Saturday, January 8, 2011
Rattle and Hum
A review of the album by David Silverman in The Chicago Tribune, 1988.
"Charged with the same politics that has set U2 apart from the bland pack of lyricists that abound in rock music today...'
They gave it all. We wanted more.
On Tuesday, it will be here.
Just a year after their "Joshua Tree" album and tour placed them at the pinnacle of rock music, U2 has returned with its sixth album, "Rattle and Hum."
This Irish band with a fascination for American culture has produced an album that is a unique amalgam of its own musical roots and indigenous American music: pop, country & western, gospel and the blues. The combination is musically stunning. It is a double-album bulldozer.
Brimming with the passion of live performances from the "Joshua Tree" tour, "Rattle and Hum" also includes nine new songs that range from an introspective Irish ode to the power of the just-released single, "Desire." The origins of the new music reads like a history of American music, as U2 draws from the musical roots of John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, Roy Orbison and The Judds.
The album is a prelude to the release of the U2 tour movie "Rattle and Hum," scheduled for release Nov. 4. The rough-edged tenor vocals of Bono (Paul Hewson) and the chanting guitar work of The Edge (Dave Evans) dominate the 72-minute album. Along with drummer Larry Mullen and bassist Adam Clayton, they present surprising new arrangements of some of their best known work, including a gospel version of "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For."
The new music is charged with the same politics that has set U2 apart from the bland pack of lyricists that abound in rock music today, but it is U2's approach to American roots music which is the albums' most attractive quality.
With performances by Bob Dylan, playing Hammond organ on "Hawkmoon 269," and singing backup to B.B. King's blues guitar and vocals on another new track, "When Love Comes to Town," as well as scattered performances by keyboardists Brian Eno and Van Dyke Parks, it appears that U2 is not willing to be satisfied with the style of music that brought them to fame.
The album's drama builds from the first track, a live version of John Lennon's "Helter Skelter," recorded in Colorado last winter.
"Charles Manson stole this song from John Lennon," Bono tells the audience. "We're going to steal it back." And they do, with a version that contains all the intensity of the Beatles' original, but adding a sound that is their own. It makes this cover sound more new than old.
The album's new songs are a collection written by Bono, with the exception of "Van Diemen's Land," written by The Edge.
"Van Diemen's Land," the second song on the album's first side, is a laconic ode to Irish poet John Boyle O'Reilly. As the album's only song with direct roots in the Irish style of the Clancy Brothers and Dominic Behan, it is frought with a startling, pent-up rage.
Most of the band's new material was recorded across the country, with stops at the famed Sun Studios in Nashville (where Elvis Presley made his start) for the recording of three tracks: "When Love Comes To Town," "Little Angel of Harlem," and a collaborative effort with Dylan, "Love Rescue Me"
The rest of the new material is scattered throughout the album, creating a mix of music that is charged like an electric eel, and moves just as quickly.
In a book that is set to accompany the release of the movie, Bono stated: "The Joshua Tree gave us the position to get to a larger audience and musically we now have the freedom to do whatever we like."
U2 has taken advantage of that position with an album that is certainly new, and possibly its best.