Trust the Gene Genie

Monday, November 13, 2006

The top of Elsa's head smells like freedom

So, I've been listening to the new U2 single, "Window in the Skies" and having mixed feelings about it. In fact, I've been having mixed feelings about U2 for the past few years now -- feelings with which I've already bored you, faithful readers, in past editions.

But strap back in, because we're going for another "what's wrong with U2 these days" ride around the park.

First, "Windows." The song itself isn't too bad, although it takes the band about three minutes to really pull it all together. But listening to it again today, I think I finally put my finger on what's bugging me about the song. Like the whole of U2's two previous albums, "Windows" is unrelentingly upbeat. Bono literally rhapsodizes about love. Which is great, it's fine, it's the perfect thing about which to rhapsodize in song form. But man, is it bland. It's really got no depth, no bottom, as they say. It makes you smile and feel happy the first couple times you hear and then it just gets dull.

Which, to me, is the problem that has plagued the band since 2001, when they released "All That You Can't Leave Behind." The band has simply lost their edge. Every album U2 put out, from "Boy" to "Pop," had U2's characteristic upbeat, optimitic take on life. But they also had darkness, a little hardness around the edges, which acted as a great ballast for what comes to them naturally, I think. I mean, can you imagine the band recording and releasing something like "Love Is Blindness" now? Every song since "Beautiful Day" has been a celebration. And again, there's nothing wrong with that, if you balance it out with the rougher stuff, too.

It's the rougher stuff that made the band great -- t's what gave them depth, sensuality and texture. But instead, since "All That," everything has become frightenly one-dimensional. That doesn't mean there hasn't been good songs. I would argue "Beautiful Day," "A Man and a Woman" and (as sick of it as I am) "Vertigo" are as great as anything they've done in the past. But there's nothing there to balance out the hope and optimism. And, yes, you need something to balance it out or else you've eseentially produced a 60-minute Hallmark Card.

I mean, "Boy" has "I Will Follow" and "A Day Without Me," songs that essentially deal with suicide. "War" has "Surrender" and "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "Seconds." Going down the list on the next albums, you've got "A Sort of Homecoming," "Bullet the Blue Sky" and "Mothers of the Disappeared," "God Part II," "Love Rescue Me," the entirity of "Achtung Baby," "Dirty Day" and "Some Days Are Better Than Others," "Gone," "Mofo" and "Wake Up Dead Man." And it's not like these songs are Elliot Smith dark. Clearly they're not. But they're certainly not exultations of charity and friendship, like "Miracle Drug" or "Walk On."

On their last two albums, the closest thing you get to dark is "Peace on Earth" on "All That" and maybe "Crumbs From Your Table" and "Love and Peace or Else" from "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb." Just about everything from those last two albums are celebratory songs about the wonders of life, love and happiness. And "Windows," to me, wraps it all up in a nice little bow.

Is it so wrong that I want a little more "Until the End of the World," a little more "Bad" a little more "Please"? And I know Bono has gone to great lengths to explain that the band now isn't in the same place emotionally or psychologically as they were in the past, in their youth; that they're in their 40s and singing about the themes and issues you deal with in middle life; that their outlook now is more grounded, more mature, more at peace. What I want to know is, does that mean the fire's gone? Does that mean everything from here on out is going to be psuedo-psycho self-help songs? Because if it does, I may need to retreat to the past and pretend that the band's last album was "Pop" and that someday U2 will return to the studio to record their great follow-up.


HL Rogers said...

I couldn't agree more. U2 is in serious danger of becoming the very bubblegum music they satirized so successfully in Pop. Without the heavy lifting of the dark songs, the lighter fare appears meaningless. You can't tell me that middle age is all roses and dreams. For heaven's sake, I'm hoping U2 passes through a mid-life crisis, has some dark thoughts about the future, and translates those into great songs. I don't mean to be a pessimist but we all know that it is dealing with the difficulties of life that help us to enjoy everything else. I'm ready for a little less "Beautiful Day" and a little more "Exit".

TheRobRogers said...

Amen, brother.

bemus said...

I must say it does give me a little comfort to here that you, lover of all U2, gets frustrated with them. One of my favorite U2 songs is "Sunday, Bloody Sunday." I like the anger. I guess deep down I like angry music. It helps get out all of my supressed feelings.

Thom G. said...

Sirius just started playing the new U2 and I am listening to the song in question right now. The problem is, Rob, is that as a band grows and expands, it gets more commercial and popular. It is the nature of the beast, my friend. Look at The Replacements "Pleased To Meet Me;" friggin' brilliant. "All Shook Down?" Good, but they had reached critical success and - at that instant - lost the wildness of when they started. Give me Gloria any day. It is the stripped-down anger that makes listening to new acts so satisfying.

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