When I Come Around (Achtung Carrie! #7)*

November 29, 2004

By Carrie Alison, Chief Editor

This column has had so many stops and starts over the past couple months I’m almost embarrassed to say just how many.

I’ve written installments on how I became a U2 fan, why I became a U2 fan, my ensnarement in the U2 iPod/iTunes drama, my opinion the U2 iPod/iTunes drama, how I want the new album to be and now, finally, how the album really is.

To be honest, I haven’t listened to U2 on a regular basis since right after the release of “All That You Can’t Leave Behind.” Yes, you read that right. Sure, I trekked all over tarnation to attend shows on the Elevation Tour. I bought all the T-shirts. I basked in the sun of an active U2. I even made some very good friends along the way standing in those all-day-long general admission lines.

But then life moved on, and so did I. I became enthralled with the undeniable kinetic energy of The Strokes, Interpol and The White Stripes. I partied with The Raveonettes in an Ybor City bar for a couple hours one night. I fell in love with the guitar stomp of Jack White, the dive bar swagger of Julian Casablancas and the addictive synth-rock brilliance of The Killers. I became a born-again student of Leonard Cohen. I wrote some wine-soaked poetry and mulled over the details of my first novel. I quietly put away my U2 memorabilia. I took my “Achtung Baby” subway poster down and put a “Trainspotting” poster in its place. I forgot about my U2 fan club membership and concentrated on my Strokes fan club membership instead. I decided to move to New York City early next year to pursue my writing career. I began to question my U2 fandom and what U2 meant to me.

If you want the whole truth, here it is—I haven’t been truly touched by a U2 album since “Achtung Baby” and “Zooropa.” Maybe it’s because those two albums made me a fan, or perhaps because I got lost in the glittery garishness of “Pop” or what I perceived as the dad-rock feel of “All That You Can’t Leave Behind.” I couldn’t see my life or myself in most of those songs and longed for the dark passion of the U2 of the ‘80s and early ‘90s.

Then the “Bomb” dropped.

First it took the incarnation of an expertly crafted marketing campaign including a loud-and-proud “Vertigo” and iTunes TV commercial, and a special edition black and red iPod. How timely, cute and tech-savvy, and destined to appeal to potentially new and younger fans for whom the iPod has become the new Game Boy. I questioned my devotion, despite marveling at the genius of it all.

Then, the CD leaked online and forced me to be tough. I hadn’t downloaded music online since the Sean Fanning-era of Napster and even then I only “stole” ‘80s one-hit-wonder songs like Taco’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz” and maybe a live version of “Bad” here and there. Suffice it to say, I never did crack and download “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb,” nor did I stream it when U2.com, VH1.com, MTV.com and NME.com put it up, not because I was still bent on being tough, but because my computer’s sound card was broken.

On November 20th, U2 gave a bravura performance on “Saturday Night Live” that left even the cast in tears and on their feet jumping for joy. I, too, applauded the show but not necessarily because the performance left me speechless, but because I felt U2 was finally getting in touch with me—a 20-something long-term fan who has given them hundreds of dollars and thousands of hours of free time in my lifetime.

The following Monday found U2 filming the music video for the album’s second single “All Because of You” on the back of a flatbed truck around New York City, a perfect way to drum up attention for the band and the new album all in one public move. This action left me scratching my head as I wondered why the self-proclaimed “biggest band in the world” would need to scream so loud to get attention for its new album when its placement in the upper pantheon of music virtually guarantees some sort of big attention. As exciting and bold as it is to take rock and roll to the mean streets, it begs so many questions: Why indeed do U2 need to work so hard to garner the attention it already has? U2’s extremely loyal fan base is millions upon millions strong—what is the band stumping for? Who is U2 trying to reach? Linkin Park fans are probably not listening, and if they are, it’s only until the next song comes on the radio. The Short Attention Span Theatre that is modern rock radio anoints a new hero every month; this month it’s Jimmy Eat World, next month it could be The Futureheads (hopefully).

So I waited until November 23rd and happily bought the collector’s edition of the album from Circuit City.

I’m not going to put up a front and say the album bowled me over on the first playback. Knowing the fan favorites from the album in the back of my mind as I listened created an interference I didn’t count on: Why didn’t I love “Miracle Drug” and “Original of the Species” like everyone else? Why were "One Step Closer" and “Fast Cars” my favorites? Why was my mind drifting everywhere else but to the newest musical accomplishments from U2? Why couldn’t I latch on immediately like everyone else seemed to? Had I truly and irrevocably moved on and not noticed?

