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 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:
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.
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.
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.