Trust the Gene Genie

Friday, April 10, 2009


I really didn't mean to follow up a U2 post with another U2 post, but guess what? That's what I'm gonna do. This has been banging around my head for a while and just need to get it down so I can be free of it.

I read a review about six years ago covering U2's second compilation of greatest hits and the reviewer pointed out how the "Electrical Storm" remix that showed up on the bonus disc was a better mix of the actual song that appeared on the album version. I found I completely agreed.

And then I started noticing things. As I got increasingly bored with the band's Eno/Lanois studio productions, the remixes from the same time period got more and more interesting.

When "Atomic Bomb" came out one of the songs that annoyed me to no end was "Original of the Species" because it seemed like it had so much potential but landed completed flat. It was such a boring song.

And then someone leaked the "Original Of The Species (Killahurtz Casa De Angeles Mix)" of the song and it was like a revelation. The track included this steady backbeat that helped firm up the song and included some alternate vocal takes from Bono that all of sudden made the song interesting.

Similarly, the Jacknife Lee mix of "Vertigo" turned the playful romp from the band into this hard-edged rock song that worked on a whole new level.

I started to notice that as the band brought in new and interesting producers to play with some of the band's singles after these albums were released you ended up with better versions of the songs than what they'd originally put out.

Now, I'm not taking about the standard dance remix treatment most of their songs get when the albums come out but actual alternative takes of the songs by fringe producers. A lot of it works amazingly well. And it just proves to me again that U2 needs to cut the apron strings and experiment with a young, brash producer in the studio.

Below is a list off the top of my head of altnerate mixes of U2 songs that are better than the album version:

1. Electrical Storm (William Orbit Mix)
2. Original Of The Species (Killahurtz Casa De Angeles Mix)
3. Get On Your Boots (Justice Remix)
4. Elevation(Influx Remix)

And a couple that are at least as good as the original and toy with being better:

1. No Line on the Horizon ("Get on Your Boots" Single Remix)
2. Vertigo (Jacknife Lee 10" Version)
3. New Year's Day (USA Remix)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

No Line on the Horizon

I probably shouldn't put this off any longer. So here it is, The Rob Report's review of the new U2.

I've had the album for nearly a month now and I've listened to it pretty constantly since I got it. Surprisingly, my initial impressions haven't changed much at all. In a sentence, half of it works for me and half of it stinks.

U2 have, for the better part of a decade, produced albums aimed squarely at pleasing the masses. Unabashedly. And there's nothing wrong with that. In a sense, that's what pop music is supposed to do.

However, with U2, you almost get the feeling as you listen to the music on "All That You Can't Leave Behind" and "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" that there's some ulterior motive there. The music, the riffs, the refrains, all of it feels a little too calculated, a little too obvious.

The last two albums felt like U2 sitting in the studio trying really hard to sound like U2. And it's not hard to see why. The backlash after 1997's "Pop" had to have stung pretty good. And so what we saw emerge from that was a band resolved to play it safe, to play it big and to play it obvious.

Which was hard to watch. One of the things I've always believed that has made U2 the brilliant band they are (were?) was their ability to experiment with their craft while not getting lost in the woods. They always end up producing their best stuff when, as Chicago Tribune's Greg Kot says, they're out on the limb, saw in hand. You end up with stuff like "Mysterious Ways" and "Zoo Station" and "Exit" and "Bullet the Blue Sky" and "Promenade" and "MLK" and "The Wanderer" and "Do You Feel Loved" and all the stuff in between. All these songs that are crazy brilliant.

That went out the window after "Pop" and what you were left with was two solid but ultimately boring albums from a band that in the past had been anything but. For the first time you could hear the band trying. You could hear the effort in something that used to sound effortless.

I think, to some extent, the band recognized that. They were pretty vocal while recording "No Line," about how it was another change in direction, another effort to go back into the studio and "dream it all up again."

