The Band: Bono (Vocals)
The Edge (Guitar, Backing Vocals, Keyboards)
Adam Clayton (Bass Guitar)
Larry Mullen Jr (Drums & Percussion)
Released: 2002 (Island)
Going into the 1990s, U2 were one of the biggest bands on the planet. Following the full-blooded stadium rock sound of albums such as War
, and The Joshua Tree
, they also seemed to have found a trademark sound, that would carry on serving them well, and which they would be quite frankly misguided to deviate too far away from. After all, once you've had a certain degree of success making a certain sort of music, there would seem to be very little incentive for you to suddenly change, right? Well, although this seems obvious, like many bands before them, U2 did change, and this is very obvious on this collection. Particularly when contrasted with their collection of hits from 1980-1990, it's immediately apparent that U2 spent a large part of this decade experimenting with their sound, only really coming back to the sound of the 1980s towards the end of the decade, with the release of All That You Can't Leave Behind
However, although several of U2's albums released in this time period came in for quite a lot of criticism (particularly Pop
), something that strikes you about these songs, is their overall quality. While this collection may not be as consistently good as the one taking in the previous decade, songs such as Miss Sarajevo
, The Fly
, and, of course, One
, all rank up there with the best that U2 have ever made. This is also a more comprehensive album than U2's other hits collection, with the total running time of the album approaching the 80 minute maximum.
Although that's a positive, there are some odd things about that fact. First of all, there's the fact that there are only two songs from All That You Can't Leave Behind
on here. Although that album is overrated in some quarters (for example, it simply should not be #139 on the Rolling Stone list of the top 500 albums of all time), it's something of a curiosity that it only has 2 songs on here, considering that it was received both critically and commercially as U2's best album since 1991's Achtung Baby
. You can only assume that this is a deliberate move by the band, and that this album is more designed to show off their typical sound from the 1990-2000 period, rather than to show off their most popular/successful songs from that period. Although it's surprising, it's probably something to put down to the fact that so many people know so much about the music of U2 that the band can afford to do slightly odd things like that on a best of compilation.
The two new songs on here, while reasonable, also disappoint slightly, and luckily recent album How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb
was a great improvement on them. Electrical Storm
is very hard to describe, but is basically a pleasant enough listen, without really sounding much like any of U2's styles that they've been through so far, although, if pushed, you could probably see it on All That You Can't Leave Behind
, although it wouldn't be a particularly good song there. Similarly, The Hands That Built America
, which featured on the OST for Martin Scorsese film Gangs Of New York
, is a slow-burning song that ultimately just doesn't really ignite. If there's one main problem with this album, for me, that's it. Minor quibbles about track inclusions aside, with a best of album you generally get what you expect, but with a band of U2's stature, it's not unreasonable to expect new tracks of a higher standard than what Electrical Storm
and The Hands That Built America
Moving back onto the positives of this album, there are, of course, several to talk about. Not least is the fact that given how good U2 were at majestic stadium rock in the 1980s, it wouldn't be unreasonable to expect something of a drop in standards on any collection of songs in which their sound had changed. But, as I have already said, although the overall standard isn't as high, there are some great moments on this. The overall level of musicianship remains high on here, with The Edge still being able to write guitar lines that complement Bono's voice, although the nature of both have changed relative to the 1980s. But what is also interesting in some cases is how the band have changed their sound subtly, but at the same time, to a great extent. For example, on Discotheque
, The Edge has a riff that could easily appear on one of U2's more conventional moments, but here only appears sporadically, and is cloaked in electronica and distortion for large parts of the song. Likewise, Bono's vocals, which are normally thought of as being more free-flowing and unconfined have a whole different atmosphere on much of this album, with them ranging from slightly menacing to almost a parody of himself. This, of course, was in keeping with his Macphisto character, and the way in which the band changed, with increasingly strange stage antics, such as calling the first President Bush from a live show.
In the end though, this collection may well come to be regarded as the filling in a U2 sandwich, as, based on their last two albums, the band are now returning more to their 1980s original sound, and, along the way, gaining a whole new generation of fans. If so, then the era that this represents will probably be remembered as a highly worthwhile and interesting experiment by the band, but ultimately one that does not live up to their very best moments. If you don't want to get Pop
, but want to see what the band were like during this period, then this album is for you, although I would say that Achtung Baby
is an absolute must-buy for any U2 fan. However, first make sure that you buy some of U2's music from the 1980s, not only because it's probably still the best that they've ever recorded, but also as in order to understand what the band did next, you probably first need to hear what they did to begin with.
Final Rating: 4.3/5
: This song was recently named as the best song of all time by Q music magazine, and while this may be over the top (does any song deserve that title?), I'd definitely put it right up there with the very best songs that U2 have ever recorded, and lyrically, it's as good as just about anything else I've heard. The song refers to a son dying of AIDS singing to his father, which, when you simply read the lyrics, gives this a whole new level of meaning. Emotionally, this ranks up there with my favourite songs, and is therefore the single most important U2 song to hear on this album.
. A great example of U2's alternative rock approach to music in this time period, a great guitar riff opens this song, before The Edge's guitar continues screeching away in the background while some very deep, funky drumming keeps the song going. And the chorus, with layered Bono vocals providing him singing normally below his own falsetto, is a very odd effect, which works very well, although it's the kind of thing you could have got brilliant odds on the band even attempting in the 1980s. There's also a great, but very atypical in terms of The Edge's usual style, guitar solo in this, which is one of the best on the album.
. Starting with Adam Clayton's low bassline shuddering, The Edge quickly comes in with a weird effect that provides the necessary backing for Bono's muttered vocals. There's also what I think is a football crowd's noise coming in and out of the mix, while a similar vocal effect to that contained in The Fly
again adds a curious air to the song that makes it a lot more interesting. This really ignites though when the band comes together again after the interlude, leaving the listener with the impression that although this is a very un-U2 anthem in style, it is definitely an anthemic song.