Sunday, February 12, 2017

Rattle and Hum

U2. There is a goofiness to their sincerity. It renders them lovable, at times. They have a visible flaw, an error to forgive them with. I remember that now, from driving around and listening to their attempt at Sandinista! yesterday. Blasting it in the car, to remind myself what it feels like to feel like.

They falter and fawn over themselves and their heroes a bit, but fuck... it's the sound of a band having a lot of fun, and one at the peak of their powers. They seem intent on loosening up musically. If this album was their Sandinista! then they spent all four sides proving that they are not as creative as The Clash were, though more focused and perhaps better songwriters. Their brilliance felt choreographed here in every sense of comparison, which is not an easy feat considering The Clash were an entirely manufactured entity. I suppose if you crave coherence most of all in the music that you listen to then U2 just might be the band for you. I mean, if you were forced to choose. 

After this album they became unable to transcend the U2 form ever again. They look like an Irish Los Lobos. They tried to appeal to the dance crowd, but their choice of partnering with Paul Oakenflab was no less an irritant to the senses than most any EDM of today. It was marketing in search of market. It appealed mainly to people who wanted others to note the legitimacy of dance music. In their confusion they thought that U2 could somehow do that for them. The fact of the situation was very much the reverse of that. U2 was publicly acknowledging their loss of creative focus, their desperation to remain relevant. 

Achtung Baby was their last listenable collection, and this is of entirely unrelated tracks. It's not an album, not in the sense that Joshua Tree was. It's a studio version of new material that plays along even less coherently than does Rattle. It's only an aggregation of songs that were recorded during a time. It's almost as if U2 took their ill-defined White Album-era as a band and then just stretched that out for the next twenty years or so, hoping for the best. 

Brian Eno has proven it over and over again: turds are made to be polished.

The Clash would not have been able to perfect tracks the way that U2 did on Rattle, not that deep into their trajectory as a failing band anyway. The Clash had broken up well before this point. Making a live concert film to release along with their next album would have been the next logical step for them also, and one that would have documented their breakup better. Both bands formed in 1976, by early 1980 the Clash had released their third album, London Calling. U2 had not yet released their debut, Boy, to give some comparative perspective. Rattle and Hum came three years after the remaining half of The Clash had finally Cut The Crap

Best one-word record review I ever read was of that doomed effort - Cut The Crap: Didn't.

Shat the What? Back to Twaddle and Bum.

While Rattle is a result of U2's creative peak, it is also the sound of its own ending. It is post-zenith, even in its brilliance. They were either working with their heroes, covering their songs, or writing tributes to them - B.B. King, the Angel of Harlem, Bob Dylan, The Beatles. To a lesser degree also Van Dyke Parks and Benmont Tench (for the "real music fans" out there). They revealed their ambitions to transcend the punk rock that they first attempted to assert their own credibility with. I would have liked them more on Rattletouille had they covered anything off of Metal Box or Marquee Moon, the two albums that handed The Edge his guitar sound that so many claimed as being "unique" at the time.  

The live re-workings of their own songs like Still Haven't Found and Pride (In the Name of Love) are mostly gratuitous, though energetically and pleasantly so. The first becomes a white-girl spiritual, admittedly well played and fun to sing along with if you want to feel the way white girls do, which is what we must assume is the spiritual source of Bono's passion. He is a teenage white girl caught in an aging Irish midget's body. He brings the spirit of Benetton to Amnesty International. The latter remake, Pride, is redundant to anyone that owns The Unforgettable Fire. It offers nothing new to the essence of the song. It only proves that they are able to play their songs live, and that no band like U2 could possibly leave out Martin Luther King Jr. when they are appropriating significance from the collective past of others. It feels as if U2 was trying to claim they were at a famous party that everybody knows they were not. So, they photoshopped pics from the after-party.

MLK was not shot on the early morning of April 4th, btw.

Some of these choices seem naive, though from a fan's perspective you feel at those moments that one of your favorite bands was also falling in love with your musical heritage (if you were lucky enough to be an American at that time). The results made so much sense that it was nearly their Ziggy Stardust moment, where they assumed their own greatness, claiming the "rock-gods" title, where the arguments against the pretentious claim were drowned out by the sound of cheering stadiums. When it was all over, though, they were no David Bowies. 

The album is a lot of fun, even though the seeds of disappointment are planted deeply within it. The contemptible proselytizing in Silver and Gold is annoying enough in its own right, but then to escape the bridge where Bono is rambling off his newly secularized version of Christianity with, Okay Edge, play the blues... The Edge plays a great little bit of his effects-heavy minimal riffing, which is very cool, but it is not the blues. There is something false and flat about this plasticine sincerity. Bono's need to make claims has been overrun by his inabilities. 

The band questioning their faith is fine within the context of a song, a musical proclamation of the uncertainty that many must feel, but it is unsightly as an accident advanced as something else, as the passion of someone whose inspiration can be summed up as, Must say things, now.

Am I bugging you? I didn't mean to bug ya...

This is a song that Charles Manson stole from The Beatles. We're stealing it back.

Holy Jesus. Bono, please shut the fuck up! He has an inexhaustible ability to ruin songs. Listen to the extra verse he adds to All Along The Watchtower.... Something about three chords, a red guitar, and how only you can prevent forest fires.

Tomorrow we'll move on and away from the spy plane designed to steal secrets from other lands. I enjoy their music most when I am able to suspend my capacity for thought and revert that thoughtlessness back to the teen years that were filled with my newfound love of, and faith in, rock and roll. 

One last observation: In the Rattled movie they go to visit Graceland. At this point we must assume that U2 had mysteriously never seen the film Spinal Tap before. There is no other explanation for it, because they would have never chosen to re-make a scene from that classic rock comedy without the benefit of its very well-written script. 

They all sit there with the same pompous and dumbfounded reverential sincerity of Nigel Tufnel and David St. Hubbins. The only thing missing was those four potatoes trying to sing Heartbreak Hotel in four lost parts harmony.

At the gravesite, Nigel says it best: 

It really puts perspective on things, though, doesn't it?