Tag Archives: Bono

Albums I Thought Were Terrible (But Aren’t)

 

Popmatters recently ran a piece on “Albums that Supposedly Suck (But Don’t) and it got me thinking of which albums I initially hated. Sometimes, it would take a few listens for me to warm up to the music, with other albums it took a bit of revisionist history and also a bit of perspective.

Passengers – Original Soundtracks 1

This side project by U2 and Brian Eno is one of the most confusing (and alienating) pieces of work by a major artist in the last 20 years. Larry Mullen has gone on record as stating that he absolutely hates this record with songs set to (mostly) imaginary movies. Indeed, anyone expecting an album full of the anthems U2 are known will be disappointed.It’s a mostly laid-back, atmospheric and somewhat ambient affair, the perfect soundtrack to a late-night. The songs don’t really seem to have any structure as most U2 songs do, but they reveal themselves with each subsequent listen. The obvious standouts are “Your Blue Room” which is one of U2’s most haunting ballads, and the Pavarotti collaboration “Miss Sarajevo”.  But songs like “United Colors” and “Slug” are inventive and groundbreaking anything U2 has done.

The Who – The Who By Numbers

With the exception of the pop-ditty “Squeeze Box” The Who By Numbers has mostly been forgotten about by the general public. It’s not hard to see why, as it lacks the firepower of albums like Who’s Next and Quadrophenia. Instead, Pete Townshend offers up songs about his mortality (“Blue Red and Grey”), alcoholism (“However Much I Booze”), his place in the rock world with the emergence of punk (“They’re All In Love”).  It’s certainly not as consistent as some of their earlier albums, but Townshend lyrics revealed a softer side (and more personal) that he further explored on solo albums like Empty Glass.

The Beatles – The White Album

I first this album when I was young. Even then, I knew there were great songs on it, but I couldn’t understand why the hell songs like “Rocky Raccoon” and “Wild Honey Pie” were included. The only version I had was a dubbed cassette I borrowed from my older brother. I was convinced that he must have taken these terrible songs from The Beatles Anthology and put them on the cassette as a joke. There could be no other logical explanation. In recent years, The White Album has grown to be one of my favorite Beatles’ albums. The quirky detours add to the charm of the record, and counter-balance some of Lennon’s heavier lyrics. And what other album could offer songs as majestic as “Julia” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and others as silly as “Ob-la-Di, Ob-La-Da”?

Beck – Midnite Vultures

I loved Odelay upon its release, so I quickly bought Midnite Vultures based on the bouncy and horn-heavy single, “Sexx Laws”.  I was quickly disappointed, as the rest of the album seemed to be a party album, without a party to accompany it. The songs seemed like Beck was trying to hard to be exciting, and unlike Odelay all the odd sounds annoyed the hell out me. In retrospect, Midnite Vultures is the soundtrack for the end of the party. It’s mesh of sounds while not groundbreaking makes it sound fresh and vital, and “Debra” is one of the best Prince tracks that Prince never wrote.

The Rolling Stones – Some Girls

I’ve always heard from various people that The Rolling Stones albums are almost unlistenable after Exile on Main St. While that is certainly their prime, some of their latter days are albums are quite good. I bought Some Girls after reading a positive review in a magazine. This shit didn’t sound like The Rolling Stones. Jagger’s voice was the same, but where was the classic sound? You let me down, rock writers! “Miss You” sounded like a disco song, and “Some Girls” while raunchy, was nowhere as good as “Starfucker”(aka “Star Star”.) As it turns out, I missed the point. “Some Girls” was probably the last time that The Rolling Stones could take a contemporary sound and put their own spin on it without sounding tired and out of ideas. And for the record, I now love “Miss You”.

 

 

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My Mother’s First Rock Concert: U2 in Baltimore

 

Over the years, I’ve gone to see U2 a total of four times.  Each show was special for different reasons.   In 2001, I saw them for the first time after years of trying.  Four years later when I saw them perform in Washington DC, they busted out the rarely played “Out of Control”.

