November 20, 2004

Two thirds of an album review

I have been repeatedly listening to the first eight tracks of U2’s new album, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, and I find that it is very similar to the other U2 albums with which I am familiar, which are in effect not many, as I don’t tend to think of myself as a U2 fan.
It has a very distinctive U2ish sound, in that it sounds just exactly like a U2 album, in that way that only a U2 album can. In fact, the whole feel of those first eight tracks is that they are more-or-less the same U2 songs that we have been listening to over all these years.
This leads me to believe that U2 have not developed very much since they released The Joshua Tree, which was the last U2 album that I paid a more-than-average amount of attention to. The reason for this general inattention is that I don’t really consider myself a U2 fan, and this state of nonfannishness came about for two reasons:

  1. My uncle told me that U2 gave money to the IRA. On reflection I feel that this is perhaps libellous, after all they do so many good works, surely that would very much conflict with their stated political stance? He said this a long time ago, but it caused me long-lasting confusion.
  2. Even once I decided that the IRA claim was complete rubbish, I still found that U2 came across as the Right Kind of Irish, and I remain the Wrong Kind of Irish, and sometimes that makes me feel a little bit excluded from Right Kind of Irishness. It’s quite hard to admit that, because I realise that it amounts to a sort of cultural intolerance on my part, and I feel bad about it.
  3. Most of their music didn’t really move me. On the whole I prefer music that moves me to ornery background music, although I will accept that there is a place for ornery background music.

So, having agreed that the music hasn’t changed in any significant way, I find myself pleasantly surprised to be enjoying the first eight tracks of How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb much more than I was enjoying The Libertines earlier in the week, and that seems as good a scale as any, despite the usual Uborka tendency to develop complex scoring systems in order to ground our opinions in science.
I conclude that How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb is not a better U2 album, as it does not demonstrate much noticeable musical development; however I have enjoyed it more than any other [i.e. more than The Joshua Tree and various random singles and snippets of other albums], and therefore, although U2 may not have developed since 1987, I have.


25 thoughts on “Two thirds of an album review

  1. My first problem with the new U2 album – of which, I’ll admit, I’ve only heard bits and pieces – is that it sounds like a carbon copy of the last U2 album. Now, I *liked* the last U2 album a lot, but I don’t want two of them.
    My second problem with the new U2 album is its title. I’m betting that nowhere – not in any of the song lyrics, nor anywhere on the CD inlay – does it actually tell you how to dismantle an atomic bomb.*
    *Any fule kno that the way to dismantle an atomic bomb is, of course, as follows:
    1. Switch off atomic bomb by moving knob from ON to OFF.
    2. Unplug atomic bomb at the mains.
    3. Place atomic bomb back in polystyrene case and return to nearest branch of Argos.

  2. I thought that the way to dismantle an atomic bomb was to give it to an eight year old, and tell them to be really careful with it.

  3. Dragging the comments back to the music, I have a couple of observations:
    1 – while you weren’t looking (/listening?), between The Joshua Tree and How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, U2 had a whole pre-millenial apocalyptic cabaret flirtation where Bono assumed the personality of a horned jester called Macphisto and sang songs about lemons and mirrorballs. I’m not making this up.
    2 – U2 themselves are less than 50% Right Kind Of Irish. Bono’s father was Protestant and his mother was Catholic. Edge is a Protestant (and is Welsh), as is Adam (who is English). Larry is the only 100% Irish, 100% Catholic member of the band.
    And Vaughan, there’s a hidden track on non-USA, non-European versions of the album (called Fast Car) in which Bono does cover the subject of dismantling an atomic bomb. Again, not making this up.

  4. With the exception of Radiohead, no existing rock band reinvented its sound more than U2 did between Rattle & Hum and Achtung Baby. Listening to ‘The Fly’ for the first time, after years of listening to The Joshua Tree, was like being smacked in the face with a pitcher of rock & roll lemonade.

    Destructor on November 22, 2004
  5. What Hg said. (Hey I can claim knowledge as mine, right?)
    I’m off to ponder what the exact contents of “rock & roll lemonade” are.

  6. Vaughan – you will be able to hear Fast Cars (not “Car”) after all, because it seems to be on the UK pressings. Must have mis-read something. Gordon – for rock ‘n’ roll lemonade squeeze the juice of three rocks and the juice of three rolls, chill for one hour and serve in a tall glass with ice.

