or the Happy Mondays replaced by crunching, churning guitar work. If The Edge has a good comeback, Bono isn’t quite so convincing: his aphorisms set a mood well without adding up to much, and “the sheer face of love” is a fine image, but for all that the song needs it I can never enjoy his falsetto, and there’s still a few of his rock-singer-isms (“…chiiiild”) hanging around to sour the modernist milk.

At a safe distance, what intrigues me about U2’s reinvention is how little actually changed. The group were desperate to throw off their ties to a specific past, and fled into the comforting arms of another one – decamping to Hansa Studios was simply swapping a romantic America for a romantic Europe. And the elements the group played up on Achtung Baby – their theatricality, their love of texture – were always there: Rattle And Hum was a performance of a style as much as the Zoo TV material was, the heat-haze guitar on The Joshua Tree as evocative and alien as any of the electronic sound on Achtung Baby.

From this perspective choosing between Old U2 and New U2 was simply a question of working out whether Nine Inch Nails were a healthier influence for a rock band in 1991 than John Lee Hooker. But something else had shifted. U2 remained, as they always remained, an heavy-handed bunch. This was the secret of their success – in the Joshua Tree days their sincerity and scale bludgeoned you, needing no interpretation. But now they shifted their weight from content to context – they were just as heavy-handed, but about their artifice not just their art. They now hammered you with ‘postmodernism’, and in doing so helped make this thumping knowingness a signature of their times.

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  1. 61
    Mark G on 10 May 2011 #

    Oh, OK.

    JCope’s thing was that they had met and got along quite well, until the subject of the “Faust Tapes” album came up, at which point Jim mentioned that they’d all bought this inexpensive album, but reckoned it so awful they’d lobbed their copies as frisbes off the top of a mutistory car park. At which point JC decided they could not be friends after all. (I’m sure it’s in “Head On”, his autobiog)

    Certainly, Bono reckoned Echo and the Bunnymen to be their main competitors, and certainy Ian Mac did too (or did he reckon everyone else to be? anyways..) but U2 and Simple Minds certainly tended to alternate releases or so it seemed, and for a while you’d be forgiven for thinking that the new SM one was U2 (although not vice versa).

    Maybe that was it: Be like U2, which lead them into being a ‘less good’ U2, which is a bad thing to be, certainly…

  2. 62
    Ed on 10 May 2011 #

    For ‘Sparkle in the Rain’, I think it was, the record company put full-page ads in the music papers with a picture of a mountain. The message being that Simple Minds were now “rock”.

  3. 63
    Mark M on 10 May 2011 #

    52/54: I saw It Might Get Loud for work, my interest in guitar heroics have vanished around about 1986. Jimmy Page is the clear winner, combining the sense that he’s grown into being a gent who’s comfortable with himself (and has an amazing tailor) with a kids’ enthusiasm for music (there’s a great bit with him listening to Link Wray)*. The Edge’s problem, apart from the fact that he’s not very interesting, is that the film is tremendously unbalanced – the three are meant to represent three contrasting generations, but essentially Page and White are both from blues rock stock and Edge isn’t, which makes for uncomfortable jamming**. White is an idiot of the first order, but that’s no surprise.

    *The surviving Led Zep chaps all seem to be rather civilised nowadays.
    **The guitar summit bits are immensely dull.

  4. 64
    Mark G on 10 May 2011 #

    #42, what was the Beth Orton version?

  5. 65
    Andrew F on 10 May 2011 #

    I am guessing the Beth Orton version is “…apart from the Chemical Brothers tracks”

  6. 66
    Cumbrian on 10 May 2011 #

    #63: To be utterly contrary, the two best bits of It Might Get Loud for me are actually in the guitar summit bits. The first is where all three of them are jamming on I Will Follow and right at the end, Page basically tells The Edge that he’s playing the wrong notes. I suspect that The Edge would have taken it from Page but not from White because the respect the two have for the elder statesman is papable – and shown in the second best bit, where, having dutifully listened to The Edge and Jack White play their bits, Page stands up and cranks out the Whole Lotta’ Love riff. White breaks into a proper fanboy “I can’t believe I am sat 5 feet away from this” smile and The Edge physically gets up from his seat for a closer look. It’s charming to see two guys who earn a lot of money playing guitar come over like starstruck schoolboys – particularly when they have been both have been guilty of being utter poseurs at times.