And you know what? They get about half way there. The first three songs on the album really show the band at their best. The sound is textured and rich and they move in directions that you don't immediately expect. "No Line," the title track, is muted and atmospheric with no obvious chiming guitar, no easy-out chorus. It's heavy, but refreshing. It's a great lead-in to "Magnificent" which, in some ways, is just the opposite. It's got that big, U2-anthem feel but it kind of comes at you sideways. Both these tracks have Eno's fingerprints all over them. But we'll talk about that later.

You feel the album shift gears with "Moment of Surrender" a seven-minute, almost blue-eyed soul ballad from the band. It works mostly because you've never heard U2 sound like this before and because it's got this killer bass groove and a welcome slide-guitar solo from the Edge.

But after that, the album quickly starts to feel like "Atomic Bomb" redux. "Unknown Caller" and "I'll Go Crazy if I Don't Go Crazy Tonight" land flat. "Caller" is this sci-fi-like existential look at being lost amid the technology of modern-day life. Unfortunately it's really poorly executed. "Crazy," while it has some really fun moments, ultimately feels warmed over and dull. You hear the effort of the band trying to make a big, stadium-ready rocker.

And then there's "Get on Your Boots." The song is still a mess, flailing about for a melody, although it sounds a little better in the context of the album. It was a poor choice for the lead single. I see it going to the graveyard to take its place among songs like "New York" and "Origin of Species."

"Stand Up Comedy" is another track that almost works. It's also one of the few songs on the album that has steadily grown on me. I love the heavy, Led Zeppelin-inspired guitar riff and the chanting "Stand Up" chorus. I'm sure it'll work really well live. However, much of the progress gained on the song is undone by some of the worst lyric-writing I've seen yet from the band. "Stand up to rock stars/Napolean is in high heels/Josephine be careful/Of small men with big ideas." Really? That's what we've come to? I'm sure it looked great on paper, but it sounds terrible in the song.

However, it clears the air for "FEZ-Being Born," probably the most exciting track on the album. "FEZ" is U2 at the most experimental they've been since "Pop" and almost sounds like something left off of "Unforgettable Fire." Or something that could easily fit there. It's got a really satisfying crunch and a great hook, and Bono's stream-of-conscious lyrics fit in the cracks brilliantly.

A lot's been said about "White as Snow," this quiet ballad told from the point of view of a soldier dying alone in Afghanistan. It shows better than anything else the shift Bono has made in his lyric writing. For the last decade it seems, the subtle has been replaced by the obvious and I think it's ruined some otherwise good songs.

"Breathe" is the last rocker on the album and it's a frustrating song. It's got a brilliant chorus and includes one of the best similes I've heard from Bono in probably 15 years. He sings about running down the road like loose electricity. It's a great image. But like much of what they've written during this decade, it feels like a chorus in search of song. The verse has no real melody and it kind of flounders until the chorus kicks in. But what a chorus. The song absolutely electrified the crowd when they performed it on Letterman.

The album ends with "Cedars of Lebanon," another slow burner from the band. It's another that's grown on me a lot. It works that it's as understated as it is. Serves as kind of an appropriate close for the album.

Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois have a big presence on this album. And that's not a bad thing. They're talented and they know how work effectively with the band. But ultimately if U2 really wants to make that album that reinvents who they are, they've got to ditch Eno, Lanois and Steve Lillywhite and go find a producer that draws them out of their comfort zone. And they've tried. Between this album and the last, they've brought in like six or seven outside producers to try and produce something new and different. Guys like Chris Thompson, Rick Rubin and Will.I.Am. And each time, they've gotten cold feet and gone back to their holy trinity of Eno-Lanois-Lillywhite.

But I don't think that boldness will ever return. I think this is U2 on the downhill slide to irrelevance. And I think it's because, unlike young bands, they've got nothing to prove anymore. They've go no real compelling reason to get back out on that limb with saw in hand. Which is too bad. I miss being surprised.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Monday, January 19, 2009

Wait, did he just say, "sexy boots"?

