The Beatles had two greatest hits – the red and blue albums – spanningtheir short but fruitful career. U2, the Nouveau Fab Four, after singing ontop of a roof just like, gee, The Beatles, are about to release the secondtome (The Mature Years) of their own creatively rich musical career.
Whilethe Best Of 1980-1990 (The Rebel Years) flowed smoothly and included thesingles as originally released and B-sides, the second volume, spanning thelast decade of the 20th century, is packed with mixes, remixes, new tracksand a surprising track listing. This is what I call good marketing andensured sales.
U2 are not simply content by just throwing together some hit singles andcalling it a greatest hits album. Oh no, they don’t do things the easy way.Most of the tracks are remixed, some beyond recognition. Perhaps the trackswhich have undergone the most changes are the excellent Discoth�que,Staring at the Sun, Gone and If God Will Send His Angels, all from thePop album.
The former two are more guitar-gauged, maybe more fitting for aband that reclaimed its rock status last year? Nah, for the other tracks areremixed into dance tracks. An ironic twist that only U2 knows how to do -and get away with. But hey, where’s MoFo, Bono‘s favourite fromPop? Please, The Fly and Elevation are also remarkably absent. Fanswho expected to see all their hit singles lined up will have to go back andlisten to the corresponding albums.
The self-indulgent post-Zooropa side project The Passengers isalso represented by the hit opera-rock track Miss Sarajevo and thehauntingly sensual Your Blue Room, apparently the only track where bassistAdam Clayton’s voice is known to have been recorded.
The album also has two new tracks, including the current singleElectrical Storm and Gangs of New York theme The Hands That BuiltAmerica. The latter needs time to mature and grow on you. Needless to say,not one of their best creations. Another soundtrack is Hold Me, Thrill Me,Kiss Me, Kill Me, from a Batman sequel starring Val Kilmer, datingfrom Bono’s McPhisto phase. For that’s another way to keep track of U2’scareer: through the various alter egos of the band’s charismatic leader. TheFly, McPhisto, Techno-cum-Michelin Man (from the embarrassing ‘We’re a popband’ period) and the perennial Rock Star With a Conscience. A jack of allegos, he is.
The B-sides label is misleading, for the second disc intermingles withA-side tracks. It in fact includes some remixes of A-side tracks, likeDiscoth�que and Numb. But do we really need another version ofElectrical Storm, which doesn’t sound much different than the A-side mix?This is where it all foiled, I suppose. They could’ve replaced it by TheFly or Elevation, for example.But the B-sides is also packed with moresurprising remixes. Happiness is a Warm Gun, the cover of a Beatlesclassic, includes a rap. Yup, U2 have remained so relevant to the chameleonmusic scene that they even experimented with a pseudo-rap, or so it seems.But don’t anticipate a P Diddy mix soon. Not yet, anyway. Maybehe’ll remix U2’s cover of the Rolling Stones hit Paint It Black.Should be more interesting than The Hands That Built America.
By far, the greatest B-sides are the upbeat Salom� (do I detect -sorry die-hard U2ers – an element of Duran Duran‘s Save a Prayertowards the end, only a few BPMs faster?) and the Lady With the SpinningHead, on which Bono’s vox possesses the resonance and clarity of Echo &the Bunnymen frontman Ian McCulloch’s voice.
Both volumes of U2’s Best Ofs are a study of their evolution as a band,perhaps this one more than the first volume. However, U2 could’ve justre-released Achtung Baby, a piece of rock’n’roll masterpiece, or anyother post 1990 album for that matter, and called it a greatest hits album.But then, we wouldn’t have had Lady With the Spinning Head.