    The Link Wray bit is very good too though.

    Great perjorative viewpoints from a couple on Jack White too – with which I thoroughly disagree! In my view, he’s one of the few interesting rock musicians of the last 10 years, basically because of the artifice and his rather snotty attitude. Doesn’t mean I’d like a beer with him though…

  7. 67
    Mark G on 10 May 2011 #

    Dunno, a beer would be cool..

  8. 68
    DietMondrian on 10 May 2011 #

    It’s interesting (well, it’s interesting to me) that, while I’ve never been a U2 fan, Achtung Baby was the closest I came to liking them, and I had a reasonably positive memory of The Fly – until I listened to it just now and found it a bit torpid.

    Pet Shop Boys were mentioned upthread – I recall Neil Tennant, when they released “Where the Streets Have No Name (I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You)/How Can You Expect to be Taken Seriously?” talking about his disdain for some rocker (might have been a U2 member) thanking his manager for lending him a jacket so he could get into some posh do. Wow! You’re so rock ‘n’ roll you don’t own a jacket! Or similar.

    My memory of all this is that U2’s reinvention was provoked specifically by PSBs taking the rise, though it seems too quick a turnaround from the PSBs’ pisstakery to Achtung Baby’s arrival.

  9. 69
    wichita lineman on 10 May 2011 #

    Re 64:
    “Do you like Beth Orton?”
    “Oh yeah, she’s great. I love Trailer Park”
    “”What’s your favourite song?”
    “Errr…”

    I like Johnny Cash, but think his catalogue is pretty thin for a “legend”. Ditto Willie Nelson. Not exactly style over substance, but certainly forerunners of the Cave/Magowan/Gillespie school of mildly talented artists who demand to be taken very seriously indeed. And it works (see Screamadelica BBC4 special as latest example).

    Re 68: I’d love to think Bono was wounded by Neil T’s pisstaking, but let’s not forget he took a stylist to court to get his “iconic” black Joshua Tree hat back. Not much awareness of how unbelievers would point and laugh, I guess.

  10. 70
    flahr on 10 May 2011 #

    Er… blimey, I’d never actually realised the PSBs cover of “Where The Streets Have No Name” was supposed to be a piss-take. I suppose looking it up and seeing that the other side was “How Can You Expect To Be Taken Seriously?” suggests that’s true. Well I never. (Curse you Discography…)

  11. 71
    hardtogethits on 10 May 2011 #

    #57. Thank you for noticing, in a non-negative way. I will indeed mention the rules again, soon, much to everyone’s immediate indifference and delayed disdain. Bunny alert.

  12. 72
    nixon on 10 May 2011 #

    Bono’s actual quote about the PSB record, iirc, was “What have we done to deserve this?”, which is both surprisingly witty and completely wrong. You *wish* you had made a record that good, Hewson.

    I only own one U2 record: the remix of Mofo from Pop.

  13. 73
    Mark G on 10 May 2011 #

    Well, I suppose I could give you a few fav Beth Orton tracks, but that’s just me … (that’s just me… that’s just mmmmmme)

  14. 74
    Alfred on 11 May 2011 #

    I guess I’ll be the only one to mention the solo and “middle eight”: Edge taking off with Clayton thumping long until the song returns to the chorus, and Bono, lapsing into what he called his Fat Black Lady voice, scatting until he reprises his “A MAN WILL BEG. A MAN WILL CRAWL” twaddle. It’s a beautiful moment. I’m one of those music writers who’s ripped U2 to shreds in the last twenty years, and while I prefer Zooropa the stadium rock gestures here combined with the enthusiasm for trying all sorts of incongruent ideas is very attractive for once.

    All my friends at the time, by the way, commented that this was U2 “doing” Jesus Jones.

  15. 75
    Alfred on 11 May 2011 #

    I’m very much a formalist when it comes to interpretation yet I’ll admit to giving U2 the benefit of the doubt in the next few years because the portrait created by Bill Flanagan in [i]U2 At the End of the World[/i] of four obviously intelligent twentysomethings having to accept the consequences of their explorations is so attractive.