  7. 1. Please refer to elements of post above where I repeatedly disclaim fanship and thereby any knowledge whatsoever of U2 or their ouevre.
    2. They may not actually be able to claim Right Kind of Irishness, but I stand by my assumption that that’s what they’re trying to be. No Wrong Kind of Irish person/band would market themselves as Irish.
    /waits to be proven wrong. Inevitably.

  8. 1 – looking back, I don’t think I articulated my point clearly enough. It was that they had made significant changes to their sound (and, indeed, entire approach) between the two albums that you mentioned and appeared to have come full circle. Mentioned purely for educational/curiosity purposes. In my own mind, I was wondering whether that represented “development” or not.
    2 – I think we’re possibly on different ground here. There are (Southern) Irish Protestants and Northern Irish Protestants. The former have no problem with being called “Irish”, whereas 99% of the latter would hate it.

  9. No – it’s me not being clear about how little I know about U2, or at least, about how little I mind knowing so little about U2. My main point should be that I quite like this album, never mind who it’s by.
    As for the Irish thing, maybe that’s just me as well.

  10. Courtesy of some MP3s, I listened to the album this morning. It made coding HTML pages pass rather quicker, and I did like ‘Fast Cars’. But at no point did I want to punch the air in righteous rock’n’roll abandon. But then, of course, I was in the middle of the office.

  11. 2. They may not actually be able to claim Right Kind of Irishness, but I stand by my assumption that that’s what they’re trying to be. No Wrong Kind of Irish person/band would market themselves as Irish.
    Yer what? How are they marketing themselves as Irish? Purely by being from Ireland? The Right Kind mindset kinda fell by the wayside long ago down south. Up here in the north, it’s still alive and kicking, of course, but I think that your perception of Irishness is a little dated.

  12. Karen,
    Fair enough, but if you want to make U2 fans stare at you with jaws agape, a good way to do it is to proclaim they haven’t progressed musically since The Joshua Tree. It’s like saying to a fan of Radiohead that Keane are ‘the new Radiohead’, or saying to a fan of The Beatles that the Sitar was a really good idea.

    Destructor on November 23, 2004
  13. So what you are saying is that, much like fans of the Beatles and Radiohead, fans of U2 take themselves too seriously, don’t believe that anyone’s opinion is valid but their own, and have six toes on their left foot.
    Well, I hope that all the other fans of U2 around the world don’t mind you speaking on their behalf. Because that comment about the toes sure is incriminating.

  14. 1. I believe that the bit of my post where I make it clear that I haven’t listened to anything U2 have recorded since the Joshua Tree explains that I am aware that my assessment of their musical development is flawed.
    [I have examined my feelings about making U2 fans stare at me with their jaws agape, and find that I don’t really care much. The general appeal of U2 remains a mystery to me.]
    2. The bit of my post where I don’t explain quite what I mean by Right or Wrong Kind of Irish ought to make it hard for readers to accuse me of having an outdated perception of Irishness, but apparently it doesn’t.

  15. Sorry. I was taking a bit of an assumption from Hg’s comment as well. I stand by the question of what you meant by marketing themselves as Irish, though.

  16. There is a point at which the line between opinion and fact starts to blur.
    “I think that Liechtenstein field a great ice hockey team.”
    “But they’ve never won a game in the history of ice hockey!”
    “I still think they’re great.”
    [stunned silence]

    Destructor on November 23, 2004
  17. What’s your point, Destructor? Surely no-one could mistake this post for a factual piece.

  18. I just didn’t want anyone to be under the impression that the years you missed between Joshua Tree and Atomic Bomb all sounded the same.

    Destructor on November 23, 2004
  19. Fair enough, ejh. Hg does have some insight into my view of Right & Wrong Kind of Irishness, but please note that my Right and Wrong is not a value judgement, just a description.
    “Market” was a sloppy word for me to use. Some bands don’t obviously belong to one nationality or another; U2 have always been clearly identified – perhaps only by me – as Irish.
    This comment represents the opinion of 50% of the management of Uborka, and should not be understood as factual in any way.

  20. Seems to me, Karen, you’re just trying to let people know you are ambivalent about U2. Perhaps that’s why you don’t actually say much about the album.
    I agree, U2 have in the past made a lot of their Irish-ness (for a while it seemed they were jumping on every other fashionable political band-wagon that swung by), but I don’t think it is of much relevance now.

    Moosefetcher on November 26, 2004

Comments are closed.