The second listen calmed me down, as I’m sure future plays will. Even if the “Bomb” isn’t “the bomb” to me right now, U2 is and will always be more important to me than any album it puts out. The band has transcended music and lyrics for me by becoming a constant and beloved companion in my life, and despite how my feelings for U2′s music may change over the years, that still says a lot.

Carrie Alison can be reached at carrie@interference.com

Review: U2 Rocks ‘Saturday Night Live’*

November 29, 2004

By Kevin Zuk

"Est. 1979" read Bono’s jacket while The Edge laid down the opening riff to "Vertigo" when U2 appeared as the musical guest on "Saturday Night Live," taped Nov. 20 in New York City. With "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" ready to explode across the United States three days later, American fans tuned in anxiously to witness U2’s first major live US appearance since the Elevation Tour finished in Miami in December 2001.

The Edge delivered as expected on the high-octane, now-familiar single, however the stage seemed a bit constrictive for Bono as he is used to running around catwalks and large arena platforms. But the band pulled the single flawlessly with lots of energy and Bono’s high notes rung through the microphone at full power. “Vertigo” as a title is presumed to be the result of all things elevated, therefore Bono’s closing the song acting like a blind man with arms stretched out made sense before whaling the catchy “yeah, yeah” repetition to close out the smash hit, enjoying it’s fourth week atop the Billboard Modern Rock Chart at No. 1.

Host Luke Wilson transitioned the band into second song "Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own," a slow but building tribute to Bono’s late father, Bob Hewson. Already known for wearing his heart on his sleeve, emotions were obviously high as Bono covered his head with his arms for the line, “I don’t need to hear you say, that if we weren’t so alike, you’d like me a whole lot more.”

As the program appeared to be coming to an end, Bono ran to the stage for a third song, a rare happening on SNL, but the cast, crew and crowd blew up for "I Will Follow," as Bono broke down the stage’s barriers. He was on a woman’s lap in the front row, spinning cameras around ZooTV-style, and dancing with a lucky and appreciative cast member Amy Poehler. While the credits rolled and audience went completely berserk, Bono announced “One more song,” and the Edge licked the note sounding like the intro to "All Because of You." But the program was over and the members of the audience were the only ones treated to the encore, with U2’s best vibes filling Studio 8H in Rockefeller Center.

Overall, this was an amazing warm up for U2’s upcoming world tour and a great way to promote the "Bomb" release last Tuesday.

U2’s Unquenchable Thirst For New York*

November 23, 2004

By Gary Rakow

What a Beautiful Day!

The rejuvenated Irish quartet U2 rocked the sardine-packed yet cordial crowd at the amazing waterfront location of Empire Fulton Ferry State Park on the East River for a taping of MTV’s guerrilla-style concert show “Jammed.” Between New York City’s majestic Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, a sea of thousands of fans converged hoping for the promised 30-minute show as reported online yesterday. What we got was a whole lot more.

I arrived at the park from New Jersey around 2:30 pm and the e-ticket line was wrapped around several city blocks. I patiently waited to enter the park while chatting in line with a 40-something mom from Philadelphia there with her 14- and 16-year-old daughters who had a mom cool enough to let them miss a day of school for a chance to see Bono and the gang up close and personal. And personal he was. At recent concerts on the Elevation Tour it seemed there was minimal talk between Bono and the fans, but tonight was different. It was almost as if you were personally invited into his backyard, wherever that may be, for an intimate experience. Before I go further, there was an early band appearance several hundred feet above the grassy park as a flatbed trailer with U2 aboard could be seen crossing the Manhattan Bridge. Bono called down to the fans from the bridge and the band struck a few chords.

If you weren’t immediately stricken by “Vertigo,” or at least unsure about the song—as I can admit to myself the first couple of times I heard it—the recent live performance on “Saturday Night Live,” and now tonight, demonstrates that “Vertigo” will likely be an even bigger show opener than “Elevation,” it has more bang for the buck, and draws intense crowd noise and cheer. The band then broke into the second single from “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb,” “All Because of You,” which had been the band’s reason for driving around New York City—to film its music video.

(Photo courtesy of Alexei)

From there, the tone changed a bit as Bono told a story about a handicapped child that learned how to type with his forehead and wrote stories, which lead in to “Miracle Drug.” The live version needs some work but who can blame the band for not having it down pat at this early stage of the promo tour. The Edge was in great form throughout the night, Larry Mullen, Jr. was pounding the drums as usual, and Adam Clayton seemed quite content throughout the evening.

