It’s been a strange old week, and not only because it’s the last one in a strange old year – you see I’ve been listening to U2.
It’s true, I telegraphed it earlier in the week – saying that the movie Sing 2 made me oddly nostalgic for some (but definitely not all) U2.
I was a huge U2 fan when I was a kid. I remember seeing the video for the song Unforgettable Fire – from the album of the same name. It would be a while before I’d hear the full album, but that song stuck. I seem to recall hearing it as part of a New Year’s Eve countdown – we were at my aunt’s house and the kids had to make their own fun. Which we did. And loved. But it was also a treat to join in with the parents when we were allowed. At some stage in the evening the TV went on and a countdown of the year’s songs poured out. This was before playlists.
So that must have been New Year’s Eve 1984 – or maybe it was 1985 even. Anyway, a couple of years on I get my first U2 album. The Joshua Tree. It’s also the first cassette tape I buy for myself. That and Midnight Oil’s Diesel and Dust – the result of a music voucher for my 11th birthday. I like to sometimes congratulate myself on that being pretty good taste. Nothing too cringe there.
But – I did rant on about finding Joshua Tree unlistenable a while back. That was nearly 10 years ago, when I was writing a series of posts about “classic albums I could know longer listen to”. Most of the albums I singled out I have of course returned to since writing about. Though the sentiment remains – you get sick of certain albums. And sometimes it’s not even because of the music, it’s because of the fan mania that surrounds the band, it’s because of the times you remember as associated with the music. It’s because we are weird, fickle creatures and music comes and goes throughout our life.
I loved U2 as much as I loved any other band – not more, but easily as much – between 1987 and 1993. I continued to like U2 until about 1996/7. A series of things happened. They started to release really shitty music, that’s key. Nothing after Zooropa really means anything to me. Their fans became insufferable, and the blueprint for Radiohead fans. (That’s subjective. But then, so is all of this). And I played far too many U2 songs in a covers band – some of them I actually grew to love even more as a result (Running To Stand Still) some became just infuriating to me (Angel of Harlem, One). This is nothing to do with the quality of the cover versions, just the frequency. When you play in bands that cover material you form strange new relationships and total detachments from the music.
(It’s my firm believe that I have played 500 Miles more than The Proclaimers have. So. You know. That does things to you).
Anyway, my favourite two U2 albums are Unforgettable Fire and Zooropa. These are interesting records, both musically and in that they are the open and closed brackets on U2’s huge fan years. Unforgettable is the hint at what’s to come and the shaking off of the band’s earliest pub-rock/post-punk approximations. Zooropa is the coda to Achtung Baby’s big bang reinvention/revelation.
I like a few songs here and there outside of the two albums I mentioned and of course I did my time loving not just Joshua but also Achtung. I used to really love the band’s second album, October. And the third record, War. I had a lot of time for the live album, Under A Blood Red Sky. And I quite liked Boy. So, early years all covered.
But after Zooropa, it was just a weird, prolonged race back to the middle. Pop is stupid. And the albums that followed feel Joshua Tree-lite. At best. Still, in a weak moment, I’ll hook into a song or two. But that’s largely that. When they started releasing Greatest Hits albums, I was totally unmoved.
And then, earlier this week I watched a cartoon porcupine (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) woo a cartoon lion (voiced by Bono) with one of his own songs. It’s not even a song I ever really liked by U2. But there you have it. I’m stuck in that moment. For this week at least. (Can’t add that I won’t get out of it).
Also, I decided to make a playlist of some of my favourite U2 songs. A very alternative greatest “hits”. Some of the big ones in there, because some of them are undeniable. But mostly album cuts and the lesser known of the anthems.
So, there you go. In the context of 2021, it’s not the strangest thing ever that I turned back to U2. But I can promise you it won’t happen again this year.
Thank you for journeying with me on Substack in 2021. It’s been a blast. I’ve loved it. I hope you have to.
And because I have made not one but two playlists featuring U2, I have also made a very non-U2 playlist, A Little Something For The Weekend, our final volume for 2021. Vol. 45.
As always, I hope you hear something you like on there – either brand new to you or something you hadn’t thought about in years.
Sounds Good! is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
All the best to you and yours for your New Year’s celebrations. And I hope to see you here again next year.