All That You Can’t Leave Behind, by U2
Suggested by Ross Silcock
To many, U2 are ridiculous, but people forget they are a legendary act, with pedigree. It’s too easy to mock them, to poke fun, to criticise.
So that’s what I’m going to do.
There are a number of supremely hated people out there in the musicsphere. Bands like Nickleback, like Coldplay, like Creed. People like Phil Collins, like Justin Bieber, like Courtney Love.
Bands like U2. People like Bono.
The real ire in that statement is reserved for “People Like Bono”, but there are things to be said about the band. From their punk-tinged beginnings, they morphed into a bonafide supergroup with a callous musical commercialism, adopting styles and themes at a whim, dropping them just as quickly. The band’s ill-judged partnership with Apple, with every new iDevice pre-loaded with a U2 EP, is likely one of the crassest missteps in marketing history. And guitarist The Edge is criticised for his over-reliance on effects and swirling echoey loops. He’s also got one of the most ridiculous names in the business, but as it’s a nickname derived from the shape of his head I can let that slide.
And then there’s Bono. Pompous, affected, meddling, sanctimonious, behatted-and-sunglassed bellend. Preaching about injustice and poverty and climate activism, yet spending a thousand pounds to fly a hat first-class from London to Modena. The socially-conscious philanthropist that evaded taxes through investments in shell companies for years. The passable rock singer with a didactic lyrical leaning, no visible sense of humour, and an eminently punchable face.
It could be worse, I guess. At least he’s not Mick Hucknall.
All That You Can’t Leave Behind is U2’s tenth album, released in 2000 to a fanfare of commercial success. It likely marked a slight downswing from their dominance of the Eighties and Nineties, but in truth it spawned a handful of their more popular singles, including the exultant favourite of aspirational product advertisers everywhere, the jangling and omnipresent Beautiful Day. The apathy I have for this band as a unit is not mirrored in the strength of their more prominent songs, and it’d be churlish of me to claim otherwise.
In fact, the one-two-three punch of the opening tracks on this album, Beautiful Day into Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of into Elevation, is a solid foundation of fine pop rock that can stand toe-to-toe with anything you can mention. Sure, Stuck In A Moment is a little anodyne, and the obviously improvised lyrics on my standout Elevation leave a lot to be desired (“A mole / Digging in a hole / Digging up my soul”… really?), but there’s passion in parts and a whole lot of recognition, so hell, maybe there’s more to U2 than memes and banter.
Unfortunately, the rest of the album fails to cash the cheque that the first three tracks presented. Rather than building on the energies of tracks one and three, it chooses instead to expand the beige tapestry of track two. While the songs are nice, they’re not exciting or memorable, ambling peaceably by while the listener thinks back to earlier triumphs.
All That You Can’t Leave Behind gets 5/10. It’s not the Sweetest Thing I’ve ever heard, and I’ve little Desire to revisit. As far as U2 goes, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.