Tag Archives: U2

BOY KING by Wild Beasts

Imagine if Trent Reznor-penned a concept album about masculinity and recorded it with Muse as his backing band. That’s a fairly close description of what Wild Beasts album BOY KING sounds like. Whereas Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails records have a gritty, cold feeling to them Wild Beasts’ BOY KING has a crisp but cold feeling to them. NIN is chrome smeared with dirt while BOY KING is pink neon light reflected in a puddle of still rain water.

Unlike Reznor’s work, the precise tracks on BOY KING have a decidedly poppier, almost hip-hop-flavored feel to them. Certain songs, like “Get My Bang” even reminded me of Britpop bands like Stereophonics (remember them? They’re fantastic, but that’s a post for another day). For me, it’s the shimmering pop heart beating just under the grime that makes BOY KING an enjoyable listen, rather than a painful sit through. The band described the album’s third single “Celestial Creatures” via Twitter thusly: “Organic but digital, aggressive but tender, hallucinatory but clear-eyed.” I wouldn’t argue with that assessment, both of the song and of the totality of BOY KING which is rife with duality.

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The album swings between a kind of exaggerated pop star bravado and a gentler (but creepy) kind of feminism.  Lyrically, the songs are a mix of dark poetry and sexual innuendo, to the point where it becomes difficult to suss out what is sneering facade and what’s genuine. A good example is “Alpha Female,” a track that follows “Tough Guy” which is both a biting indictment of modern machismo. On the surface “Alpha Female” is a song about how men don’t know everything and how the song’s narrator isn’t going to hold his lady back. But the chorus “Alpha female, I’ll be right behind you” gets nastier and nastier every time it’s repeated.

There’s a real late 90’s U2-experimentalism on many of the tracks on BOY KING. Whether or not you think that’s a good thing or not is entirely up to you. There’s no denying that a track like “Eat Your Heart Out Adonis” sounds like something Bono could have crooned upon exiting a giant mechanical lemon. But whereas Bono and Co. played that phase of their careers a little too seriously, Wild Beasts appear to be in on the joke.  Also, the guitar solo at the end of the song is warmer than anything The Edge’s cold, cold heart produced during that period.

BOY KING ends on a soft, gentle ballad a stark contrast to the album opener “Big Cat.” I  absolutely love “Big Cat,” which might as well been titled “Alpha Male.” The song has a couple of double-entendre for sex and domination, and yet for all its big male bluster…the song is about comparing oneself to a big cat. That another name for cat is pussy can’t be overlooked amidst all the other sexual overtones. Just like the majority of BOY KING “Big Cat” has layers upon layers of complexity. And yet, it’s also just a damn fine pop album you can groove to.

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My Favorite U2 Song

A few weekends ago I was in a crepe restaurant waiting for some breakfast.  I was holding down a table for a group of my friends; the place was packed, with a line wrapped around the counter.  Sunday (bloody Sunday) morning was in full effect: I was mildly hung-over and the prospect of a new work-week loomed large.

And what did I hear?  What did I hear while my head ached and I waited for my corn beef hash?  Irish rockers U2 wailing out “Vertigo” on the restaurant’s sound system.  I whipped out my iPhone, and as I do from time to time, I posted something snarky and nasty on Facebook about the song and the band. Almost immediately I got feedback, the general consensus: What the hell is wrong with you, Jason? U2 is awesome.      

A long time ago, I used to fall to peer pressure when it came to what was hip or cool,  but those days are long since passed.  I like what I like and I don’t give a fuck.  I purchased the first two Lady GaGa albums, and I’m admitting it! On my Axl Rose-themed music blog!!! So believe me when I tell you, I like you but I could care less what you think of what I like or don’t like. When it comes to U2 I’m so torn.  On one hand, I love classic U2.  I think THE JOSHUA TREE is an amazingly, triumph of an album.  On the other hand, “Vertigo” is pretty much the worst U2 song ever.  Their current output has left me cold at times, though I did finally come around on their last album.

