You know I actually – in the spirit of research – gave this one a listen the other week. Streamed it on YouTube because although, somewhere, I think I have an old worn LP copy, I didn’t for the life of me know where it was nor have the inclination at all to look for it. So I sat down with the album playing through the laptop, connected to the stereo. And what a snore-fest it was. I had to stop. I thought I could do it – I actually thought this might be a classic album I could still listen to. But no. No chance.
One song stood out for me, then – as now. My favourite – always – from this album was Red Hill Mining Town. I think I read somewhere it’s the only song the band has never played live. Good on them, I hope they keep it that way – it helps the song, I’m sure, to retain its certain brand of something-special-ness.
I loved this album for a long time – well, when you’re a kid a month feels like a while, and a year really is a long time. So I dug this for a few years there, and that’s a super-long time. But I realise that, for the most part, I’ve held onto this album without ever wanting to actually listen to it ever again.
There was an anniversary edition recently – the 25th anniversary and I gave it a four-star review without listening to it; based on what I figured was a fair score. It’s the album that made U2 world famous and superstars and it was before the rot set in. Four stars good, three stars probably more accurate 25 years on. But hey…
And so to go back to it and actually listen to it – or try to – the cliché wannabe white-boy gospel absurdness of I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For – it makes you fucking sick.
I gave up on U2, for the most part, many years ago. I really only have a fondness for The Unforgettable Fire; brilliant album – though Pride is a fucking grate to work through. And maybe, one day I could sit through October again, always used to like that, possibly Boy and War even. And that early live album too. But whatever they had and/or thought they had, and/or their fans thought they had…it was all-over red-rover by the time of Joshua Tree.
Here’s Bono, hyped-up post-Live Aid, a little of Bob Geldof’s semen possibly still on his top lip. And he’s shouting such absurdities as “I can see those fighter planes/I can see those fighter planes”. This is where the maddening preacher-bit comes in. And Bono never recovered – such was his relentlessness for the pursuit of whatever it was he was fucking looking for. And we all know, much as he might shrug it off with a smug-sunglass-smile, that what he was looking for – and now craves – is fame. And the best way he had with a word was to repeat it or whisper it then build it up to a hallelujah-shout. Somehow, to his minions, that covered up the fact that his lyrics are fucking stupid – at best they’re thinly veiled thieveries from writers like Delmore Schwartz and Charles Bukowski.
The Joshua Tree is unbearable to me because its opening side (I still think of it in tape/LP formats because I listened to it so much on cassette tape particularly and a little bit on vinyl) is ruined by all those monster – and now truly monstrous-sounding – hits.
Where The Streets Have No Name and Still Haven’t Found and With Or Without You. Once upon a time I was impressed by that opening triumvirate – now I want to shoot Bono in his “There’s Wally!” face. Every time that git pops up as a talking head in documentaries about Leonard Cohen and Bukowski and rollerskates and salmon-dip and pleather lounge suites and shark-skin lampshades and renaissance cutlery and varieties of peanut butter and recyclable shopping bags and whatever the fuck else he’s a nonchalant-expert on, all drawly Irish lilt, I hear in my head With Or Without You. And it drives me nuts.
And Bullet The Blue Sky is the giant turd of the album – this big set-piece of the rock-show that U2 fans feel is some uber-revelatory rock-god show-stopper. Fuck me, you need to hear more music. You need to get out more! And not to more U2 shows. In fact: no more U2 shows for you! No more.
U2 was killed by U2 fans. Bono’s greed and smugness never helped the cause. This glutton for the lapel button; for the photo-op, dragging along behind him three mediocre musicians too sure they’re on the best ride in the world to ever get off is of course a big part of the U2 problem. That much is obvious. But it’s far too easy to beat up on Bono.
It’s the reverence of the U2 fan that has shattered the band’s music – and created the situation that now exists: shitty, awful faux-U2 sounding songs sometimes performed by U2 – sometimes by Coldplay. And it’s all so dreary in its earnestness. And all of that – the reverence, the obviousness, the overt lack of subtlety, it starts with Joshua Tree.
They hammed up the gospel/blues/roots-wannabe thing far worse with Rattle & Hum; the equivalent of framing one of your cat’s paintings – done in their own shit – and trying to pass it off as authentic mud-hut pygmy tribe art.
And every album after Joshua Tree was bullshit – except for Zooropa. (So long as you can enjoy folly). Achtung Baby was okay – for a bit. It’s aged worse than Joshua Tree. Post Zooropa it’s been absurdities mixed with po-faced U2-revivalism (if they aren’t in fact one and the same).
But this album is across the other side of my line in the sand with U2. I can’t cross to get to here/hear. I cannot do it.
Red Hill Mining Town? Yep. No issue. Damn fine song. Still. Running To Stand Still? Well, once or twice – I used to love it a lot. But not now, it’s trapped by the taint of the opening four songs. And though side two – the non-hit side – is far better than side one of this top-heavy grotesquery, it’s actually still quite shite. And the years have not been kind.
But there’ll be U2 concerts for another 30 years. And millions of people will stand there swaying in awe beneath their iPhone light. And Bono will be mugging it up and that band will still be meandering along. Looking for whatever it is they have apparently been looking for. When actually we know it’s just one more dollar, one more fan, one more cause to collect, one more photo-op and doco spot. And by one more – I of course mean millions and millions and millions…
So no more Joshua Tree for me ever. No way. I can’t do that to myself. And you shouldn’t either.