Out & About

Writing about U2 is a bit like dancing about old architecture. Not 'cause it misses the point (that's writing about Coal Chamber), but 'cause these guys are like dependable buildings, solid and functional and, when you catch them in the right light, pretty now and again. "Beautiful Day," the song the band felt people would like to hear first from its new album, is certainly that, if not more. The type of tune U2 made its name on--well-played and well-produced, highly melodic, vaguely inspirational--it's spearheaded what the band's been calling its return to U2-ish U2 music. Bono, or maybe it was the Edge--like you don't sometimes mix up the Sears Tower and the John Hancock Building--has been telling a story about how during the new album's writing process, Bono told the guys the stuff they were coming up with was sounding a bit too much like what people expected U2 to sound like, and that maybe they should experiment a bit. To which the Edge, in all his goateed glory, told Bono to fuck off, that this is what U2 sounded like and he was sick of avoiding it. Bono relented, and all that the band could leave behind was left behind.

I think that story's kind of neat--I didn't want another Pop anymore than the band didn't want to sell records--but it also rubs me the wrong way. I can so see the Edge leaning on the ol' delay pedal for the millionth time, liking the sound and justifying its use as a neo-traditionalist stroke of genius. Which it may actually be: People seem to like these new(ish) U2 songs, and they're paying exorbitant sums to see them played live in enormous structures where you can't really hear anything and the guy next to you spills his fucking nachos on you. But neo-traditionalism's a tricky beast--one step in the wrong direction and you're a cover band, reduced to miming what you used to belt, or at best the Stray Cats, or Coal Chamber--and the Edge may soon regret his choice if the hits don't hold out, or Bono gets itchy again (which, apparently, is the same thing). Then again, probably not: For every Rattle & Hum lurking inside these guys, there's evidently an Achtung Baby; at the moment they're just replanting a trusted Joshua Tree--solid, functional and, when you hear it with 50,000 people singing along, pretty now and again.

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Mikael Wood