Next, Bono talked about his late father, Bob Hewson, for a short while and how his father used to sing opera and conduct the orchestra with knitting needles in front of the radio or TV at home when Bono was a kid. I believe he said that there is a special gift he got from his father when he passed away. The performance of “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own” was beautiful and, for such a sad song, it is likely destined to be one of the great performances on each stop of the upcoming tour.

(Photo courtesy of Alexei)

“City of Blinding Lights” followed, with Bono commenting about how amazing it is to be playing in concert beneath the New York City skyline. He also turned and looked behind him at the Brooklyn Bridge where others watched the concert happenings from a distance on the pedestrian walkway.

At some point during the show, Bono commented on Clayton’s flashy silk-like black jacket, and how Mullen was the only band member brave enough to sit out in the cold without a coat. Bono asked Mullen if he had thermals on underneath his shirt, to which Mullen shook his head no, and then stood up to show he was telling the truth, teasing the women in the crowd by gesturing to unbutton his shirt but stopping before doing so.

Bono announced that the next song off the new album the band would play was “Original of the Species.” When the crowd cheered for the song, Bono jokingly asked, “How do you know this s**t?” an obvious reference (though seemingly without any ill will) to the leak of “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” on the internet weeks ago. At this point, The Edge shifted to keyboards and Bono commented that there is a reason he doesn’t play guitar much as he warmed up on his bright green guitar and opened up “Species” in acoustic fashion, with Edge’s keyboards, later joined in by the rest of the band.

(Photo courtesy of Alexei)

After previously unreleased gem “She’s a Mystery to Me,” the crowd exploded as U2 launched into “Beautiful Day” and then the pogo-stick-like crowd reached a fever pitch as “I Will Follow” rang out from the stage. The band left the stage after “I Will Follow,” eliciting a loud chant of "one more song" for several minutes. Then as an encore, the band launched into “Out of Control,” and it was out of control, in a good way. A great ending to a great concert! Except it wasn’t quite over as Bono thanked the crowd first, and then tore through an even better version of “Vertigo” than that which opened the show. The crowd ate up every second of the repeat performance.

And the beautiful day that turned into a beautiful night was over, the fearsome foursome stood together and bowed to the fans at center stage and disappeared into the darkness.

I left the way I came, the subway (F train) to 32nd street, and a short walk—now raining—to Penn Station, above which Madison Square Garden sits (the last place I saw U2 in June 2001). I stopped in Houlihan’s to sit down and relax for a few minutes with a cold brew before catching the Northeast Corridor train back to New Jersey. As I walked into the bar, “Mysterious Ways” was cranking out of the jukebox, and I felt at peace with the world.

Analysis: Images in U2: What You Leave Behind*

November 22, 2004

By Kimberly "hippy" Egolf

U2 has always been a band focused on the future. At the end of the 1980s, a decade that saw the public birth of the band as well as its rise to international fame, Bono declared that the band had "to go away and dream it all up again." And the band did, entering the ‘90s with a new sound and a new attitude. The rest of the decade saw U2 make incredible musical changes, easily skipping around genres and bending sounds—from the heavy guitar rock predominant on "Achtung Baby," to the more ambient sounds of "Zooropa" and "Passengers," to the processed, techno feel of "Pop."

Change is a constant for U2, the band members see possibility before them and they run toward it at full speed. They constantly pursue the latest musical sounds and have shown a remarkable eagerness to experiment with any and all music technology. But during the rush forward, inevitably, some things get left behind. The band’s last two studio albums, "Pop" and "All That You Can’t Leave Behind," reflected on what the band members have had to leave behind during the course of their career—a "normal" life, privacy and, sometimes, faith. These albums showed the band coming to terms with those sacrifices and whatever benefits may have resulted.

"Last Night on Earth" from "Pop" is, in my interpretation, a song bout the band itself, disguised as a woman. The song describes the no-holds-barred life of a woman eternally awake and determined to live "like it’s the last night on earth." Throughout the whirlwind of the early ‘90s, which witnessed "Achtung Baby," "Zooropa" and the international ZooTV tour, the band lived a life filled with people, parties and music. The actions of the woman in "Last Night on Earth" echo this frenzied lifestyle:

She’s living, living next week now
You know she’s gonna pay it back somehow
She hasn’t been to bed in a week
She’ll be dead soon, then she’ll sleep
She’s living like it’s the last night on earth

But the key part of the song is the chorus, repeating the phrase:

You’ve got to give it away

The song suggests that this frenzied life is livable as long as you give away what you have—fortune, creative energy, love, everything.