  16. 76
    LondonLee on 11 May 2011 #

    While there was a certain whiff of U2 bandwagon-jumping, especially with the dance mixes, I always saw AB as them getting back to their roots. Their first single was produced by Martin Hannett remember and when I saw them live back in ’81 the support band was This Heat who were about the height of avant garde post-punk noise.

    While we’re giving Bono a bit of a kicking I was informed by someone who has done some fund-raising work with him that he refuses to allow any photos of him without his sunglasses on to be published. The guy emailed me one of him with Bono sans shades with the message “PLEASE DON”T PUBLISH THIS!”

  17. 77
    swanstep on 11 May 2011 #

    @wichita, 69. Love Orton’s Sweetest Decline from her second album. Yum. (I’ve seen her do it live, where it was just OK, but the recorded version is a knockout.) As for Cash having a slender set of achievements for a legend… I’d say, even setting the Rick Bubin-fuelled comeback stuff, he’s good for at least 4-5 albums of really great material (admittedly including lots of live versions of his original Sun stuff) especially if collaborative stuff with June Carter is included (their Carrying On collab. album is a fave – I didn’t much like the Walk the Line movie but I was thrilled that they used ‘Long-legged Guitar-pickin man’ from that record for the closing credits). He’s got at least as much fantastic stuff as Elvis or Willy Nelson (as you mention). You’re setting a *very* high standard for legend status if people are required to have more runs on the board than that (regardless of the wider cultural impact and influence of their peak stuff). I’m pretty sure, for example. that you can wrap up all the Abba or all the Kate Bush anyone would ever need in 4-5 discs.

  18. 78
    wichita lineman on 11 May 2011 #

    Abba and Kate Bush weren’t making records for 50 years.

  19. 79
    Rory on 11 May 2011 #

    I know very little about Willie Nelson, but these columns convinced me that he has a lot more going on than you might suspect. Similarly, Johnny Cash.

  20. 80
    wichita lineman on 11 May 2011 #

    Crazy is one of the greatest songs ever written by anyone. I Walk The Line is likewise. Both have great voices. It’s not that I don’t like Willie or Johnny, but they had REALLY long careers and their legends are HUGE compared to their list of classic songs. That’s all. I think Lee Hazlewood, for one, has just as strong a claim to an elevated ‘American outlaw hero’ status.

    Re 77: Live versions of Sun songs?? Course that doesn’t count!

    The Beth O game was more to show a) how much her music was a Notting Hill lifestyle accessory in the 90s and b) how many people pretended to like her without knowing any of her songs. I’m glad she’s got some actual fans.

  21. 81
    Cumbrian on 11 May 2011 #

    #78: You’re right, Kate Bush has only been going 34 years. Whippersnapper.

    I think Cash was generally a better intepreter of other people’s songs than he was at writing his own – especially in the immediate post Sun records period up to Live at Folsom/San Quentin – this might be because he was strung out on drugs and didn’t write much (I don’t know).

    It’s a bit harsh to say that he didn’t do much in the period between Sun and American Recordings though. He knocked together concept albums in the early 60s, including Bitter Tears about the plight of the American Indian (which includes the aforementioned Ballad of Ira Hayes) and Sings The Ballads of The True West – funnily enough, all about the Old West – which was a double concept album well before any of these Johnny Come Lately rock bands got around to trying their hand at such things. Plus, some of his most famous songs are from the post Sun period (though as noted he didn’t write a lot,if any, of them): 25 Minutes To Go, Ring Of Fire, Long Black Veil, Ballad Of Ira Hayes, Jackson, etc.

    I think the idea that he didn’t get up to much in his early Columbia years is mostly a product of the fact that Columbia wanted him to re-record a load of his Sun material, so that they could make some money off the old songs, plus the raucous readings of the earlier material that forms the backbone of the prison albums’ reputations.

    I would, however, support the contention that Cash didn’t do much of consequence post mid 70s until the American Recordings, with the odd exception (Ghost Riders In The Sky, there’s a good cover of Springsteen’s Highway Patrolman too).