I knew U2’s show in Baltimore would be a special one, too.  As a Christmas present, my older brother and I bought my mother a ticket. Not only would this be her first time seeing U2, it would also be her first rock concert.  After years of watching her sons go to the band’s concerts without her, my mother would finally get to see Bono and company in the flesh.

She’s listened to U2 for almost 25 years, mostly because my older siblings exposed her to them.   She’s always enjoyed The Joshua Tree; though it took her fifteen years to declare Achtung Baby is “one of their best”.  It’s hard to listen to “Bad” without thinking back to Friday afternoons when she made pizza in the kitchen.

When the day of the show finally came, my mother was nervous about the large crowds and the stage show.  She became concerned about the band’s moving catwalks after hearing about them on the radio.  I was a bit apprehensive about going to a concert with my mother.   After all, this was a new experience for me, too.

Naturally, I wondered if it would be too loud for her.  Maybe the giant video screen and flashing lights would be a bit much for her.  Bono’s politicizing is sometimes off-putting for even faithful fans of U2.  What would she think if he gave the audience a lecture on Africa?

On our way to the concert, my fears began to subside.  As we made our way into the stadium, my mother seemed less nervous and more excited.  She had even brought a pair of earplugs, on my friend’s suggestion.  “What’s the name of the song about Bono’s father?” She asked as we weaved our way around the hundreds of people inside the stadium.   “I like that one.”

“Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own,” I said.  “Though I don’t think they play that one on this tour.”

After walking half way around the stadium and climbing to the upper-deck, we finally made it to our seats.  U2’s elaborate stage with its massive spider-like claws stretching into the air, circular video screen, and giant antenna took up much of the field.  “It’s crazy isn’t it?” my brother asked.  “It’s wonderful,” she replied in awe.  She might have been referring to the stage, but it was also much more significant.  She had finally made it, and enjoying the company of her two sons.

When U2 appeared on stage – Bono appearing last – my mother let out an enthusiastic whoop.   The earplugs were no where to be found.  From the very beginning, it was clear that I had no need to worry.  After every single song – even the ones she didn’t know – she cheered so loudly that it put the audience members around us to shame.

She was amazed at how The Edge could play so well, as the catwalk beneath his feet moved over heads of the audience.  Bono kept his political talk to a minimum, and instead offered kind words and praises of thanks.  “It’s nice to hear him have such a positive view of the world,” She said after the show.

The set-list was divided between greatest hits and deep-cuts.  While I prefer the latter, I could have dealt with an entire nights of worth of well-known songs for the look on my mother’s face when “Pride”, “One” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday” were played.

U2 is the biggest band in the world not because they put on great shows.  Their songs speak universal truths and offer hope in a world full of confusion.  Songs even my mother, who is almost 20 years older than Bono, can relate to.

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Songs of Summers Past (Part 1)

(Me, summer 2004.  Back when I had short hair.  It’s very strange looking at that now.)

For whatever reason, the advent of summer has bought back a lot memories.  And most of these memories somehow revolve a specific song, and are tied to a specific moment in time, which will be forever etched in my mind.  Every time I listen to The New Pornographers’ “Use It”, I’m immediately transported back to the summer of 2007.  The Talking Heads’ “Road to Nowhere” takes me back to my teenage self when I used to listen to that dubbed cassette version of Sand in the Vaseline on my Walkman during road trips with my parents.  And some of these songs, well, I probably wouldn’t write about them otherwise.   (And for those I mention here, you know who are, though for the public domain, you shall remain nameless.)