"Gone," also on "Pop," indicts the ideas of "Last Night on Earth," taking a look at the darker side of the no-holds-barred life glorified in the previous song. The life of never-ending sleeplessness is revealed to be soul denying, a "suit of lights."

You wanted to get somewhere so badly
You had to lose yourself along the way
You change your name, well that’s okay, it’s necessary
And what you leave behind you don’t miss anyway

Those things that were willingly given away by the woman in "Last Night on Earth" are now seen as sacrifices. Even the name, a mark of one’s humanity, has been given away. But the crux of it is that the singer has willingly given it all, the sacrifice is made acceptable by the singer declaring that those things left behind aren’t missed anyway.

On "All That You Can’t Leave Behind," the negative sacrifice of "Gone" turns into a joyful relinquishment of all those things you don’t need anyway. "Walk On" celebrates this difficult, but necessary, step in life:

Love is not the easy thing
The only baggage you can bring
Is all that you can’t leave behind

In "Last Night on Earth" and "Gone" the soul was the thing that was left behind. In "Walk On," the soul is the necessary item you must pack. And with soul in your suitcase (memorably symbolized in the album’s artwork) you can always "walk on," no matter what comes your way.

As fans, we can only guess what U2 will leave behind in search of new creative highs on “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb,”—I’m sure that the band members will always find room for a heart in their suitcases.

The Four Most Important U2 Albums*

November 22, 2004

By Greg Soria

What makes an album important? Is it the songs, Billboard chart placement, the musicians or the money it generates? It is all of these things and more. In U2′s case an important album is an album that has propelled the band to greater power and heights. In its storied career, U2 have had many hit and chart topping albums; what is it that makes any one of their albums important?

Fans far and wide will argue to the tooth about which is the "best" U2 album, but this is not a study of that subject. What I am looking at is what albums have had the greatest impact on U2′s career, the albums that the band has ridden to greater heights and fame. In most cases the tour behind the album was as important or, in some cases, even more important than the album. After following U2 for more than 20 years, here are what I consider to be the band’s four most important albums.

War (1983)

Without "War" I don’t believe that we would not have U2 in our lives today. "War" gave U2 a voice in the rock/pop industry and grew it an audience outside of its small cult following. This was accomplished with the album’s earnest message of hope and the powerful "War Tour," a tour captured in all of its glory in the video "U2: Live At Red Rocks." The album’s songs, full of angst and political sentiment, were also the most relevant and assessable of U2′s career to that point. Though today some of this album may not seem up-to-par with U2′s latter work, at the time U2 never sounded more cohesive and together.

Songs recorded for "War" were not dissimilar to some of the songs on the "October" album, whereas lyrics were literally written at the microphone as Bono recorded his vocals. The difference between "War" and "October" was that U2 came into the studio with a purpose and conviction to take their career to the next level. What followed was an album that started all so powerfully and ended oh so gently.

With the release of "New Year’s Day" U2 had a hit record on both sides of the Atlantic. The driving bass line, catchy piano hook and searing guitar were matched with Bono’s best lyrics to date. He delivers a powerful vocal performance that is kept in check, whereas in the past he would overreach to touch the listener, such as "Tomorrow" from the "October" album.

The only other single released off of the album was the ultra-funky "Two Hearts Beat as One." This single is typical of U2 in the ’80s, a quirky ditty with fierce guitars, a booming bass line, sharp drums and a trademark Bono howl. It failed to make much of an impact in Europe or America, but was played in concert up through the 1989-90 Lovetown Tour in Australia.

How could an album with only two singles make such an impact on U2′s career? Simple, it’s all in the timing. U2 had been considered a "baby band" and "The Next Big Thing" since debuting with "11 O’Clock Tick Tock" in 1979 but had not made many inroads with its first two albums. By the time the band began recording the "War" album in 1982, U2 was at a crossroads in its career. The band’s three-album contract with Island was up and U2 still hadn’t delivered a "smash" album. U2 worked with Steve Lillywhite again to produce songs such as "Seconds," "Surrender," "Like A Song" and the powerhouse "Sunday Bloody Sunday." These songs proved that U2 had grown from an "up-and-coming" band to a mature band, not afraid to take on powerful issues in songs, like the troubles of Northern Ireland and the solidarity movement in Poland. "War" put U2 on the verge of super-stardom as the band played over 90 concerts in 1983 to support it and saw the album debut at No. 1 in the British charts and climb to No. 10 on Billboard charts in America.

