A ten-pack this time, as we continue to march along.
#144 – “Salome”
This “Even Better Than the Real Thing” B-side has a nicely slinky groove, with more sex and less solemnity than we usually get with U2, even during this more groove-ey Achtung Baby era. The Edge’s guitar sound on this track is rawer than usual, and the structure of the song, with the guitar absent for the verses and then coming snarling in at the chorus, makes it sound even more prominent. This is a fun little throwaway track, but in the end nothing more.
#143 – “North and South of the River”
Yet another B-side (there will be a lot of them up here), this one to the “Staring at the Sun” single. The impassioned political lyrics (lovers divided by a metaphorical barrier) is kind of ruined by the odd “bubbles popping” synth effect in the bass line. Songs where the lyrics are undercut by the music can work, but this one doesn’t quite. Add on top an ill-advised synth string line and what could have been a fine enough little ballad gets kind of muddied up and derailed by the too-playful production.
#142 – “Miami”
See #155 – this is the other Pop song where the experiment doesn’t pay off. Starting with a fuzzy, wanting-to-be hip-hop-but-failing beat with travelogue lyrics ("Print shirts and southern accents/Cigars and big hair") half-sung, not-really rapped over it, the song seems to be trying just a little too hard. This is the kind of thing Radiohead would pull off years later (electronic effects, mumbled lyrics, distortion) but that U2 couldn’t really. When people think of All That You Can’t Leave Behind as a striking return to form, it’s in contrast to songs like this that they are making that comparison. Still, the John Bonham beat Larry brings in at the end is fun, and I do admire the effort.
#141 – “Is That All?”
Another U2 song, here a track off of October, that feels like a half-finished thought. When the guitar comes in at the beginning of the song it sounds as if the band had forgotten to record the first half of the track. The riff is sort of classic, and would get used elsewhere (U2 fans who came to the group with the Red Rock disc, like me, will recognize it immediately), but the song it surrounds never really coheres into something complete. Some nice pieces though, and a bit of foreshadowing of what would come later.
#140 – “Heartland”
One of the Rattle & Hum originals, this song has much to recommend it, with some very clean Joshua Tree-style guitar riffs and some nicely galloping drums, but something about Bono’s too-serious delivery clashes with the music. The knock on Rattle & Hum is that it’s far too serious and far too obviously a band playing, not too effectively, with American music they had heard while on tour, and this song is the one I think those accusations most solidly land on.
#139 – “Trash, Trampoline and the Party Girl”
This early B-side gained some traction as a live entry on the Under a Blood Red Sky EP, but in studio form it’s just a little too self-conscious to work. Many, many artists can sell the old “roughly-strummed acoustic chords” thing, but it’s never really been U2’s forte. On top of that, Bono is playing with some kind of drunken, slurred delivery that conveys not rough poetry but mental handicap. Finally, the lyrics, which aim at Who-like character creation (a boy named Trash Can, a girl named Party Girl), are flat and do not really paint character the way the band meant.
#138 – “Luminous Times (Hold On To Love)”
The “With or Without You” B-side, with declamatory piano chords and crashing drums, falls a bit flat, and never really builds to the climax it clearly wants to. U2 would do much better with the kind of slow-build to a big climax thing they go for here on the Zooropa single “The Real Thing.” I do like the rapid, “Pinball Wizard”-esque strumming we get at the end.
#137 – “A Room at the Heartbreak Hotel”
How many more B-sides do we still have to get through? This “Angel of Harlem” track actually has a bit to recommend it, with a nice slow start that builds to a climax that actually feels earned and exciting. I’m not sure the back-up singers and horns at the end completely work, but you can see what the band was shooting for. I’m also a fan of Bono’s vocal here, which melds the shouty thing with his natural rich tenor nicely.
#136 – “A Celebration”
Early punk rock-aping U2. Not a classic, not a keeper, but fun in its view into the band’s early toying with identity and sound. There’s a scent of classic rock sound here that makes this a fun listen, but not enough to return to.
#135 – “Stateless”
Another Million-Dollar Hotel oddity, this slow, moody quasi-ballad has a nicely yearning melody and a pleasant enough groove, with a slinky and fun bass line from Adam. The lyrics are lesser U2 aphorism-lite stuff (“There’s no race, only the prize/There is no tomorrow, only tonight”) but this one goes down easy.