Offspring – “Come out and Play” (Summer 1994)

The summer of 1994 was the first summer I really remember.  Not surprisingly it’s also the first summer where I could identify songs which were popular and the older kids were listening to.  That summer I was on a Swim Team with two my childhood friends (who are also still my best-friends). Even at this early age, getting up at 8 o’clock during the summer was not something I wanted to do.  As we swam laps, the lifeguards would blast music on their stereo.  I’m sure there were other songs, but the only two songs I seem to remember playing were Offspring’s “Come Out and Play” and Pearl Jam’s “Daughter”.  I really hated “Daughter” – it would be years before I actually liked the song and Pearl Jam themselves.  Even then I could sense that Eddie Vedder meant everything that he said.  “Come Out and Play” though, as much as I tried to pretend I hated it, I secretly liked its chunky rhythms and aggressiveness.  And even if you disliked the song it was hard to get away from, “you gotta keep’em separated!”.   Being 12, I was impressionable and if the 16 year old lifeguards thought it was cool, obviously it must be cool.  They knew every single word.

Years later, when I first discovered the Itunes Store in the summer of 2004 – “Come Out and Play” was one of the first songs I bought.  I’m not ashamed to admit.

Beck – “Where’s It’s At” (1996)

“Where It’s At” still remains a great song, however it remains stuck in 1996 – a song where time doesn’t apply.  It hasn’t aged, but it doesn’t seem to fit into a broader context.  Part of it probably has to do with its mesh of sounds and hook – “I got two turn tables and a microphone!” – which was inescapable in the summer of 1996.  My older brother who was 21 at the time, suggested that Beck’s Odelay was the Highway 61 Revisited of his generation.  Quite a bit of hyperbole on his part, I think.  This was the first summer when I was allowed to actually hang out with him, and we used to blast this song constantly. Its odd keyboards, bleeps, robotic voices, and stream of consciousness lyrics were unlike I ever heard.  I had previously been under the impression that songs had to have a certain sound and structure to be good – and “Where It’s At” demolished my previous ideas of what a song could actually sound like.  Oddly enough, the very things that make me critical of it now, were very appealing to my teenage self in 1996.  The windows of the car were down, the music was very loud.  Those who stared at us at we drove around, just didn’t seem to get it (whatever I thought it was at the time).

Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Scar Tissue” (Summer of 1999)

“Scar Tissue” is a song that captures the sound of a hot summer evening.  The Red Hot Chili Peppers have a lot of good song, but this is the one that comes close to perfection.  Its melody is infectious, and John Frusciante’s guitar breaks are tasteful and full of beauty.  This song was everywhere in the summer of 1999 – the year that I was about to enter my senior year of high school.  The summer before I had gotten my driver’s license, but it was this summer that I was really able to drive around by myself and get out of the house, even if it was just driving to Borders. To me, the song represented wide open spaces and possibilities.  By being able to drive, I had achieved a sense of freedom that was previously unavailable.  “Scar Tissue” was a radio staple that summer, and I’ve never gotten tired of it.

U2 – “Bad”

2001 was the summer of U2.  The previous fall they had released the fantastic All That You Can’t Leave Behind, which reaffirmed their status after the abysmal Pop a few years earlier.  When they toured the US that summer, it would be the first time I would see them after years of trying. As a live band, U2 have few rivals and “Bad” has always been the centerpiece of their show whenever they play it.  It’s also one of the few U2 songs that is different every single time they play it.   Sometimes it could be 12 or 13 minutes long with several extended endings or 7 minutes long.  Bono would often sing lines from other songs such as “Sympathy for the Devil”, “People Have the Power”, “Norwegian Wood” and U2’s own “40” before the band kicked it back into high gear.   I’ve read that the song is about heroin addiction, but it’s also much more than that – it’s about letting go and not taking life for granted.   When Bono shouts “not fade away!” as the band kicks in and The Edge repeats his delayed chords, it really is transcendent, to use a cliche term.  I spent the summer of 2001, downloading as many U2 bootlegs from that tour, simply trying to find as many variations of “Bad” as I could.  And each version is magical in its own way.

 

More to come.

 

 

 

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The Top 10 Post “Blood on the Tracks” Bob Dylan Albums – 10. Slow Train Coming

Since Bob Dylan turns 70 next week, and countless blogs and magazines have been having tributes and lists,(Rolling Stone recently ranked “The 70 Greatest Dylan Songs”) I’ve decided to look take a look at Dylan’s latter-day career.  Almost every single acclaimed album since 1975 (in one way or another) has been ranked according to “his best since ‘Blood on the Tracks'”.  