  22. 82
    David Belbin on 11 May 2011 #

    Saw U2 on the October tour, lost interest in them after The Joshua Tree but bought the 7″ of this, the last one in my U2 pile. It has a little something going for it, but is hardly memorable. I’ll be surprised if they play it at Glasto next month. I saw Beth Orton last month, for the third time, and, despite her being heavily pregnant and coughing a lot, she was in good form. Solo acoustic suits her better than the band she’s had before and she has loads of new songs she hasn’t recorded yet. Her most recent, ‘Comfort of Strangers’ isn’t quite as good as ‘Central Reservation’ (which is a lot better than ‘Trailer Park’). ‘This One’s Gonna Bruise’, which Ryan Adams wrote for her to sing on the patchy ‘Daybreaker’ is a stone cold classic.

  23. 83
    Mike Atkinson on 11 May 2011 #

    “The Fly” – or “The Fluke”, as I wittily dubbled it at the time – is one of a tiny handful of U2 songs that I actually, genuinely like, and it was also the first record of theirs that I ever bought (not that there were many to follow). Nevertheless, my favourite Achtung Baby-derived single remains the Perfecto remix of “Even Better Than The Real Thing”; never was a track more aptly titled!

  24. 84
    Ed on 12 May 2011 #

    My teenage years were massively over-determined by U2, to the extent that I had a cap-sleeved ‘War’ white flag T-shirt, and a mullet, just like Bono. I was preposterously excited by the fact that there was a band that was rooted in the music that I loved (Patti Smith and Television, basically), but could get on TOTP. For many people, I guess, U2 were a gateway from pop into rock; for me it was the other way round.

    So I have never been able to hate U2, even when their music was perfectly uninteresting, as it has been for all of the 21st century. And at the time of ‘The Fly’, U2 were easy to love. The Jesus Jones comparison upthread is spot-on – certainly a closer match than MBV and Public Enemy, which I think U2 claimed at the time – but the record is all the better for it, with a great churning rhythmic riff and passages of eerie rapture when Bono deploys his rarely-heard falsetto. And TF is one of the weakest songs on ‘Achtung Baby’, which does a great job of capturing the realisation that you are not really young any more. I am surprised by the idea that got around that this was U2’s “fun” album; it is actually a very dark piece of work. It is also one of the last in the line of “classic rock” albums that came to a dead stop around the end of the decade, with ‘Kid A’, or possibly ‘OK Computer’. I would not claim to play it terribly often, partly because I pretty well know it by heart, but I will always think fondly of it.

    #56 Thanks! That is a great post.

    #68 etc: As with so much involving the Pet Shop Boys, it is ambiguous, isn’t it? Yes, they are having fun with WTSHNN; Tennant’s deapan voice, the segue into ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You, and the B-side are all proof of that. But they are reasonably respectful of the source, and the record sounds absolutely terrific, possibly inspiring U2’s subsequent dance mixes. So to me, it is the classic pastiche: neither attack, nor tribute, but somethng else.

  25. 85
    DietMondrian on 12 May 2011 #

    #84: I don’t think PSBs were attacking U2’s music (they must have liked WTSHNN enough to cover it, after all) so much as their (and by extension, other rock bands’) joy-sucking po-faced earnestness, belief in their superiority to pop, multinational-backed pretence at outlaw status, etc, etc.

  26. 86
    swanstep on 13 May 2011 #

    More Berlin/Hansa studios: the Pushing ahead of the Dame (Bowie) blog is up to Heroes. Recommended to say the least.

  27. 87
    Rory on 13 May 2011 #

    When “The Fly” buzzed into view, I was already halfway through my first nine-week term as an MPhil student in England. By this point I was a regular visitor to the local independent record store (which I now see went under in 2003), spending my precious converted coin on a string of CDs recommended by new friends and the UK student zeitgeist in general: The Stone Roses, Screamadelica and Blur’s Leisure all got heavy play in those early weeks. And then came Achtung Baby.

    In previous comments I’ve written about my late-’80s ambivalence about U2, despite having been a big fan of Under a Blood Red Sky and Boy. My interest was sustained by key tracks from their major ’80s albums, like “The Unforgettable Fire”, “Where the Streets Have No Name”, “God Part II”, and, yes, “Desire”; but it felt like an increasingly long time since I’d loved one of their albums wholeheartedly.