I remember in the early 1990’s when U2 came to Kansas City to film a music video for “Last Night On Earth” and how all the people who interacted with them said nothing but nice things. I remember when I thought U2 was lame and over-the-hill…and then ALL THAT YOU CAN’T LEAVE BEHIND came out and proved me wrong.  

I saw U2 in 2001 a month after 9/11 and Bono had me in near tears projecting the names on the side of our local arena–so when I tell you that U2 is one of the most disappointing bands I’ve ever known, realize that comes form a place of love.  What disappoints me about them? The same things that I find disappointing in myself: they’re lazy.  U2 used to consistently put out fucking life-affirming, kick-ass rock music. Music that was not only bad-ass but had a clear message either about how fucked up our world was or how it could be a better place.  This year? I’m listening to U2 sing in Spanish about what? 1-2-3?

What’s wrong with “Vertigo”? Where to start…how about it’s not nearly as good as “Another Day.”  I bet you’ve never heard “Another Day.”  Don’t feel bad if you haven’t, it just means you got laid in High School and aren’t crippled by your obsession of obscure rock music like I am.  The song came out in 1980 just before U2 released their first album BOY, and it’s my all-time favorite U2 song.  The song, which features a memorable punky-yodel from Bono, and vaguely recalls a Steve Miller song, is great for none of the reasons I like U2.

Only 2 luftballons…

It’s not particularly political and doesn’t make any large point.  The song is super-unique musically (again, I swear there’s a Steve Miller song that sounds just like it).  So why do I love it?  “Another Day” is pure and fun.  There’s a simple, but awesome guitar lick and Bono sounds like he’s having fun.  The song also has a bit of a tough-edge (pun intended) near the end with the Edge’s guitar solo…but it’s not an over-the-top wank-fest.

“Another Day” is a young, hungry band having a blast…”Vertigo” is an bunch of old men resting on their laurels.  If you can honestly listen to “Another Day” and tell me “Vertigo” is a better song…then you’re completely delusional and need professional help.

Seriously though, “Another Day” is a lost classic that I love dearly.  Long live U2.  Fuck “Vertigo.”

EDIT 10/25/2012: So while I was writing this I was trying to figure out which Steve Miller song “Another Day” reminded me of.  Today at work it came to me, like something from a dream–“Swingtown.”  It’s the vocals, nothing else really is similar.  Anyway, mystery solved.

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NO LINE ON THE HORIZON Revisited: Part II The Review

For such a mega-successful band, U2 has had a shockingly uneven quality in their albums.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that of all the mainstream rock acts of the last 25 years, their release record is the most checkered. When U2 is good, they’re fantastic.  But when U2 goes off the deep-end, they crash and burn spectacularly.  Bono has said in interviews that had 2000’s ALL THAT YOU CAN’T LEAVE BEHIND not been a commercial success, the plan was for U2 to break-up.  Feeling a little starved for success after spending the 1990’s experimenting, U2 stripped down their sound and went back to basics.  The move paid off big time, but it came at a price.  The band’s ATYCLB follow up, HOW TO DISMANTLE AN ATOMIC BOMB, was a pretty much a rehash of what they’d done before.  So much so that I’d say that the album should have been called ALL THAT YOU CAN’T LEAVE BEHIND Part II.

But a confident U2 is an experimental U2, and as such, NO LINE ON THE HORIZON finds the band sliding back into something a bit more interesting. 

The album opens with “No Line on the Horizon,” which flirts between being spacey and down-to-earth.  Bono’s voice seems to be getting better with age; it’s as vibrant and strong as it was back in the 80’s.   One of my favorite tracks, “Magnificent,” blends early 90’s electronica-U2 with the more restrained rock elements that made U2 famous.  The song’s main guitar riff is memorable but not overwhelming.  I think that behind George Harrison, The Edge is probably one of the most understated guitarists off all time.  The Edge’s riffs can be bombastic but on NO LINE ON THE HORIZON he seems content to hang back and noodle on the peripherals of the songs, taking center stage only a few times. When he does it’s incredible (see the end of “Breathe”).

