Christmas is coming, and with it comes the inevitable slew of compilation albums. For the pop fans, there are collections of Girls Aloud and Sugababes singles, for the ageing indie kid we have Oasis and Charlatans compilations, and for those fans of Ireland’s biggest export since Guiness there’s now 18 Singles, the new U2 compilation.
It’s a curious release in many ways, for U2 have already had two rather fine compilations released a few years ago. This new album claims on the cover to be “the ultimate U2 collection”, which is quite frankly a laughable statement. The two best of’s already released give a far better and more comprehensive rundown of U2’s career.
As the title suggests, what we have here is simply 18 singles that U2 have released, plus a specially recorded new track. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason as to which tracks have been selected, or even why there has to be 18 as opposed to any other number. They’re thrown together in a very slip-shod order, with no chronology at all, which means we go from the raw passion of I Will Follow to the smooth production of Beautiful Day.
Musically, it’s difficult to fault of course. Each track here is a near perfect example of stadium rock, being passionate and epic while never losing sight of any heart. Admittedly, the older material has dated slightly, but Sunday Bloody Sunday still sounds as stunning as ever, while The Joshua Tree material, although slightly too familiar these days still has the power to move.
The trouble with this compilation though is the tracklisting. There’s only two tracks from the band’s masterpiece Achtung Baby, which means The Fly (which sounded about as least like U2 as you could ever imagine when it first released as a single) misses out. The Zoolander album appears to have been erased from the band’s collective memory too, with absolutely no tracks at all from that underrated record featured. Pop is similarly airbrushed out of U2’s career history.
The band’s two most recent albums are better represented, although whether four tracks need to be included from All That You Can’t Leave Behind is debatable, especially when it means that the wondrous The Hands That Built America or Electrical Storm are missed out. The fact that we’re restricted to singles as well means that there are no more obscure album tracks or rare B-sides to make the record a bit more interesting.
As for the new material tacked on the end, the collaboration with Green Day is a rather lumped cover version of an old Skids song (although all proceeds from this track are donated to the Hurricane Katrina relief fund), while Window In The Skies is very much U2-by-numbers, from Edge’s trademark guitar sound through to the gospel-like chorus.
18 Singles is an odd compilation, in that it almost feels like an unofficial release, even down to the ancient photographs littering the booklet. If you’ve been living in a cave for the last 20 years and want to hear what U2 sound like, then buy the two Best Of’s that were released a few years ago. They’re a great band, and they deserve a better retrospective than this haphazardly compiled album.