    Achtung Baby changed that overnight. I can’t remember when I first heard the clarion call opening of “The Fly”, but I was instantly hooked, and picked up the album more or less immediately. Within days it was my favourite U2 album, filling the gaps I had heard in previous releases with sounds I hadn’t known I was looking for – some of them not far from the bands mentioned above – and featuring a string of tracks with hardly any duds. Only “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” struck me as weak, and even that was later rescued for me by the Temple Bar Edit of the single release. The rest sounded amazing, each and every one.

    In the Bryan Adams entry I wrote about music serving as continuity between the other side of the world and this, but through bands like the Stone Roses, Primal Scream, Blur, Ride, and towards the end of my stay Spiritualized, it was also acculturating me to my new location (in space and, in hindsight, time). What was so extraordinary about Achtung Baby was that it did both at once. Here was a band I had effectively grown up with, having discovered them at the end of the year I discovered pop, whose previous straight rock releases sat perfectly comfortably in an Australian musical context (with the exception of the noodlier parts of The Unforgettable Fire); and here they were raiding a musical toybox I had only just discovered, and only because I’d uprooted myself from that context. It was thrilling.

    Also thrilling were its roots in the most exciting news event of my lifetime to that point (and probably to this point), the collapse of the Berlin Wall. The darker corners of Achtung Baby sounded like the ghosts of East Berlin, and the excited clatter of its more upbeat tracks sounded like the rattling open of a cage. And this was before I’d actually visited Berlin, which I first did in 1998, where you can hear the opening notes of “Zoo Station” in the sound of every tram. Turning their attention from America to Germany felt in 1991 like exactly the right move.

    As I said, I loved just about each and every track. The pinnacle had to be “One” – something about its lyrics and texture spoke to me then, and does now – but I could also listen to “Zoo Station” again and again. My favourite sequence of the album, though, was “So Cruel” followed by “The Fly” followed by “Mysterious Ways”, with this track the pivot of the whole album, and in some ways an encapsulation of it.

    That opening riff again: a fantastic single opening, clearing whatever you were listening to out of the way so that you only had ears for this; but also a perfect contrast on the album to the elegance of “So Cruel”. And then those clattering drums, as if Larry Mullen was banging on the side of a Trabi, and over the top of them the Edge’s best guitar work in ages. I loved every second of that solo and outro.

    Yer man Hewson never sounded better to me, either. I’m inured enough to the derision he attracts here to state simply that I like his voice, and especially here: the breathiness of it, the growl of it, the whine of it, the falsetto of it, the insistence of it. And although I’ve sometimes had problems with his lyrics, these ones can still delight me after all these years. Nobody has mentioned my favourite line of the song, which seems to capture so much about where U2 was in 1991: it’s no secret that ambition bites the nails of success. Screw this one up and we’re toast, boys. They didn’t.

    I listened to Achtung Baby again a few times when we were discussing “Desire” last year, and although it had lost a little of its startling impact in light of what came after (from U2 and others), it held up for me – although it sounded even darker and, in places, sparser than I’d remembered. “The Fly”, though, still stands out from its surroundings.

    As musical madeleines for the favourite times of my life go, I’ve had worse. 9.

  28. 88

    Grabbing and making public Carsmile’s joke in another place, the famous “pomo homework” that Eno gave them was in fact a copy of “Info Freako”

  29. 89
    punctum on 16 May 2011 #

    And then, suddenly, the future turned round, stared the past squarely in its smug and obtuse face and winked a permanent NO…

    Blame Eno, now making his how-much-longer-could-we-have-been-expected-to-wait exceptionally belated debut on Popular, except of course he’s been here for virtually all the journey, taking notes in the 1967 audience, lurking in the 1971 wings, belching nowness in the 1972 arena, starting to pull a few strings in 1975, glued to 1977 and 1981 like a butterfly to an anemone, smiling beningly at 1982 and 1988 while stretching his legs briefly in 1989 and then singlehandedly kidnapping grizzly old pseudo-roots revivalists U2 (they had no choice but to come willingly and loudly), locking them in his idolatrous steel cube, reminding them roughly of what their real roots were and then forcing them to listen to the Young Gods, to My Bloody Valentine, to KMDFM and Sonic Youth, to Madchester (but not in a Jesus EMF way), to take the KLF on board, to fear a whitened planet with the Bomb Squad (did I mention Son Of Bazerk?), to float with Orb, Orbital and Aphex, to twist their world into a storm of accursed currencies, to record their about-bloody-time follow-up to Here Come The Warm Jets…Eno, who stripped Roxy, hijacked Talking Heads and now decided to restart his pop career in the body of U2…

