Saturday, December 15, 2012

U2 Reaches For Your Wallet, Smack Them Away!

The Good: A solid collection of singles, two new tracks are all right, good lyrics, good music
The Bad: Some real lame tracks, redundant, Ultimately pointless
The Basics: Save your money; there are better U2 compilations already or (presumably) forthcoming.

I remember "Hands Across America." I vaguely recall a similar celebrity singalong for the Gulf War, though I couldn't say for the life of me who participated, though I'm thinking Demi Moore might have been in the mix. Anyway, the concept of musicians raising money blatantly for social causes is not something new to me or the world, but the terrible justification for U2's 18 Singles appears to be the pretense of raising money for musicians affected by Hurricane Katrina through Music Rising. Please. It's a thin excuse and an underwhelming reason to put out this latest compilation.

To be clear, I have nothing against social activism, the musical victims of Hurricane Katrina or even U2 as a band or social activists. My problem is that this album is a terrific redundancy and it seems like a weak excuse to recycle old material rather than face putting out another lame album. With its eighteen tracks, 18 Singles has only two new songs. For those who have already purchased (preferably the two-disc versions of each) The Best of U2 1980 – 1990 and The Best of U2 1991 – 2000, 18 Singles offers only six tracks the listener does not already have and two of them ("Elevation" and "Vertigo") are absolute crap.

It's hard not to believe that U2 would eventually come out with The Best of U2 2001 – 2010, which would include those two duds, the magnificent "Walk On," and the three other tracks that are on this album that are not on the other Best ofs. If one is patient, it seems like they would get an album that does not offer the repetition of 2/3's of already possessed music.

Perhaps even more insulting is a weird attempt to inform and conceal contained in the liner notes. One might think that a compilation of singles would include, well, singles - songs that were released as singles. Beneath the lyrics for each track, the liner notes note the top chart position for the UK and US charts. Eight of the tracks are listed as "Not Commercially Available" in the US and one was not even available in the UK. But what buggers this reviewer is that songs like "Walk On," which are listed as "Not Commercially Available," were treated in the U.S. just like any other single; there is a chart position (peaking at #10 on the US Modern Rock Tracks), a music video (two actually) and it won a Grammy (a pretty significant one, "Record of the Year - 2002"). So, even if it was not "commercially available," it still has a chart position that could be cited. Save that, perhaps to do so would open the band to the inexorable conclusion that their best commercial days are behind them (chart positions, according to the liner notes) in the US; their positions were going back down with the last of the "commercially available" tracks listed.

So, I'm viewing this largely as a shameless attempt to make money and I'm recommending people not buy this and hold out instead for The Best of U2 2001 – 2010 and instead hope the band starts making decent music between now and then. To be clear, it's my opinion that if U2 wanted to raise money for Hurricane Katrina relief they could have done something better than repackage sixteen old tracks and throw in two new to try to sell to those hard-liners like me. It won't work! At least with all new material, everyone wins.

That said, this is a solid U2 collection. It reminds us why we listen to U2 (though, regrettably, there are no tracks from Zooropa on here, which I suppose makes sense as it was a concept album). And this is a pretty wonderful collection with all the recognizable hits, including "Beautiful Day," "With Or Without You," "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," "Mysterious Ways," "Walk On," and "One." It has lesser-known hits (i.e. if you're coming into the mix now, you're less likely to have heard on the radio) "New Year's Day," "Stuck In A Moment You Can't Get Out Of," "Where The Streets Have No Name," "Sunday Bloody Sunday," and "Sweetest Thing." It also has the best-forgotten "Vertigo" and "Elevation."

The two new songs are "The Saints Are Coming" and "Window In The Skies." "The Saints Are Coming" features Green Day and I'll admit I didn't think it would be a workable combination, but they complement one another quite well. And "Windows In The Skies" is decent, despite some obvious rhymes. It's better than "Elevation" and it reminds the listener that Bono and U2 can still make something new and decent if they apply themselves.

This album is only of use for those who do not already have the two prior "Best of" albums and/or lack the patience to wait for the next one to come out. In a flat-out competition, it's hard to pick the best track (between "One," "With Or Without You" and "Walk On"), but I'll go with the best track is "One," the weakest is "Vertigo."

For other U2 works, please check out my reviews of:
The Joshua Tree
The Best Of 1980 – 1990 & The Singles
All That You Can't Leave Behind
The Best Of 1990 – 2000 & The Singles
How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb

8/10 (Not Recommended)

For other music reviews, be sure to check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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