Moving their fans in mysterious ways
"We're going to go away for a while. You'll understand. We just need to well we need to dream it all up again." These were the last words from Bono as he, Larry Mullen Jr., Adam Clayton, and The Edge left the scene of their last concert of the 80s. Many feared it was the end of the supergroup, U2.
In a way, however, it was. The new U2 of the 90s was everything that U2 of the 80s wasn't. They were cool. They were rock stars. You could dance to their music! They didn't care about intimacy at their shows. They just wanted to look their best. In an interview, Kurt Loder asked Bono, "so what happened to that connection you had with your fans in the 80s? I mean, the compassionate feel." Bono responded "Compassion? Intimacy? Who gives a shit about intimacy. Look at these glasses!" Achtung Baby, their first album in the 90s, was as Bono said, the sound of U2 chopping down the Joshua Tree.
However, something happened as U2 got cool and put on elaborate shows (the PopMart tour cost $1.3 million a week to keep on the road). They made the best music of their career and some of the best of the 90s.
Their latest, The Best of 1990-2000 wraps up their decade of sonic and visual experimentation quite well with cuts from all five of their major 90s albums. The compilation itself is heavily weighted towards Zooropa and Pop, however. Perhaps this is only to introduce the casual U2 fan to the beauty of these two "forgotten" U2 albums (combined they only sold 4 million copies in the U.S.-dismal for U2 standards). Nonetheless, it includes all their radio hits such as "One," "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me," and "Mysterious Ways." However, it's the new and remixed tracks that make this album better than their previous compilation.
The group's newest effort, "Electrical Storm," is without a doubt one of the gems of their career. It's a perfect song for the band's current position and is totally unlike anything else in their catalogue. It's a four and a half minute pop song that moves with the flow of their newer work but incorporates elements of their 90s experimentation.
"The Hands that Built America," a song for the soundtrack to the upcoming Martin Scorcese film, Gangs of New York, is a dark depiction of the Irish experience in the New World around the turn of the century. "Miss Sarajevo," a song inspired by a documentary of the same name, is about a beauty pageant held under the mortar fire of war-torn Yugoslavia. The track itself has an awkward sort of beauty to it. Bono's vocals combined with a guest appearance by Luciano Pavoratti make this one of the best tracks on the album.
The B-sides, which will only be available for purchase during the next week or so due to limited supplies, are nothing special. 10 of the 14 tracks are remixes and five of these 10 are remixes of songs that appear on the A-side album anyways. "Summer Rain" is a fun pop song which appeared as a B-side to "Beautiful Day," while "Lady with the Spinning Head" is one of the best industrial experiments they've ever done. Instead of making the B-sides all remixes, they should have focused more on the rare, unheard B-sides, like "Paint it Black" and "Satellite of Love."
U2, as best emphasized by their latest release, All That You Can't Leave Behind, is clearly leaving their 90s influences and producers like Flood behind, in order to focus on a more rock-based sound.
However, the remixes on the A-side of the Best of 1990-2000 accomplish a feat that few remixes tend to do-they make the originals better. "Discotheque" thankfully slows down a bit, while "Staring at the Sun," adds some vocal accompaniment from The Edge as well as some electronica that fits the formula of the song.
In 1991, U2 arguably changed their style and attitude more so than any other major band in the past 20 years. Their constant quest to avoid complacency is just one of the reasons why this Irish quartet should be considered at the top of the rock pantheon, and as the true definition of rock n' roll.