    Achtung Baby wasn’t all brash trash; sometimes the difference was purely cosmetic, since songs like “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses?” and “Mysterious Ways” could have fitted onto the tricompartmental wagon of Rattle And Hum if they’d been twisted in the Chubby Checker/Jive Bunny way. But “Even Better Than The Real Thing” signified the beginning of elongated detachment, “Love Is Blindness” cries in its victim’s blood, “Until The End Of The World” made Wim Wenders suddenly seem like Henry Hathaway on a grumpy Tuesday…

    And I am not forgetting that its greatest song – and maybe their greatest song – was the most conventional; the soberly wrecked central axis of “One”…we’re not the same but get to carry each other, don’t see through me dad, see me through, but there’s more to say about that when we get to another U2 number one, far off in the future…

    But it had to be “The Fly,” the record’s most clearly unclear song, the farthest departure on the album from anything resembling “U2” (because the Joshua worshippers forgot Boy in people, or it never got to them in the first place), which had to lead the assault, to get Bryan Adams, the past, out of their stranglehold on the top of the charts, the utterly misleading and false 1991 charts; forced out of their securely respectable box and made to matter again by the Punctum Catcher Eno, “The Fly” sings – well, whispers – about sex and dirt and it’s a telephone call from an inmate of Hell, how goes it (“It’s no secret that a conscience can sometimes be a pest”), here’s looking at Bono singing about secrets dreaming about truths (“All kill their inspiration and sing about their grief”), but the stars are falling from the sky, the world is in darkness tonight and every night, and the song crawls with its cracking-up beats, its muffled, distorted premium-line panting (Siouxsie, “Peek-A-Boo,” did you think we weren’t listening?), guitars which pole vault the stadium only to crash into the gamma rays of Jupiter, a falsetto from another life (Billy MacKenzie, in 1991 still not a ghost and evidently not forgotten)…

    There is eventually nowhere left for the song to go but to pull down Joseph and the Bartman and so-called Enigmas which have tortured this year of years (“You know I don’t see you when she walks in the room”) and pleasantries and supersonic Philips hi-fi Knopfler galleries of monocolour, and so it falls apart with glee, the Edge wriggling and screaming like an electrocuted moth against the fading lightbulb of thrusting Thatcher-killing drum programs as Bono relishes imminent destruction (“The universe exploded ‘cos of one man’s lie”) and even gives “the past” its own custom-built epitaph, its assisted suicide note (“Look I gotta go, yeah I’m running out of change” – taking that “change” literally and symbolically – “There’s a lot of things, if I could I’d rearrange”). U2 miraculously managed to pull all of the important 1991 strands together…but really it was Brian who, as with so many previous eleventh hours in pop, saved the day, compelled us to look at the gloriously profuse alternatives; Brian told Bryan to fuck off quicksnap (not the first time he’d done that with a Bryan either) and, even as a base (camp) gesture, “The Fly” showed those pasts who now was the boss. As though there was a time when he wasn’t. Did I mention Spiderland by Slint?

  30. 90
    Ed on 29 Jun 2011 #

    #82. So they did do this at Glastonbury, quite early on in a set that was very Achtung Baby-heavy, presumably as a result of intensive FT study to see how they might win over the doubters. That was very welcome, although I think that the critical consensus that the show was competent rather than inspired gets it right. What felt fresh and thrilling at Wembley Stadium in 1992 felt tired and unimaginative two decades later. The best bit was the interpolation of a few bars of ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Of of You’ into ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’, which raised a grudging smile among my U2-sceptic set.

    What was much less welcome, though, was the grotesquely heavy-handed over-reaction to the very mild-mannered tax protest. Time for Bono to make some restitution, I think.

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