Here's your quote of the day.

My friend and I have been talking about the new U2 single "Get on Your Boots" which dropped late last night. (You can hear it here.) As far as I'm concerned, he summed it up perfectly:

"It's Vertigo as interpreted by a Moroccan DJ."

The next Apple Beer's on me, Jense.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

If you don't know...

I know this isn't anything anyone is going to want to read, but I guess that's why it's the Rob Report and not the Kofi Report. But, as you may be aware, U2 has a new album out March 3 and so, between now and then to get us prepared, I wanted throw up a few U2-centric lists on the old blog.

To kick things off, I present Rob's 10 Most Underrated and Underappriciated U2 Songs. These are the tracks that either time forgot, time wrote off or time was so busy listening to the new Icehouse that it didn't realize side 2 on that latest U2 album had some really great stuff.

We'll divide the list in two -- like a good LP. The first half will be overlooked songs from proper studio albums. The second will be lesser-known B-sides and other extracurricular activities.

So without any further ado (in no particular order), let's get started:

10. "Drowning Man," track 5 from 1983's "War." This is easily one of the most gorgeous songs U2 has ever recorded. It's a quiet and almost ethereal tune that's made all the most haunting by Edge's decision to use an acoustic guitar through most of the song. And behind it all is this thundering drum and bassline that just pulls the song further and further into the ground. It gets lost easily amid the tumult of "Sunday Bloody Sunday," "New Year's Day" and "Two Hearts Beat as One." But you go back and listen to it and realize it's just as powerful as those songs. And then you wonder, why have I never heard this before?

9. "Do You Feel Loved," track 2 from 1997's "Pop." In all honesty, just about anything off "Pop" would probably fit on this list. By far U2's most underrated album, "Pop" is a dizzy, dark and emotional record that includes some of the band's best songwriting and over-the-top sonic experiments. They don't all work -- for which the album was quickly written off and scorned by critics and fans alike. But then you put the disc on and "Do You Feel Loved" comes up you're sucked right in. It's got a great buzzy little guitar hook, lush, lush production and some of the best lyrics Bono has written. "With my teeth at your back/And my tongue to tell you the sweetest lies/Do you feel loved."

8. "Rejoice," track 4 from 1981's "October." U2's other forgotten album, "October" admittedly has more emotion and energy than it does stand-out songs. That being said, it's got a couple hidden gems. Among them is "Rejoice," an upbeat anthem that pulses along with this expansive, heavy drumming from Larry and one of Edge's least known but catchiest guitar hooks that kicks in during the song's final third.

7. "Another Time, Another Place," track 9 from 1980's "Boy." It's hard to claim any track from "Boy" is underappreciated or forgotten, but "Another Time, Another Place" probably comes closer than anything else, falling between "Stories for Boys" and "The Electric Co." and so usually skipped over as listeners work through the album. But it's a great example of how, with a great chorus, a mediocre song can really transcend to solid, catchy pop tune. It's hard to keep from just busting out and singing when Bono starts wailing, "Another time/Another place/We lie/Another child has lost the race."

6. "Promenade," track 5 from 1984's "The Unforgettable Fire." Another beautiful, swirling song that admittedly is mostly just Bono free-associating lyrics in front of the microphone. Easily lost amid the album's huge numbers "Pride," "A Sort of Homecoming" and the title track, "Promenade" sneaks in unnoticed as this indelible little love song. It has just a gorgeous melody, it has the benefit of being short and a few of the couplets that Bono does manage to string together make the track burst with emotion. "And I, like a firework, explode/Roman candle lightning lights up the sky."

5. "Big Girls Are Best," single from the "All That You Can't Leave Behind" sessions. This is one of my all time favorite U2 songs. It's a funky, groovy little number about pregnancy, motherhood and desire. And who can an argue with a line like, "She's got a smile like salvation/She knows big girls are best"?

