"As regards Zoo TV, it's so logical for U2 to do this -- I don't think they understand exactly what they are doing and I like that. It takes guts."
-- Gavin Friday
U2 Lists: Top 5 Songs That Make Me Wish U2 Would Release a Real Rock Album
October 13, 2010
[Ed. note: This is the 22nd in a "U2 Lists" series, where @U2 staffers pick a topic and share their personal rankings on something U2-related.]
U2 are a rock band. Bono has made sure we know he's the last of the rock stars. When The Edge cuts loose, he can whip out a blistering guitar solo like he's on fire! Hot! However, it seems as though they're better known for their ballads and pop songs than their rock songs. When I see them live, I'm ecstatic to see them play any song, but I kind of wish I had more of an excuse to jump and scream and get a great workout. Even their more popular rock songs, the "Beautiful Days" and "Mysterious Ways" of their catalog, aren't as truly energetic as the band is capable of. Songs like "Breathe" have the 'tude, but not the speed. Songs like "Treasure" have the energy, but the vibe doesn't quite do the trick. Here are the best representatives of what they could do if they decided to make a heavy album.
5. "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me"
It's got swagger, it's cocky, it's vain and it's self-aggrandizing. It also has one of the Edge's most distinctive guitar riffs ever and it's as full of itself as a great rock song should be. If you can divorce it from the day-glo Batman movie it was attached to, the song that brought Mr. Macphisto back for PopMart really comes to life. It's not their loudest song, nor their fastest, but Edge's sleazy guitars, Larry and Adam's snake-like rhythms, and Bono's narcissistic lyrics show exactly the sort of brash, ego-fueled attitude a rock album should wield.
Such a wicked, wicked song. Although it's probably the most techno-influenced song on Pop, it's also one of the hardest rockers the band has ever done. Edge's banshee-wail guitars and Adam's rumbling bass set the stage for one of the most bitter, angry, distressed songs U2 has made. Bono's cutting lyrics are self-exploratory on a level that's rare even for him. The music is a monstrous predator, chewing and shredding its way through every happy, whimsical song the band ever wrote. And in the middle of it all, Edge has those two brief solos that sound almost angelic. It doesn't matter that they haven't made many songs like this. What matters is that they could. What matters is that they DID. Now, if only they'd start playing it live again.
I remember the first time I heard this song. Heck, I remember the first 20 times I heard this song. (It helps that I listened to it for about an hour straight after I first got it). I honestly didn't know what to do with it. It was terse and impatient, with a very un-U2-like tempo. It was five minutes' worth of energy crammed into three. A lot of folks, myself included, didn't believe that Bono's hype when he said that Edge had a riff in a song called "Full Metal Jacket" (which was worked into "Vertigo") that was pure rock. How wrong we were. There was a bit of me that didn't really accept that this was a true U2 song until I saw the Hanover Quay video they made. It didn't seem like it could come from the U2 that made "Kite" and "Wild Honey" just a couple of years before. If "Beautiful Day" re-established the band’s popularity, "Vertigo" re-established their rock cred. “
2. "Bullet the Blue Sky"
I have a live recording of this song from the Zoo TV tour. I believe it was recorded in Antwerp, but I'm not positive. Bono's vocals are put through a distorter, the music has the gravity of a black hole, and by the end he's demanding "Bring in that sucker! Bring in that sucker!" like an executioner. U2 cranks it up to 11, and it sounds like they blow the holy hell out of the place. Bono's singing, he's bellowing, he's roaring. In more recent tours, the Edge has taken to playing a more funk-inspired version and Bono's vocals have been a bit of weak sauce. There's none of that in this recording. This is the band playing one of their most outraged creations and letting every bit of disgust and frustration out in the music. One of Bono's most memorable vocals ever in my mind is the end of the song. He's absolutely screaming "It's America! America!" like it's a cry for vengeance and punishment. It's U2 as a bulldozer, crushing everything in its path.
1. "The Fly"
Specifically, the version they played on the Elevation tour. This may be my favorite live performance from the band ever. Rather than Edge playing individual, warbling notes during the verses like he did in the Achtung Baby, Zoo TV and Vertigo versions, he's playing the opening riff over and over. It gives the song such a brilliant charge. It makes me want to jump up and just start smashing things. They also made a very wise choice to get rid of The Edge's falsetto in the chorus and let Bono sing the whole thing. Bono has described "The Fly" as a phone call from hell, and getting rid of the falsetto helps with this vibe. The chorus becomes a tiny refuge of cynical, bitter peace in the middle of the storm that is the rest of the song. The Edge also gets one of his best bridges ever, just tearing the heck out of it. That it has some of the best lyrics of Bono's career is pure bonus. There's a part of me that wishes they'd play this song at every U2 show I see. I know that U2 will never be a Metallica or a Mudvayne or a Rammstein. I wouldn't want them to be. I like that they're balanced, coherent and approachable. I just wish they'd let their rock flag fly a bit higher.
© @U2/Ryan, 2010.