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"I find someone like [James] Joyce quite rock 'n' roll, because he was bending and messing with words."

-- Bono

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Column: off the record..., vol. 12-533

@U2, September 23, 2012
By: Ian Ryan


off the record, from @U2

The last time I wrote an OTR, I mentioned that I thought the clarity of the Blu-ray release of U2 360 Live From The Rose Bowl was subpar compared with what I had come to expect from Blu-ray releases. Great sound, amazing colors, but there was this haze filling every moment of the movie. Mr. Matt McGee sent me a message saying he thought the image quality was fine on his end, and that perhaps I had a bum copy.

Mulling this over, I started perusing the various albums and box sets I have. I went through the deluxe editions of The Joshua Tree, No Line On The Horizon, Achtung Baby and all the others: releases that had large numbers of images from each era collected into individual publications. As I was looking at the pictures, it hit me. I had never noticed it before: perhaps I'm dense, but there are almost no clear, straightforward images of this band in their official products.

From Boy to Rattle & Hum to How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, it is extraordinarily difficult to find promotional images or videos of U2 that don't use a gauze or a filter or a color wash to distort and blur, or that aren't of just a close-up chunk of the person, or that aren't fuzzy due to the quality of the original recording or volume of shadows. The October re-release has a few color pictures that are pretty clear, the U2 360 tour booklet has black-and-white (and heavily air-brushed) images, and PopMart Live From Mexico City has more black-and-white and airbrushed images. The only clear color image I could find of the boys in one of their releases was on the cover of U2 7, and even that has the airbrushing. Larry still looked fairly youthful at the time, but not that young.

Taking all that into consideration, I now realize that U2 360 Live From The Rose Bowl simply looks like the vast majority of U2's photographic releases: awash in colors, textures and blurs. They're at a point where they're making their movies reflect the what their photographs always looked like. I was just too dense to pick up on it and assumed it was the quality of the Blu-ray conversion. Again, maybe this has always been obvious to most folks. I'm just surprised it didn't click with me before.

Bono will be receiving an award of the Órden del Águila Azteca from the Mexican government in recognition of his humanitarian work later this month. The first thing I thought of was the animosity that U2 held towards former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo for his security detail's treatment of U2's former head of security Jerry Mele. U2 refused to perform in Mexico for a time afterward, but have obviously returned since then. Realpolitik suggests that any sort of long-term grudge against the Mexican government would be unrealistic, but I still thought it was cool that Bono would accept the award, regardless of past history.

Last week, Gary Boas wrote in his OTR that he wanted a "killer U2 half-album." He argued that albums like The Joshua Tree, No Line On The Horizon and All That You Can't Leave Behind started off extremely strong, but petered off as albums with their second halves and lost their way a bit. I would say Zooropa, Pop and War also suffered from this problem. All of the albums above have good, even great, songs on their second halves, but don't maintain the album coherence and consistent quality of their first halves.

So, in response to Gary, I want a killer U2 whole album. U2 have released three albums that are just as strong on the second half as the first half, to my ear: Boy, Achtung Baby and How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. "Another Time, Another Place" and "Electric Co." are just as strong as "I Will Follow" and "A Day Without Me." "The Fly," "Mysterious Ways" and "Ultraviolet (Light My Way)" hold their own against "Until The End Of The World," "One" and "Even Better Than The Real Thing." "City Of Blinding Lights" serves as a supreme tent-pole with "Vertigo," "Miracle Drug" and "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own" on one side and "Crumbs From Your Table," "Original Of The Species" and "Fast Cars" on the other side.

Rather than seeing another album that is stellar at the start, but loses it's way thematically a bit by the end, give me one of the albums that stays on its path the whole way through. Those are the albums that are smoothest listen from start to finish. There are only two songs in U2's entire catalog that I'll skip over (sorry, "With A Shout" and "Love Rescue Me") when listening to an album, but the consistent quality from start to finish is what makes a release truly come together conceptually. Let's have it.

© Ryan/@U2, 2012.

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