Wednesday 15 April 2020

U2 - Rattle & Hum

There are some bands that can be quite divisive.  Discussion about them will tend to be at the 2 ends of the spectrum - you wither love 'em, or hate 'em
(Maybe hate is too strong a word?).
Obvious examples are (in my experience) Simple Minds, Coldplay and The Corrs.
And here's another ... U2 - their case obviously not helped by Bono's self-belief that he is an ambassador of good-will and good causes, yet will buy an extra ticket on Concorde to transport his hat, and has a "novel" way of paying taxes due to his homeland.
Let's not hey bogged down in the "tosser or not a tosser" argument, let's just say that they have produced some very good music, and very good albums in their time in the spotlight.
And this one - 'Rattle and Hum' - was probably their peak statement.

Until Bono went for a little wander at Live Aid, U2 were not universally known.  Their first couple of albums ('Boy' and 'October') sold relatively well - although 'October' does suffer from "second album syndrome" feeling a bit rushed and shorter on quality than the debut.
Third album - 'War' - sold in large numbers, helped by two big singles lifted from it ("New Years Day" and "Two Hearts Beat As One").  Their next album - the live "Under A Blood Red Sky" - both enhanced, and re-enforced, their live reputation. It also led to renewed interest in their back catalogue.
For their next album, they employed the services of Brian Eno as producer (and sonic architect?).  At this stage, Brian Eno was not the "go to" producer, or all round polymath egghead he is now.
The single "Pride (In The Name Of Love)" reached the upper end of the charts, got the band wider public recognition, and earned Bono a solo vocal spot on the Band Aid single.
And having been on the single, the band were invited to perform at Live Aid - albeit at 5:30 when (after 5 and half hours, the audience were flagging a bit).  They were due to play 3 songs, but because Bono went for a wander, "Bad" lasted around 15 minutes, and "Pride" was dropped.
That little walk though, completely changed the bands recognition and career trajectory.  So much so,  that their next album proper ('The Joshua Tree') was a major event, with major sales to match - even if it isn't that great (oo - controversial!).
Yes, there are some great songs here, but it's very front loaded (courtesy of Kirsty MacColl), and as a result sort of runs out of steam.
Still, U2 were now (probably) the biggest band in the world, as can be seen by the size of the sales, and the size of the tour embarked on to support the album.

And it was on this tour that the idea of the film first up - billed as "U2 Discover America".  The film is an interesting document of a relatively naive band "finding their roots" (what a terrible pitch on my part that is).
The album is more than just a live document - it's half live / half studio (some emanating from sessions at Sun Studios in Memphis).  There were also cover versions ("Helter Shelter" and "All Along The Watchtower") plus a co-write with Bob Dylan ("Love Rescue Me" - Dylan's original vocal was not used at his request) and a duet with BB King ("Love Comes To Town").
It also spawned their first Number One single in "Desire" and the part biographical/part (mostly) tribute to Billie Holliday - "Angel of Harlem".

Released in late 1988, it just felt like a more complete album than The Joshua Tree.  An element of U2's bombast of old was replaced by a more soulful approach, but still rocked along like a good 'un,
And also in the film you can see the characters and personalities of the bands develop - the eocker, the quiet one, the muso, the ego.  No prizes for guessing the owner of the ego - yes, you can see the first stirrings on celluloid.  In a couple of years time, this ego would rise to the level of "insufferable" - although I think he has reined it in in recent years.

'Rattle and Hum' may not be breaking new ground musically, but does contain many tropes that would stand them in good stead for future releases - the slow build and trebly guitar would be an oft repeated trick.  This album probably marks the point when they knew they now had the time, the freedom, and the audience, to try and be a bit different.  Certainly subsequent album went off in different directions, but when they when they remain rooted in rock (with diversions into blues and soul) is when their at their best.
'Rattle and Hum' is one of the best Rock albums of 1988.  I'm not going to say the best, because there are many other contenders, but pound-for-pound, track-for-track, it does not fall short.

Angel Of Harlem

All I Want Is You


  1. I make no secret of my disdain for Bonio & crew, but if I had listen to anything by them, it would be Rattle & Hum. Both Desire & Angel of Harlem are good tunes and far superior to anything on The Joshua Tree.

    1. Did you write that through gritted teeth Rol?

    2. Teeth? What teeth? I'm down to my gums.

  2. I'm glad you've written this, for they popped up on one of the TOTP repeats and I found myself thinking how much I liked the song in question (It was one of the two you've posted). I rued that I'd write something along the same lines as you have (but not as good, obvs...), pointing out that even though Bono is a prime prick, there are some jewels buried in their back catalogue. I guess it's for us to truffle them out. Truly, us bloggers are the real key workers! (Sense the tone folks). Anyway, you've narrowed down the songs I like to...oooh...about one,I think, so thank you!

    1. Key worker? Can we get some sort of badge.
      "I blog therefore I am"

    2. If you pay for it yourself.