4. "Love Comes Tumbling," single from "The Unforgettable Fire" sessions. This is a mellow, almost chant of a song that has this wonderful little guitar riff from Edge that just makes the song move. Like much of the material from "The Unforgettable Fire," it's atmospheric and almost tangible. But "Love" seems to have a little more structure, a little more solid ground beneath it than much of the other material they were producing at the time. It's a great little track.

3. "Can't Help Falling In Love," single from the "Achtung Baby!" sessions. Officially, it's the Triple Peaks Remix version that's incredible. It showed up first as a remix in the "Kiwi" compilation released with "Propaganda," the band's official fan club magazine in the early '90s. It's one of the best cover songs in the history of cover songs and it showcases almost better than any other U2 track Bono's strength for pouring erotic, myterious and spell-binding emotion into a song. (The other being "If You Wear That Velvet Dress" from "Pop".)

2. "Salome," single from the "Achtung Baby!" sessions. I remember when I first heard this song shortly after high school I had a hard time believing it was U2. It sounded completely different from anything they'd done. Closer in spirit with "Mysterious Ways," the song is just this killer groove that literally makes you stand up and move when you hear it. It's brilliant.

1. "I'm Not Your Baby," track from the "Pop" sessions. There are two version of this song, one without lyrics that shows up as a b-side on the "Please" single. The other is a duet with Sinead O'Connor that ended up on "The End of Violence" soundtrack and, as far as I can tell, no where else. And it's easily one of the greatest things U2 has ever laid to tape. It's this gritty little electronica piece that somehow still manages to showcase each member of the band at their best. The lyrics are brilliant, Sinead adds heft and her back and forth with Bono through the song leaves you wishing she recorded with the band more often. It's lushly produced with layers and layers of sounds that add weight without weighing the song down. It just moves. I listen to that and I get excited for new U2. Here's hoping the new stuff will be worth getting excited about.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Did someone say "blog"?

Let's ease back into this. It's New Year's and that means lists. So here are a few of mine. This way we'll keep the actual writing to a minimum, which is for the best, really.

Top Ten Reasons I Haven't Blogged Since Sept. 27

10. Just too broken up over Paul Newman's death to know how to face the world again.
9. Had my fingers caught in the cookie jar.
8. Was too busy with my divorce in Second Life.
7. Been out raising hell with Robert Bork.
6. Just finished a three-month "According to Jim" marathon. That Jim Belushi is so crazy!
5. Got lost in the Enchanted Forest.
4. Three-month egg nog bender.
3. Took a break from these new-fangled "Web logs" and spent time in the bathroom working on my regular logs.
2. Been growing a mustache.
1. Just too damn lazy.

Best music I heard in 2008 in no particular order

Fleet Foxes, U2's remastered versions of "Boy," "October" and "War," I'm still waffling on Coldplay's "Viva La Vida" -- it just wasn't that great. TV On The Radio's "Dear Science" and Spoon's Daytrotter Sessions (I can count that, right?.

Best TV I watched in 2008

1. 30 Rock
2. Life
3. Psych
4. Flight of the Concords
5. Battlestar Galactica
6. Nova & Frontline

Shows I used to watch that I'm completely sick of and/or most popular baby names in 2008

1. Jacob
2. Heroes
3. The Office
4. Madison
5. Kath and Kim

TV shows I can't believe are still on TV in 2008 and/or most common human rights violations

1. According to Jim
2. Waterboarding
3. Everything on CBS -- I mean, who out there is watching NCIS?
4. My Name is Earl
5. The Bachelor
6. Child marriage
7. 24

Best movies I saw in 2008 in no particular order (I've hardly seen everything I want to)

Dark Knight, Be Kind Rewind, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Speed Racer, Iron Man, Wall-E, Kung Fu Panda, Ghost Town, Hellboy II

And that's all I got. Here's to posting a little more often in 2009.

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