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The good news from our point of view is that [Bono] prefers working on music more than anything else. And also he's unelectable. -- Edge


Hot Press
U2 Melon, Remixes for Propaganda (Island) Rating: 8 out of 12

For starters, let's define the parameters for this framework document of a review. Melon isn't indispensable but neither is it an indulgent cash-in. As with so many remixes, it does have its moments of torpor when ambient textures and skeletal rhythms carry little more than technical interest, but for anyone who's genuinely intrigued by U2's progress since Achtung Baby, these nine tracks amount to a fascinating, instructive document.

Certainly, they're extreme examples of how U2's music has changed and why they retain a relevance that contemporaries like Simple Minds have lost. Since Achtung Baby, there's been a definite profile if not necessarily power-shift with Larry Mullen and Adam Clayton getting the chance to demonstrate why they're so essential to the band. Once the most hyperactive band on the planet, U2 can now make a virtue of slow-motion grooves. After 15 years on Island -- the premier rock band on the U.K.'s most consistently innovative black music label of its generation and more -- some Rasta funk must seep into a band's soul.

So check first the two alternative versions of "Numb." Bono's Fat Lady vocals, the one sign of compensating optimism on the original, get culled but in a second switch, the backing tracks lose their robotic Kraftwerkian connotations as U2 and crucially, Adam get Dub-wise -- the whole experience being rather like listening to a desolate ganga-ed funk in a vacuum where Edge and Bono have dissolved to leave only the shadows of their presence.

So one result of the remix process is to make these Nineties new versions sound far more remote and ambiguous than the originals on unrestricted public display. Some of this is due to the necessarily detached nature of this laboratory project -- the beakers are bubbling and Frankenstein is still inert matter -- but with both "Stay" and the first version of "Mysterious Ways," it's like approaching the familiar U2 sound through layers of gauze. Those expecting abrupt emotional catharsis will be severely disappointed.

Furthermore, these remixes make a case for U2 as something other than a strictly classical four-squared rock band. Nor is Melon a radical new departure. Ever since Brian Eno arrived for The Unforgettable Fire, U2 have used their B-sides and surplus tracks as vehicles to examine new blueprints, and their first foray into the dance remix format came as far back as a sadly limited exclusive promotional 12-inch of "When Love Comes to Town," sometime before Primal Scream discovered the wheel on Screamadelica.

But Melon isn't all shadow play. Far more divertingly free of technofreeze are the trio of Paul Oakenfold-enhanced tracks, "Lemon," "Mysterious Ways" and "Even Better Than the Real Thing," the last as hedonistic a dance-rock hybrid as any of their juniors in the E Generation have manufactured. And then there's the most conclusive mark of U2's adaptability : "Salome." On an earlier B-side incarnation, U2 played it as Seventies blues-rock like a meeting of the Faces with Ike and Tina Turner, but here it's comprehensively remodelled for today's dance floor. Does Primal Scream's Mercury award still annoy Bono?

So what's the status of Melon? Certainly U2 specialists and obsessives will snatch it up but any hack or musoid with any professional interest in them just might learn from it how U2 are still able to reinvent themselves. As for the rest of you, I wouldn't necessarily recommend you forfeit that holiday in the Bahamas for it but should you find this Melon in a friend's stash, go listen. It may not nourish you with all U2's essential vitamins but it certainly has the trace elements.

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