If you were expecting the qualitative equivalanet to U2's first compilation of singles, 'Best of 1980-1990', you will find this one a bit of a disappointment, even if you liked the music of U2 from 1990 to 2000. Here's a song-by-song review:
1. "Even Better Than the Real Thing". As the fourth single from their most successful record of the decade, 'Achtung Baby' (1991), this pop dity, appropriately the opening track, has excellent guitar work and a lyrical irony that would characterize the "reinvention" of U2 in its second decade.
2. "Mysterious Ways". As one of their most popular singles and live songs from 'Achtung Baby', the underwater guitar sound, the funky bass-line, and a distinct lyrical shift into the secular (or is it?) would yield success of U2's debut as a pop band. (NOTE: For U2 fans, a line is changed from the original at 1:43.)
3. "Beautiful Day". If you don't know this one, a dose of optimism and heavy guitars hearlding the first single from the "return-to-their-roots" record, 'All That You Can't Leave Behind' (2000), you have probably been living under a rock.
4. "Electric Storm" [William Orbit Mix]. As the first of two new songs on this release, it is curious that the band included a remix on the original compilation. While the first 50 seconds are appropriate for the accompanying lyrics, this remix lacks the venom of the original version of the song (included only on the Limited Edition bonus disc), the quality of which lies somewhere between just-good and classic.
5. "One". If any song of U2 in the 1990s will be remembered, it is "One", a bittersweet ballad with multiple interpretations, which has been covered by a number of artists (e.g., Johnny Cash, R.E.M.) and would have been just as big of a hit as the other contender for U2's best ballad ("With or Without You") if it had a catchier chorus.
6. "Miss Sarajevo". This sleepy tune is the one single and sole entry included from the U2/Brian Eno collaboration, 'Passengers: Original Soundtracks' (1995). Unfortunately, because of the deletion more than one minute, what was a stunning guest performance by Pavorati on the original version seems awkward immediately following Bono's subdued verse on the edited version here.
7. "Stay (Faraway, So Close!)". This relatively traditional and mellow single from U2's exploration into art rock, 'Zooropa' (1993), moves along nicely, with its value as a U2 classic derived from the lyrical imagry and fine vocal performance by Bono.
8. "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of". Although the lyrics are a bit hokey for Bono, this single was originally an ode to the deceased INXS singer who killed himself in 1997 that took on new meaning in the nationwide grief post-9/11. Nonetheless, it seems a bit out of place among the tracks from the 1990s. (NOTE: This single was not actaully released until 2001, which is when the Grammy-winning "Walk On" and Elevation" were also released, leading me to wonder why these stronger tracks were not also included.)
9. "Gone" [New Mix]. As one of the three tracks from the much-maligned 'Pop' (1997) record, this one was not a single, but it is hard to argue against its inclusion on this compilation, as this plodding rocker is a lyrical highpoint of the U2 canon and has remained a live staple. On this "new mix", certain vocals and guitar parts have been re-recorded and the middle section has been re-arranged to mirror the live version - unfortunately, the result is flat and uninspiring when compared to the original.
10. "Until the End of the World". This is another strong non-single rocker, this time from 'Achtung Baby', which lyrically a conversation between Jesus and Judas. It has rightfully remained within the U2 live set for a decade.
11. "The Hands That Built America". This is the other new song on this compilation and the theme to the upcoming film 'Gangs of New York'. Initially, it comes across as a over-orchestrated and uninteresting ballad; when Bono's filtered, operatic vocal break shows up in the middle, you may find yourself cringing; and with the thrown-in lyrical reference to 9/11 at the end (without any real contextual connection to the rest of the song), one has to wonder what were they thinking?!
12. "Discotheque" [New Mix]. As one of the most controversial singles and introduction to the poorly-received 'Pop' record, this version is the most different from the remixes here. Unfortunately, where the original version was pumped up with many sonic colors and heavy beats, wonderfully closing the seemingly wide gap between club music and metal, this version is, quite simply, unfulfilling by comparison.
13. "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me". The non-LP single from the 'Batman Forever' (1995) soundtrack is a welcome inclusion here, an autobiographical rocker which characterizes U2-in-the-1990s - "You don't know what you're doin' - babe, it must be art".
14. "Staring at the Sun" [New Mix]. As the second and perhaps most well-received single from the 'Pop' record, members of the band have often stated that they could never get the tempo right on this one (as an ill-fated attempt at the song in the opening night of the PopMart tour would prove). However, the added drum tracks in this remix here only adds a sense of disjointedness as compared to the original.
15. "Numb" [New Mix]. In the attempts to rewrite parts of U2's second decade by including several remixes, this is the one that was tampere with the least, and as such, may actually be better than the original, which was easily their most experimental and controversial "single" ever. In this version, the vocals have been moved up in the mix (so you can actually here what the Edge is chanting . . . well, kind of), the Bono's falsetto of the chorus ("I feel numb") in the original has been replaced by the deadpan voice of an unnamed singer who actually sounds numb (drummer, Larry Mullen, I presume), and some guitar has been added to make the sound a bit more anthemic.
16. "The First Time". This is the third non-single track included on the compilation, and while lyrically strong, the minimalist musical elements are far to similar to a previous U2 hit ("All I Want Is You") to warrant inclusion here. On this note, one has to wonder, where are the more experimental singles that defined the decade (such as "The Fly" and "Lemon") or even the stronger more traditional-U2 releases (such as "Please" or the single semi-acoustic version of "Wild Horses")? Whatever the answer, this compilation could have been bettter constructed and pales by comparison to its 1980s counterpart, even if you liked U2 in the 1990s.