Like all modern mainstream rock records, NO LINE ON THE HORIZON opens strong and reaches it’s peak at the mid-point with the twin singles “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” and “Get On Your Boots.”  The later being the freakiest thing on record, as well as the catchiest.  “I’ll Go Crazy” is a decent song but of the two singles, “Get On Your Boots” is the more interesting.  To be honest, “I’ll Go Crazy” seems like a leftover from ALL THAT YOU CAN’T LEAVE BEHIND.  That’s not a bad thing, it’s just not very memorable.

The last half of the album is a more subdue affair, but it’s also where the best tracks are hidden.  In fact, I would say that the last two tracks “Breathe” and “Cedars of Lebanon” are probably my favorites on the entire album.  “Breathe” especially evokes the fire and spirit of the classics found on THE JOSHUA TREE.  Near the end there’s a fantastic cello-solo that leads right into the best Edge guitar solo I’ve ever heard, it’s so warm and lovely that you can almost hear the cracking as the ice finally melts off his guitar.  The song almost seems like an answer to the critics who say The Edge is all technique and no heart.

NO LINE ON THE HORIZON does have a few duds, the worst being “Unknown Caller.” The song uses modern technology as a metaphor and listening to Bono croon about “ATM Machines,” “rebooting,” and “having no signal” (as in cellphone signal) is pretty cringe-worthy.  It’s almost like hearing your grandparent talk about “The Facebook,” it comes off as forced and makes U2 seems shockingly un-hip (even the song title is ridiculous in today’s world of caller-ID).   I found “White As Snow” to be dull and overly sentimental, while “Fez-Being Born” was just downright boring to sit thorough, coming in just a little over five minutes in length.

Overall though, NO LINE ON THE HORZION is a good album and I’m glad I made the effort to dust it off and give it another chance.  I don’t think it’s strong enough to convert anyone who’s not already a fan, but I think it’s got enough strong tracks to merit a listen.  I’m going to chalk up my initial reaction to this record to my health issues I was dealing with back in 2009.  There’s been a couple times I’ve gone back and listened to something that had underwhelmed me initially and been pleasantly surprised. I think we bring more of our baggage to art than we realize. Obviously hearing problems are going to affect one’s opinion of a new CD, but there was more than that going on.  NO LINE ON THE HORIZON didn’t change, I did.  My life has completely changed since 2009: my relationships, my job, where I live.   I don’t think NO LINE ON THE HORIZON is a landmark record in terms of the “musical world” but I do think it’s important in my life.  I think revisiting albums at different points in life are key to understanding both them and ourselves.

NO LINE ON THE HORIZON gets a (belated) “B+”

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NO LINE ON THE HORIZON Revisited: Part I The Back Story

This is story about inexplicably losing something very precious and then inexplicably getting it back.  The year was 2009 and my life wasn’t really going the way I’d wanted it to go.  I was stuck in a really bad job, the kind of job that was soul crushing and hazardous to your health.  I was working in a really dirty environment—there was a lot of dirt, dust, and wood particulate in the air I was breathing and I developed allergies.  One morning I woke up and discovered, to my horror, that I had diminished hearing in my right ear. 

Before jumping to any conclusions, I decided to try cleaning my ear out.  So I used an over-the-counter-ear-douche-thingy and proceeded to mindlessly clean my ear.  In the meantime, I lived a strange sort of half-life.  I wasn’t able to enjoy many of the things I normally loved.  Not only was it frustrating to not be able to hear songs, television, and phone calls—but having trouble hearing these things also served as an unpleasant reminder that something was wrong with me.

When the problem didn’t sort itself out and go away, like I’d hoped it would, I decided to break down and see a doctor.  After a quick check of my ear, which I was told were immaculately clean after my many ear-douchings, I was told that it was probably just my clogged sinuses.  I was given some medicine and within a few weeks I was mostly all better.  I still occasionally have hearing issues in my right ear, especially during “allergy season” which is pretty much all the time in my part of the country.   But it could be worse; my flirtation with deafness could have been permanent.  As a music nerd and rock geek, I can’t imagine a life without music.

