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Wide Awake in America,
This review is from: Rattle And Hum (Audio CD)
Somewhere along the extended length of a career, whether you're a writer or filmmaker or musician, you hit a creative peak and along with impulse and self-belief comes the reasoning that you can do no wrong. On the whole critics are quite good at identifying that creative peak in artists too, and the reviews and analyses that follow usually move in one of two directions: either it's your masterwork and will never be bettered; or you've become bloated, self-indulgent and think that if you write, direct or sing the telephone directory, people will go out and buy it in droves. Well, if The Joshua Tree was U2's peak (and arguably their re-invention with 1991's Achtung Baby runs it close!) Rattle and Hum was by-and-large, as reviews have noted, their comedown. A mishmash of ideas said the critics, a potpourri of studio outtakes and ill-considered "classic" covers that U2 had no right touching. And then there was that "discovery-of-America" odyssey that the accompanying film turned out to be. Hindsight is always useful in these instances and now history is being somewhat kinder to Rattle and Hum - possibly because in comparison to Pop-era U2 in the late '90s, this record now looks like Sgt Pepper, Pet Sounds and Exile on Main Street all in one! There are vignettes here - Van Dieman's Land, Hawkmoon 269, the Dylan collaboration, Love Rescue Me - that don't really work, and one can still accept that All Along the Watchtower isn't quite Hendrix in his pomp. But the thrust of Desire, the grandeur of All I Want is You and the sheer joy of re-creating Memphis-sound rock and soul with Angel of Harlem (surely a bona-fide U2 classic?!) makes this a record worth re-visiting every now and then. Add to that a few gems such as Heartland and the angry, Achtung Baby prelude, God PtII, and you have some lasting legacies here. And oh yes, that film. When it moves from the somewhat self-conscious visitations to Graceland and Sun Studios (and even there the "live" take of Angel of Harlem is pretty scorching) to the live footage, for a band to leave off the album (which was after all there to shift the units, not the film which got a limited and short-lived theatrical release) such definitive live versions of With or Without You, Where the Streets Have no Name and a quite brilliant Exit, is to return to that creative peak theory and the utter self-belief in one's material. If it doesn't fit the record's intent, the fans will accept it, they seemed to say. Of much more importance anyway and featured on both record and film, is the apocalyptic rendition of Bullet the Blue Sky which sums up the time, context, and history for this album. Bono - already on the way to being the world's guardian, missionary musician - had travelled to El Salvador and seen what the American-backed right-wing government was doing to its people and at a time when Ronald Reagan was being hailed as one of America's great presidents and praised for bringing about the beginning of the end of the Cold War. As U2 toured America through 1987 and 88 and realised how little the people knew of their government's Central and South American foreign policy, the song took on ever more pleading and ferocious overtones. The final lines said it all and complicate far more the relationship with the US at this time that the band had, which people have often been quick to see as fawning and overly reverential. "Pounding the women and children, who run, into the arms of America" sang Bono breathlessly at the end. U2's America was grandiose and memorable, but it was also frightening and ignoble. Any record that can capture even a fleeting moment of life going on around it such as this one, therefore deserves your attention.