Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Greatest of All Comeback Albums

If I was asked about comeback albums, I would put Achtung Baby at the top of the list, even though it certainly doesn't look like a comeback album in any sense of the word. But that's what it was--a comeback, a rebirth, and an album that surpassed all previous U2 albums from the 1980s. In some respects, the Eighties were buried by a number of things but nothing threw dirt on the grave like seeing a cynical Bono in shades pretending to not give a shit.

U2 was as low as you could get after the debacle of their Rattle and Hum albumThey didn't even go on tour in America, calling it the Lovetown tour. Nobody wanted them to put out another record--nobody wanted much to do with them at all. They were a punch line and a joke after Prattle and Dumb was dumped into an over-saturated market. They took their shows to appreciative audiences and ignored the biggest music market in the world at that time, unwilling to arrive in cities where they were not welcome.

Mother Jones Magazine: Let me read you a recent quote from Randy Newman: "I used to be against world peace until U2 came out for it. Then the scales just fell from my eyes.... And when they're singing with those black people? Do you know that black people just love their music? Bono's conducting those black people and they're doing just what he says!...

BONO: I had heard that. Randy Newman is a very funny man, though I think he's written far funnier lines than those.

MJ: Are you interested that criticisms like his have been leveled a lot lately, particularly at "Rattle and Hum?"

B: I suppose. What's uninteresting about that is that we are such an easy target, from the word go, because we perform from our own point of view. I sing about the way I see things. Some people write songs about the way characters see things. Some artists perform with a wink. That's just not the way with U2. When people perform from their gut -- when John Lennon sang a song called "Mother" -- that was not a hip thing to do. He was exposing himself. It's performers like that I admire.... If you're going to spend your whole life worrying about dropping your guard and exposing yourself, worrying that working with a gospel choir might look like imperialism, that would be dumb.

MJ: But the criticisms I read of the film are that it was too guarded. Let me read, if I could, another criticism ....

Well, I'm really not interested.

MJ: I just want to give you the opportunity to respond ....

B: What this suggests is that the music is not enough. That is my expression -- the music -- and within that music I can take my clothes off. Not for the press, not for the TV shows, not for the film. That film was about music, and in that music was everything that we have to say and offer. Now people want it made easy for them. They want it spelled out. Why can't people just accept the music? You know the real reason? It's that people don't listen to the music anymore, and a lot of critics don't.... I think our fans know all the songs on our albums, and I don't think many critics do. I really don't.

MJ: Were there any criticisms that did sting, that hit home, that taught you anything?

B: No. I must say I was generally very disappointed in the community of critics. It's funny. I would've thought that what people would have expected us to do would've been to put out a double live LP, and cash in on "The Joshua Tree," and make a lot of money for very little work. That is what big rock bands do.

When we didn't do that, I expected people to recognize that. When we put the records out at low price, stripped away the U2 sound, then just went with our instincts as fans, and just lost ourselves in this [American R&B] music, in a very un-self-conscious way...

MJ: But if the LP has been unfairly and stupidly criticized by people who aren't listening carefully ...

B: No. It's not even that. It's that the spirit of it has been completely and utterly missed. The spirit of it is unlike any record of a major group, for a long time. That spirit is the very essence of why people get into bands and make music. And it's not about being careful. And it's not about watching your ass....

Achtung Baby is the result of being torn apart and reduced to having to plead for understanding. I don't think people understand that context. This is the album that only an angry band could make and that's why it still resonates. That's why it doesn't feel like a comeback album, but it does feel like U2 has put far too much distance between themselves and how they came up with the innovative sound on that album.

U2 needs to make another one of these and come back, fully, into the world with some anger instead of some wry comments about the bar scene. Whatever they just tried to do isn't cutting it anymore.

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