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'Dad, you should listen to the radio more. You know, like, I'm not sure this is really, you know, gonna go over.' -- Edge, repeating his daughter's response to How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb


The Cars That Ate Paris

- May 23, 1992

by Andrew Collins

"CELEBRITY IS A JOB DEATH IS A CAREER MOVE REBELLION IS PACKAGED CONTRADICTION IS BALANCE MONEY CRASH BABY CANDY NAPALM WE ARE PART OF THE MALAISE"

Wooo! Where are we now? A Manic Street Preachers' wet dream? 16,000 hot sardines, 200 francs apiece, 25 television screens churning out endless slogans, phrases, disjointed words and blipverts over the ear-pulverizing bump and grind of hi-octane ROCK. It is a quite spectacular experience, like a great, heaving cross between 1984, Election Special, The Doors movie and that mindf--- IQ test in The Parallax View. It is eye, ear, nose and throat food of the highest quality. It is also a U2 concert. Who'd have thought it?

"We love people when they're dead," reasons Bono, clearly still relishing his new-found "look" - part Fat Elvis, part Roy Orbison, part Peter Hook - as he slithers onstage to the reflex sexual release of the stadium audience. Tonight's theme is thus established. Dead dudes. Bono has quit playing the blue-eyed Boys Brigade standard-bearer, he is now the Ghost of Glamour Past, the Grim Reaper, Pope John Paul George & Ringo. The notorious white flag of old is replaced by a rock 'n' roll white towel, tugged tightly around his neck, then waved round his head for a sort of practical Morrissey effect.

Jim Morrison, Marlene Dietrich, James Joyce, Billie Holiday - the dead walk the earth in U2's all-new world of slinky-but-literate reptile zeitgeist sex. Bono kicks things off with a grave epistle from the tragic Doors' poet warrior: "Bumped into Jim Morrison last night," he slurs. "He had a message for the people of Paris, he said, 'Buy as many U2 albums as you can possibly afford, and the world will be a better place.' Hey! I'm just passing on the message"

The self-effacing post-Achtung Baby U2 are everything that made them globally famous and less. Gone is the blatant self-worship and the God's Cowboys chic. This is a much darker band, more drama, less crisis, a quartet for your end-of-the-millenium psychosis blues. Flanked on every side by tellys and Trabants, U2 might actually be playing a band in a Bladerunner-style futurevision rock opera about some leather-trousered, necrofiliac lush, the man would be Lizard King. As the flashed-up slogan that precedes "The Fly" has it - "EVERYTHING YOU KNOW IS WRONG." Right?

It all starts in piss-poor fashion. Sat smugly in the glitterball Trabant that gets lowered into and out of the auditorium, "Guru, viber and DJ" BP Fallon spouts hippy tosh about the international currency of the two-finger peace sign, urging us all to stand up and exude good karma to Bob Marley's insufferable "One Love." I fully expect him to ask us to stand up and turn to the person on our right, say hello and shake hands. Two fingers to all that - what a shame they let Fallon out of the car before lifting it into the roof and spinning it.

Then the lights go out. Hurrah. Bono appears, alone, his improvised sean nos intro wafting into the rafters, and it's time to enter the Menagerie of Weird. "Zoo Station" scrapes its fingernails down the blackboard of your preconceptions, all hot breath and cold sweat. U2's own belly-dancer shimmys in the margin of a swivelling funky "Mysterious Ways." Those cute little junk cars descend obediently. Buffaloes trot majestically over the back screens during "One," The hall transformed into a magical forest of Zippo fireflies (it's crass, I know, but the French-kissing couple sat beside me have put me in a forgiving mood).

During "Tryin' To Throw Your Arms Around The World," Bono foxtrots down a catwalk into what can only be described as a paddock-area, mid-crowd. The next thing Mr. Cabaret says is "A woman needs a man, and I need The Edge." Joined by the fretboard wizard, he hugs him like a brother and pops a bottle of champagne. God, it's so theatrical! Let's hope Suede carry notebooks. "Larry! Adam! Come on down!"

Pausing only to tell some apocryphal yarn about being turned away from a restaurant on the Champs Elysees where Joyce used to eat for not wearing a suit (and returning with a Commes Des Garcons number in a box with a large salmon enclosed!), Bono leads his lads through the rather dull "Angel of Harlem." However, it is deftly busked out of Novelty Island and sexily turns into Abba's "Dancing Queen" at the end!

They then knock off a better version of "Satellite of Love" than Lou Reed's been doing on his tour, Larry spins that car high above their heads, and everything you know is indeed wrong. Snake-like, U2 have managed to shed an entire suit of skin. Of course, detractors would still have them tried like Nazi war criminals for atrocities already committed. These people - like U2 circa '84, ironically - need to get a grip.

Senseless Things fans should steer clear of Earls Court next week. The U2 show couldn't be less about bobbing up and down in a "F---" sweatshirt - it is an ambitious, melodramatic, star-spangled and, most importantly, daft extravaganza of sound, headlights and public misinformation.

NME, 1992. All rights reserved.

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