Trying To Get To You

Thursday, March 27, 2008

U2: Pretention in 3D

Once upon a time, I loved U2. I discovered them when War was released early in 1983 and I was immediately taken by their passion and intensity. Not being familiar with punk and post-punk at that point in my life, their sound simply sounded more modern than what I accustomed to listening to, but they still obviously had spiritual ties to artists who I loved, like The Who and Springsteen.

Even more importantly to me, U2 felt like they they were mine. I loved the Beatles, the Stones and the Who (I hadn't gotten fully into soul music yet), but they belonged to the 60's and 70's. Springsteen had been around for 10 years by then. U2 were ten years older than me, but they were a band for my generation. And I liked that. As the band grew in skill, size and stature, it felt like a triumph that I had some small part in helping to create.

My love peaked in May of 1987 on the Joshua Tree tour. I stood in the back of the then Brendan Byrne Arena at the Meadowlands and was simultaneously overwhelmed and ecstatic. I was so enamored with them that the next day, when I was DJ'ing at my high school's radio station, I played nothing but U2, and got several complaints in the process.

The first chink in the armor for me came with the album and film release of Rattle & Hum in the fall of 1988. I was in my freshman year of college, and I went to a showing one night and thought to myself, "This isn't that great." The movie felt ponderous to me, trying to attach a weightiness that simply wasn't present. As I discovered other artists and genres I found myself rarely listening to them and began to matter less and less to me; I looked upon them as an adolescent infatuation that I still felt good about, but I couldn't fool myself any longer that they were much more than that.

Achtung Baby changed that for me, at least temporarily. Like many who had were worn out with the old U2, I found their post-modern guise to be utterly refreshing and I loved both the album and the arena tour that followed. (The Nassau Coliseum show they did in March of '92 was the best U2 show I've ever seen.) But after that, and with albums like Zooropa, Pop, All That You Can't Leave Behind and How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, I got off the bus for good. I enjoyed the MSG shows I saw in 2001 and 2005, but while I still had moments of goosebumps, I was now also having many moments of thinking that Bono was a self-important putz.

So tonight a buddy of mine and I went to see U2 3D. And from the opening notes of the overrated "Vertigo," I found Bono's self-seriousness to be almost suffocating. The band's talent is undeniable; Edge's guitar remains one of the most inventive styles of the modern rock era, Larry Mullen is solid as a rock and Adam Clayton's sinewy and stylish bass lines are a crucial, yet unheralded aspect of the band's sound. And Bono, despite my aversion to his manner, has improved as a vocalist over the years; his range has broadened and his vocals can move from powerful to winsome in a moment.

But sitting in the dark of the theater with my 3D glasses on (the 3D element was cool, but didn't add that much), it felt like someone was trying to press my "emotion button" over and over again. There was no relief, no humor, no counterweight to balance the portentousness of the music and the message. Yes Bono, war is bad. And it would be great if all of the children of Abraham could "coexist," as you put it. But the admirable sentiment has curdled into self-righteousness, a creeping smugness that has almost suffocated the band's considerable attributes. And worse, the new songs aren't that great.

I shouldn't say I didn't laugh at all during the film, I did. It was when Bono put on his "Coexist" bandana over his eyes and sang. He looked ridiculous. In that moment, I remembered that Beavis & Butthead used to call Bono, "Boner." And I cracked up.


Anonymous said...

Good points. But I think its hard to translate any concert to film. And Bono's got a 'role' to play that gives him dimension as much as it traps him.

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Anonymous said...

Who wrote this crap.... Dave Marsh, Jr? You sad, little angry man, we hope you find better days.

Anonymous said...

Funny, as it happened exactly the same to me. I was tired of them after Rattle and Hum. Then re-lived the magic with the fabulous Achtung Baby and the 2 shows I saw on tyhat tour (twice at Palau Sant Jordi in Barcelona) were the best I've ever seen them do. Then Pop came and I saw them in a stadium. The show was really bad and ridiculous. Never again. I've heard all their new albums and none of them was real good nor catched my interest. And I believe... Bono sucks... big time.

And no, I'm not Dave Marsh (but I like him).

Anonymous said...

Easily one of the most overrated bands of all time. Why they get the accolades they get is a mystery to me.

Anonymous said...
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Slidewell said...

I'll give Bono credit for at least attempting to put a positive message across, but the problem is he's not very good at it. Apart from the stylistic innovations of the Edge's guitar playing, the music of U2 is pretty darn thin. They completely lack any rhythmic sophistication. They couldn't groove their way out of a wet paper bag. But, they definately have resonated with millions. I guess I just can't relate to anthemic rock music. Can we get back to discussing blues and soul music please? :)