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I am a mother; how could I wear clothes that have been made by other people's children? -- Ali, on her Edun clothing line

U2's 'Rattle and Hum' is Hard-Edged and Forceful

The Boston Globe
There comes a point in every famous band's career where it is assumed -- by band, record label and fans -- that every blip and burp is worthy of preservation and presentation. Consider the Who's Odds & Sods or group leader Pete Townshend's two solo Scoop records; Bob Dylan and The Band's Basement Tapes; the Rolling Stones' Jammin' With Edward; the Sex Pistols' The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle. Quality varies; caveat emptor.

These projects can mean a slew of "live" tracks (often reworked versions of hits), various cover songs, new material, odds and ends. You'll hear a band stretching beyond its usual sound, taking liberties that fame and/or fortune allows. You'll hear string sections, horn sections, famous guests aiding in songwriting or playing, interview snippets, band members singing who don't usually sing.

Now is the time for U2, whose Rattle and Hum double album, in the shops Tuesday, includes all of the above. Fortunately, U2's blips and burps aren't just random emissions or errant ego-trips; there's a healthy dose of new material -- nine songs -- and the Irish quartet's choice of collaborators (Bob Dylan, B.B. King, Brian Eno, New Voices of Freedom, the Memphis Horns, Benmont Tench) and new ideas (the magnificent strings in "All I Want Is You," the horns in "Angel of Harlem," the swelling gospel chorus in "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For") are most apt.

Rattle and Hum stands as one of the group's more forceful works -- as full of hard-edged idealism, rock 'n' roll fire and spiritual grace as any of its past efforts. It's no stopgap album, no nonsense before the next "real" album.

It was recently revealed that U2 took in some $42 million last year; Rattle and Hum, the sound track to the film opening Nov. 3, proves that the acquisition of wealth is no automatic corrupter. A line from Bono in "God Part II" addresses the conundrum: "I don't believe in excess, success is to give/ I don't believe in riches but you should see where I live/ I...I believe in love." Honesty, altruism and sly wit in one couplet. Nice.

Certain themes remain constant: the search for love and redemption, the need for justice, the struggle to turn anger into power. The aforementioned song, "God Part II," is the album's most striking new track. U2 didn't write the first "God." John Lennon did; it was the even-tempered, but stunning, closer on his first post-Beatles album, a denunciation of dogma, nostalgia, religion and false heroes -- and a stirring pronouncement in self-determination and binding love. U2's Bono won't be denouncing God, but he will lay bare nostalgia ("I don't believe in the '60s, in the golden age of pop/You glorify the past when the future dries up"), drugs, gangs, capital punishment and Lennon biographer Albert Goldman ("I don't believe in Goldman, his type is like a curse/ Instant karma's gonna get him, if I don't get him first"). The song is also one of contradictary impulses -- an idea bolstered by the Edge's churning, corkscrew guitar lines and Larry Mullen Jr.'s stark percussive bursts -- and the peace found when one's faith comes calling.

The weakness of the record are the covers -- the Beatles' "Helter Skelter" (which Bono claims to steal back from Charles Manson) and Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower." When approaching covers, U2 is often too studied and too easily crosses the righteous/self-righteous line. This happens in both tunes -- Bono can't be "miles" above his lover in "Helter Skelter," he has to be "right here" above her. But these are minor flaws, and there's too much to rave about: a rousing paean to Billie Holiday called "Angel of Harlem," the chiming guitar transcendence of "Pride," the pure pop glory of "Desire," the power-of-love tunes Dylan played on and/or co-wrote -- "Hawkmoon 269" and "Love Rescue Me" -- the Edge's song of hope "Van Diemen's Land" (dedicated to poet John Boyle O'Reilly), a gruff, stinging and spiritual workout with B.B. King, "When Love Comes To Town."

There's a terse moment in the live version of "Silver and Gold," which U2 wrote for the Artists Against Apartheid album, where after speaking of apartheid's evils, Bono breaks it off to say,"Am I bugging you? Don't mean to bug you. OK, Edge play the blues." And Edge, appropriately, spins a dizzying coda, amplifying the bitterness Bono (or anyone) has to feel about apartheid. "All I Want Is You" closes the LP on a gorgeous note, with Van Dyke Parks' string arrangment transporting the song into rock 'n' roll heaven. As the notes fade out, the notion is clear: No rock group has both remained as true to its original cause and progressed as strikingly as this one.

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