Sunday, October 2, 2011
So REM broke up eh? Any thoughts U2...
So the REM break up has being playing on my mind for a few days now and it's mainly been about when bands should break up as opposed to whether they do. It maybe heretical to many but I was mainly thinking about U2 - huge band, huge pulling power and can sell out arenas anywhere in the world. But what was the last U2 album I really enjoyed from front to back? Achtung Baby which is celebrating it's 20th anniversary this year.
When I think back, Zooropa was spotty (although it has some great songs towards the end of the record and Stay [So far, so close] is one of their best of that decade) and then there was Pop. As I was thinking about this on a train trip two days ago, I decided to listen to Pop in its entirety for the first time in a gazillion years. I couldn't do it - once I hit Mofo and started to wonder who advised the boys to add all those Chemical Brothers flourishes, they had lost me. Maybe they thought it was some Achtung-esque reinvention but maybe there was no thought at all or too much thought... Who knows? There's some good songs there but it is a hard listen.
I then listened to All that you can't leave behind which sounds like a U2 tribute band aping their greatest hits. There's some good songs there but the back end is pretty poor. From then on, it seems that U2 forgot how to write a memorable chorus on Atomic Bomb and No Line on the Horizon. To be honest, Atomic Bomb features what I consider the worst U2 line ever (which is apparently one of Bono's favourites):
Freedom has a scent like the top of a newborn baby's head
Uhmmm... no. REM had a much noticeable decline in both popularity and quality but while U2 remain huge, I'd argue the quality control has been lacking. Obviously, there is the will in the band to continue although Larry always looks grumpy but should I expect a band like this to be producing good albums at this stage of their career? I'd argue that Fugazi's last record was one of their best some 20 years into their existence and you know, that last Metallica album was pretty good.
Maybe this is a product of being in a behemoth band. I went to see Metallica last year and had a blast. I later saw the live video from the same tour (Français Pour Une Nuit) and it was pretty much, move for move, the same concert I saw in Brisbane except for a slightly altered setlist. I know a production of that size or the U2 360 show needs to have a certain regularity to be manageable and the fans want to hear the hits so I get that. I saw U2 on the Zoo TV tour and it was pretty much the same as a live broadcast I'd seen on TV. I wonder does this size and routine make the bands over think everything from the live show to their recording? Achtung Baby is such a primal howl of a record - a record of turmoil, inventiveness and raw power. No line on the horizon seemed like it was micromanaged and produced in a test tube by scientists.
Now, to be honest, I'm not advocating for U2 to split up. I mean the Rolling Stones keep on keeping on and no one expects them to release a really great album at this stage. I guess the thing is with REM, they knew the jig was up but with U2 I always have this glimmering hope that they will produce one more really great record. It's a terrible expectation and probably an impossible one but that's partly because I am a fan. There may never be another Joshua Tree or Achtung in them but we can hope. I'm being a little unfair here, I could say this about any band who have been around for a while, I mean you could say the same thing about the Cure or the Beastie Boys or Aerosmith or Radiohead (WHAT! WAIT! NEVER!). Actually, you could say it about some newer bands too, I mean Coldplay haven't done anything interesting since their second album apart from wear stupid jackets (if they ever did anything interesting at all). But whatever, I'm just tossing some seeds around here. Thoughts?