U2 – “The Unforgettable Fire”

Picture the scene: you have had a hard day at work; you have come home late; it is cold; you are hungry. You open the fridge. Alas! There is nothing to eat, save for a Weight Watchers lasagne. You think how much you like lasagne – meaty, cheesy, rich, heavy, flavoursome; perhaps to be enjoyed with a strong red in front of a roaring fire. You contemplate the Weight Watchers faux-lasagne resignedly. Even the picture on the packet is not appetising. You decide to eat it anyway.

You finish some 10 minutes later. It was not a rewarding experience. The food was saccharine sweet; gloopy; lacking in substance. You are still hungry. You resort to filling up on toast.

U2 - The Unforgettable Fire

U2 – The Unforgettable Fire

U2 are the Weight Watchers lasagne of rock and roll.

I have always found U2’s music to be an ersatz approximation of the real thing; occasionally superficially appealing but always strangely unfulfilling and unconvincing, even at its most passionate.

Mostly, of course, this is to do with Bono. He is maybe not a glassy-eyed, avaricious, self-aggrandising, heartless, pseudo-intellectual, hypocritical, shape-shifting lizard, but I strongly suspect that he bullies The Edge.

This much is obvious when one looks at promo pictures of U2:

U2

Figure 1: Witness The Edge’s bullied demeanour

SCENE: A recording studio outside Dublin in 1984. THE EDGE has arrived early and is diligently practising his riff, the one that BONO nicked for him off the first Associates album.

Enter ADAM.

ADAM: Alright there, The Edge? How’s tricks? I’ve just been shagging Naomi Campbell.

THE EDGE (embarrassed): Gosh Adam, that’s nice (blushes). Are you joining us for the recording session?

ADAM (surprised): Fuck no, you won’t be needing me – you can just fill in my bass parts, right?

THE EDGE: Of course, Adam. No problem.

ADAM (relieved): Righto. Righto. (Looks around; taps foot). Well, I’m off to the pub. See you later.

Exit ADAM

THE EDGE practices some more. Enter BONO with LACKEYS. BONO is dressed in a pork pie hat, checked trousers, a short-sleeved white shirt, Cuban heels and a leather waistcoat with pens in the breast pocket.

BONO (loudly): Alright der, da Edge! Edgie boy! Da Edgemeister!

LACKEY 1: Hur, hur, hur

THE EDGE (quietly): Good morning Bono

BONO (mimicking): Good morning Bono! Good morning Bono! Good morning Bono WHAT?

THE EDGE (avoiding eye contact): Good morning Bono, sir

BONO (to LACKEYS): Dat’s better isn’t it eh? Isn’t dat better lads?

BONO grabs THE EDGE in a headlock and drags him around the studio.

LACKEY 1: Hur, hur, hur

BONO (dragging THE EDGE back and forth): Are you me best pal, eh? Are ye?

LACKEY 2: Rub his head, Paul! Rub his head!

BONO (pausing, with THE EDGE still in a headlock):  Now why would Oi rub his head now lads? Why would Oi do a ting loike dat?

BONO grabs THE EDGE’S woolly hat and rubs it viciously across his head.

THE EDGE: Ow! Ow!

BONO: Aw, Edgie – does dat hurt? Let’s have a look and see, eh lads?

THE EDGE: No Bono sir, please!

BONO (removing THE EDGE’S woolly hat with a flourish to reveal THE EDGE’s bald pate): Ta da!

LACKEYS (applauding): Hur, hur, hur! Hur, hur, hur! Hur, hur, hur!

Enter bald ROBED FIGURE.

ROBED FIGURE (shrieking): SILENCE! What is the meaning of this IMPUDENCE! (To BONO) Explain yourself!

BONO (cowering): Please sur it was da Edge sur, I didn’t do nothing, Mr Eno, sur.

ENO (for it is he): SILENCE! A likely story. I will punish you later. For now we must commence recording and you must do exactly what I say! EXACTLY WHAT I SAY! IS THAT UNDERSTOOD?

BONO (craven): Yes sur, Mr Eno sur!

ENO: SILENCE! I despise you. I despise you all.

And so on.

For me The Unforgettable Fire LP is the acme of U2’s career: delicate and dark, sparse and rich. With the exception of the clattering Pride, Bono’s usual bombast is absent; instead his lyrics are impressionistic: stream-of-consciousness sketches.  The title track is both understated and dramatic. Phrases cascade and career off chiming guitars and sonorous strings, conjuring a multitude of perspectives and a feast of senses and colours – cold and heat, light and dark, pain and sensuality;  the red wine that punctures the skin.

I hear its echo in the bruised beauty of The National’s Alligator.

And I can’t think of higher praise than that.

Mike

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