Slow Train Coming

Slow Train Coming receives a fair of criticism for being Dylan’s first “Christian Album”.  I admit to having only listened to “Gotta Serve Somebody” from this album as it was included on The Essential Bob Dylan.  When you listen to Dylan, preaching isn’t necessarily something you want to hear.

U2’s Bono has often been quote as suggested that his favorite songwriters are either running towards God or running away from God.  Bono  surely must have been listening to “Slow Train Coming”, especially “I Believe in You” a hymn to the Almighty disguised as a love song. Surely, this must have been a template for many U2 songs in the same vein such as “Mysterious Ways”.   Dylan, of course had spent a good deal of years running away from God, even as he occasionally used the Bible as a source of literary inspiration.

On Slow Train Coming, the Bible is the main source of inspiration, but the surrealistic imagery from  “Gates of Eden” is replaced by taught evangelical lyrics.  It also retains quite a bit of the anger old, just with a new vision.  that  Still, there’s plenty of good songs to be found throughout the album.  “Slow Train” awakens the ghost and apocalyptic visions of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”.   It’s just more specific in its targets and also denounces secular  science and world issues- “I don’t care about economy, I don’t care about astronomy”.  He’s just worried about his love ones “turning into puppets”.

Slow Train isn’t all fire an brimstone though.  There’s some humor throughout, particularly on “Man Gave Names To All the Animals” which finds man giving monikers to different animals based on their attributes. Dylan’s famous non-verbal “ahhhhh” returns in this song as well.  It’s not scornful as in “Like a Rolling Stone”, but rather enlightened – “ah, I think I’ll call it a bear”.

Slow Train Coming also boasts a rather bluesy feel to it due to Jerry Wexler’s production, and there’s some great guitar work courtesy of Mark Knopfler. Musically, it kind undercuts some of Dylan’s lyrics, which depending on your point of view, may or may not be a goo thing.

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Lady Gaga’s Battle With Sincerity

When Lady Gaga took the stage for her acceptance speech on Sunday night at the Grammys, I was shocked at how sincere she was.  It was almost painful.  Tears were flowing.  She talked about how she imagined Whitney Houston singing her new song “Born This Way”.  Even Bruce Springsteen and Bono (two of rock’s most sincerest performers) have showed some humor when accepting awards.  And even Madonna, who Gaga models herself after – “Born this Way” is a re-write of Madonna’s “Express Yourself” – never gave a performance like that.

Most of Gaga’s previous songs I enjoyed because I always got the sense that there was some sense of irony in her performances.  There’s no way you could take songs like “Pokerface” and “Bad Romance” at face value. That seemed to be part of the appeal.  Unlike a lot of other pop that has been coming out of the airwaves, Gaga seemed intent on being mysterious.  Every interview I’ve ever read with her though, the opposite is true.

But on Sunday night, when Gaga accepted her award, her demeanor was more like a country-artist.  She had to let everyone that she was “thankful” and that everything that she does is for her fans aka the “little monsters”.  Despite her outward appearances and masks, the real Gaga is just a little girl looking for acceptance.

This sincerity is why “Born This Way” might be Gaga’s worst song, even over the tepid but hilarious “Boys Boys Boys” off of The Fame. It’s already been called a “gay anthem” and Gaga herself make claim that she is writing this for the outcasts everywhere, but its clearly about her own anthem for acceptance. Outward it seems as if she’s telling everybody it’s ok to be slightly freaky and different, but the reality is Gaga seems a bit insecure and “Born This Way” is her way of reaffirming herself to society.  Gaga has also claimed that she wrote the song “in 10 fucking minutes”, which sounds nice on paper, but the lyrics seem too forced for it to be written in such a fashion.  She clearly thought everything through several times.

Lady Gaga seems to be caught between two worlds: the post-modern kitschy trash of her wardrobe and stage antics, and the open heart of her real personality. She can’t have it both ways.  She desperately wants to be cool, and she was definitely not “born that way”.