When my ear was really bad,  U2’s album NO LINE ON THE HORIZON came out.  Despite my diminished hearing, I went out and bought the album.  I popped it into the CD player of my car and struggled to get into the songs, but I wasn’t in the mood and I couldn’t really enjoy it.  Later on, when my hearing problems pretty much went away, I heard a few of the songs—mostly used in advertising.  I didn’t think they were horrible, but I didn’t have much enthusiasm for listening to the album.  I tossed NO LINE ON THE HORIZION aside and life moved on.

I got to thinking about all of this because I bought a new computer at the end of last year and I’m in the process of putting all my music into my new computer’s library.  I’ve been doing it slowly, piece-by-piece.  At first I thought I wasn’t going to try and replicate my old iTunes library, but I’m pretty moody when it comes to music.  Albums and songs I didn’t miss or need last week are suddenly giant, embarrassing holes in my computer’s collection.   So I said “the hell with it” and have started piling it all onto my hard drive—and during the project I happened upon NO LINE ON THE HORIZON.  I still have it, because years ago I forever gave up on the notion of selling my CD’s.

Once, during a very dark period of my life, I was unemployed and forced to liquidate a rather substantial portion of my CD collection.  I only sold things that I was certain I would never miss, but alas, I’ve spent the better part of a decade re-buying many classic, essential albums. Of course, I didn’t re-purchase that Shaggy album and a few other dodgy musical choices I’d made in my youth.

Between the years of 2001 and 2007 U2 was a very big influence on me.  Prior to that time I’d had THE JOSHUA TREE for many years but was otherwise a pretty casual fan.   But their surprising return-to-form on 2000’s ALL THAT YOU CAN’T LEAVE BEHIND really made me a U2 fan.  That album and those songs were everywhere in late 2000 and early 2001.  I saw the band perform in November of 2001, and to this day it’s one of the best large-arena rock shows I’ve ever attended.  Bono and the band were a soothing, positive influence during a really scary time.  The 9/11 attacks in New York and my newly acquired draft card weighed heavily on my mind, and U2’s music helped calm me down and put things into the proper perspective.

I was so inspired by the band, and Bono’s philanthropy, that I joined Amnesty International after spotting the organization’s name in the liner notes for ALL THAT YOU CAN’T LEAVE BEHIND.  I also dove back into U2’s back catalogue and became an even greater admirer.  Of course, doing this put the band’s next album, HOW TO DISMANTLE AN ATOMIC BOMB, into greater perspective.  Still, though the band’s previous output might have put their new music to shame, it was better than most what was being played on the radio.

My super-fandom of U2 ended around the time I moved out of my parent’s house and went to college.  U2 was replaced by newer bands, most of whom I will admit have very little to say.  Or have very little they’re willing to do to help make the world a better place, which is one thing U2 can never be faulted for doing.  I think we grew apart, like high school sweethearts who mature in opposite directions.  I quit Amnesty International after I heard one of their mouthpieces say some foolish things on CNN.  I rejected a lot of classic rocks bands I’d loved when I was growing up.

I was willing to give U2 my time and money when NO LINE ON THE HORIZON was released, however I think the purchase was mostly made to honor a band I’d once loved very dearly.  The bottom line is that I’m not sure I’d have given it much consideration if my hearing had been perfect.  Sometimes things fall through the cracks, and NO LINE ON THE HORIZON definitely fell through the cracks.

I’ve decided that tomorrow I’m going to get up, put on headphones, and listen to NO LINE ON THE HORIZON in its entirety.   I’m not sure if this is a worthy exercise, but I do feel like I owe it myself and to U2.  I’m curious to see how I’ll react to it.  The last time I thought about or listened to U2 was back in the autumn of 2009 when I saw the fantastic documentary, IT MIGHT GET LOUD, which featured The Edge.   After seeing that film I immediately had a hankering for classic, 1980’s U2—a hankering I satiated with the astoundingly dense OCTOBER record.

What will I find, and how will I feel when NO LINE ON THE HORIZON ends?  I will report back in Part II The Review.

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