The Joshua Tree (1987)

U2′s blockbuster album of 1987 could almost be placed in a tie with 1984′s "The Unforgettable Fire," however "The Joshua Tree" propelled U2 to heights of fame that "The Unforgettable Fire" album and tour only hinted at. What makes this album important to me is that it was the first U2 album to feature strong songs from start to finish. There is no filler on this album, which was not always the case on the group’s previous four albums.

The album starts with the synth buildup and guitar frenzy of "Where the Streets Have no Name" and ends with the subtle power of "Mothers of the Disappeared." The Edge and Bono are at top form, and the latter’s beautiful singing and catchy melodies match the formers guitar wall of sound. We also hear U2′s newer musical influences—country and western tones on "Trip Through Your Wires," or the African percussion that opens "One Tree Hill." It’s as if U2 had drunk from a musical well and regurgitated through their music.

Again we find U2 tackling tough issues in the album; the group touched on the United States-backed revolution in Nicaragua in "Bullet The Blue Sky," heroin problems in Ireland in "Running To Stand Still," right back to the missing sons and daughters of El Salvador in "The Mothers of the Disappeared." I find everything in between is testament to the fact that U2 was at the top of its game and was ready to capitalize on the promise of "The Unforgettable Fire" era and its historic Live Aid appearance. With this album U2 became "the band" and, perhaps, the only band that mattered.

Achtung Baby (1991)

What "Achtung Baby" delivered was somewhat shocking on first listen. Who was this band? Where was the singer that we all knew could howl with the wolves? What was with the drums and processed sounds? The set of songs on "Achtung Baby" took the tried and true U2 formula and stood it on its head. Gone were the political overtures of the previous four albums and in its place were songs that explored the delicate and heartbreaking struggles of human relationships. Producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois took the U2 sound, twisted some knobs, threw in some studio treatments and produced a fresh, new sound.

But new sounds alone did not take this album to the top of the charts; the songs on this opus are among the 12 best songs U2 have ever recorded. Songs like "One," "Acrobat" and "Love Is Blindness" are soaring, epics that delve into the psyche of the listener and have multiple meanings on subsequent listenings. Songs like "The Fly," "Even Better Than the Real Thing" and "Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses" are similar to the great power pop songs U2 had written on "The Joshua Tree" and "Rattle and Hum."

The album and its manic ZooTV tour painted U2 in a different and more controversial light, making the band palatable to critics and music fans that had brushed aside U2 as a product of the 1980s. While the album is not as lighthearted as the accompanying tours, it proved that U2 was relevant into its second decade.

All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2000)

This album, released in late October 2000, was U2′s so-called "roots" album, a careful return to the organic sounds of the band with help from Lanois and Eno. The album also saw the return of the Edge’s signature guitar sound from the 80′s. Initially Bono was very nervous about the guitar sound of "Beautiful Day," in an interview in Billboard Bono said that after hearing the riff he "froze and said ‘Oh, no, we can’t use that. It sounds too much like a quintessential U2 riff.’" However, because the band decided to leave in the soaring guitar line that runs through the chorus of "Beautiful Day," what the band ended up accomplishing was reminding listeners of what made this band so great to begin with. U2 rode the success of "Beautiful Day" to the high reaches of the Billboard charts and three Grammy Awards (Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocal).

"All That You Can’t Leave Behind," and the enormously popular Elevation tour that followed, brought U2 back from the minor slump of 1997s "Pop" and established the band as one of the few seasoned rock acts still relevant in season dominated by processed acts like Britney Spears, ‘N Sync and the Backstreet Boys. Like them or not, the songs on "All That You Can’t Leave Behind" were melodic and catchy. The album and tour helped to comfort their American fan base devastated by the events of September 11th. Songs like "Walk On," and "Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of" gained a new poignancy when listened to in the aftermath of this tragic day. The song "Kite" was dedicated in concert to Bono’s ailing father who passed away shortly before the band performed their first of two concerts at Ireland’s Slane Castle.

While "All That You Can’t Leave Behind" is not as musically adventurous as the previous three albums the band released, it did bring U2 back to the forefront of the rock and pop industry and ensured that the band’s next album would be highly anticipated and sought after.

So, there you have it, four U2 albums that I consider the most important. One took the band from the brink of stardom to fame’s doorstep. The next album took U2 to the top of the pop world. The third proved to the world that U2 could reinvent itself and be successful. The fourth proved that you could go home again and be welcomed with open arms. Does U2 have another album like one of these in its future? Once the world has taken the opportunity to hear "How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb," then everyone can decide for themselves how important it is in the grand scheme of U2.

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