Book Reviews

U2 – On Track: Book Review

ON TRACK: U2 every album, every song – Eoghan Lyng

Sonicbond Publishing

The band everyone loves to hate. Or is it just Bono that winds people up? The author talks of Bono being guilty of self-indulgence (really??) and substandard lyrics in recent times, yet for every person who despises U2 there’s going to be one that will come down heftily in their favour.

Eoghan Lyng goes through their work album by album, song by song, adding in quotes (fortunately he’s not relied on them for upping the word count) from the U2 By U2 tome, which appear at significant junctions or to illustrate a point. As per, each section/album is enhanced with other songs from the period to ensure we don’t miss out on the ‘extras’: those songs that crop up as b-sides or on compilations or even as seemingly improvised in concert. I recall Bobo asking Edge if he knew The Beatles Rain at a very soggy Milton Keynes in 1985. To be fair, the band had the foresight to let out some gems that could have remained in the vaults. It’s not often that compilations (in this case the 1980-1990 and 1990-200 sets) get such a star rating for their content. I think I even picked up my double CD sets in Poundland which was even more of a bargain.

He implies most clearly in the intro that he’s a fan. The On Track authors tend to have that perspective. However, he’s not afraid to pass judgment when he feels the music isn’t up to scratch. He clarifies the way the band has constantly sought to reinvent themselves, some times more successfully than others, while generally avoiding laziness and predictability. Neither is he afraid to stick the boot in when it’s necessary – An Cat Dubh for one early example, where the lyrics are “appalling” and Get On Your Boots gets a real roasting, representing “everything that was misguided, misjudged and misshaped” about the pup that is No Line On The Horizon. Indeed the song is “risible, raucous, rancid – some may call it rubbish” (a phrase designed to challenge Michael Palin’s Pilate from the Life Of Brian).

He’s clearly a fan of the October album. “Boy is the more interesting album, October the more important,” going so far as to consider it as the blueprint for the mighty The Joshua Tree. By the time we get past those glory days of world domination with The Joshua Tree and the chutzpah of Zoo TV, there’s the rockier path from Zooropa to the folly of Pop. The latter might have seen U2 coming close to hip, but All That You Can’t Leave Behind (and the gigs touring that album) brought back a Eighties excitement. Indeed, our author cites The Joshua Tree as the template for the latter-day classic, All That You Can’t Leave behind (“U2’s tenth album and also their best to date.”)

The focus might well have shifted to the increasingly spectacular live shows and the disappointment of No Line On The Horizon (Moment Of Surrender aside, its status confirmed by the fact it was often used as a set closer) might have proved a line too far. From a personal viewpoint, it’s where I lapsed after putting in a decent shift, and the last two albums have passed me by.

Best album? I’ve had the discussion and Achtung Baby features highly, usually challenging The Joshua Tree, but as Bono says of Sunday Bloody Sunday at Red Rocks, there’s been a lot of talk, maybe too much talk, about U2. As such,, it may have been beyond the scope of the narrative to look deeper at how some songs developed; ie, the brilliance of Running To Stand Still on the Zoo TV tour or maybe trying the discover the best version of Where The Streets Have No Name (surely the Elevation 2001 Live from Boston film – although I know Dom Walsh likes the Sydney Zoo TV version) which is the sort of thing that On Track readers would love to share their thoughts with. In fact, the tip of the iceberg may have only been scratched.

The hardcore will take delight in engaging in friendly and hearty banter to disagree with the occasional opinion and in finding the odd rogue point for correction. The Rattle & Hum period seems to be particularly prone to a few blobs as even Patti Smith’s Dancing Barefoot (from the When Love Comes To Town single) is transformed five lines later to Walking Barefoot. While I’m having a moan, the Live Projects section does seem scant. A five-line paragraph for the Zoo TV Live in Sydney extravaganza when U2 started to go seriously (and impressively) large and no mention at all of the Elevation In Boston film (which is a personal fave) or the 360 tour film, which may have warranted more.

Ultimately we have a tome that for those like me, who were fervent and lapsed, provides a reminder of what once was and what could have been. A chance to reassess their more recent Songs Of Experience/Innocence work while wallowing in some nostalgia, God forbid that U2 would ever become a heritage act.

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