 

 

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U2 Tour Postponed and Summer Venues

Not that I’m wishing Bono ill, but this cancellation of the 360 Tour sucks.  I just bought tickets to the Philly show two weeks ago, and for various reasons this was going to be the first show of the year I was going to.  Usually I end up going to about 10-12 shows a year, so only having one to look forward to, and then having it cancelled is a bit of a blow.

Earlier today, I looked at other upcoming shows in the DC/Baltimore area.  I’m sure Bob Dylan is going to be touring Baseball stadiums again, so no doubt I’ll go to that.  Kings of Leon are coming to Jiffy Lube Live (what a terrible name – Nissan Pavilion wasn’t much better though), and I’m considering that too.  But that venue is a bitch.  I saw Coldplay there a few years ago, and since there is only one road to get in and out of the stadium, my friend and I missed about 20 minutes of the set even though we had left 4 hours earlier.  What should have taken an hour at the most, ended up being almost 4 hours in the car.

My absolute favorite summer-time venue is Merriweather Post Pavilion.  (And yes, that is what Animal Collective named their last album after.)  It’s easy to get to, lawn seats are cheap, and I’ve also seen some of the best shows there.  In 2008, I saw both Death Cab and R.E.M. there within two days of each other during what might have been the hottest week I can remember in recent history.  (Although seeing the Black Crowes in the summer of 07 and leaving  Sonar at midnight only to find it was still 86 degrees outside, also gets a nod.)

While I love going to concerts anytime of the year, going to concerts in the summer at an outside venue is an entirely different experience.  You get to go early and tail-gate (Merriweather is perfect for this.)  Your friends tend to have more free-time in the summer, so before you know you have about a group of 12 people coming to show.  There’s also nothing like drinking beer outside in the afternoon, listening to good music and hanging out with your friends.  This sense of being part of a community of music and people is about as close I’ll come to be a hippie.  And whether you like pot or not, there’s also something comforting in seeing a haze of pot smoke hanging over the audience.

So what are your favorite summer venues?  And any suggestions for good summer concerts?

(Iron & Wine last summer at Merriweather.  The date is wrong, it was sometime in August.)

(Me at the same show.)

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“One” on Glee

Last night, I ended up watching Glee. It’s not a particularly bad show, but it’s certainly not high caliber television.  On one hand, it is kind of interesting to see a show focusing on a different side of high school other than jocks and preppies.  (Though it still seems to be full of cliches.)  Last night’s show ended with an ensemble performance of U2’s “One”.   From what I gathered from the story-line one girl lost her voice, and an injured football player helped her get her  mojo back.  Thus they sing “One” together.

“One” is one of the greatest songs ever written, and U2’s absolute masterpiece, but like many listeners and cover versions Glee seemed to miss the point of the song.  Even though the chorus contains the lines, “we’re one, but we’re not the same” – it’s not about everybody coming together in some sort of hippie paradise.  In fact, it’s the opposite.  It’s about splitting up, and realizing that you cannot be together. “Is it getting better?  Or do you feel the same?” rank among the best, and harshest opening lines ever put to music.  If you don’t get the irony of those lines, the next two sum it up: “Will it make easier on you, now you got some one to blame?”

The most emotional part of the song comes when Bono sings: “You say ‘Love is a temple, love the higher law'”.  Throughout the entire song he’s singing in the first-person – giving his perspective to the breakdown of a relationship.  But during the bridge he doesn’t let his lover off the hook.  He throws it back in her face.  Unfortunately, The Glee cast didn’t put in the “you say” line, basically destroying the entire meaning of “love is a temple” section of the song.  This is why the the video for “One” where Bono is in the bar is so memorable and emotional.  For most of the song, he lip syncs to the lyrics.  But he stops after “you say”, because it’s not him speaking anymore.

I’m all for exposure to good music, but I think the producers should know what the song is about.  Ironically, “One” would have been a good fit on that particular episode.  Another story-line dealt with a gay character coming out to his father, and “One” would have fit perfectly with that scenario.

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