September 11, 2003

Crypt of Mediocrity: Rattle and Hum

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There has rarely been a more radical shift in rock from sincerity to irony than the period between 1988’s The Joshua Tree and 1991’s Achtung Baby. On the former, Bono is a self-anointed martyr, equipped with the ego of Jim Morrison, the righteousness of Jerry Falwell, and the political philosophy of Gandhi. On the latter, he’s a self-deprecating artificial glam extension of the digital age, seemingly made entirely out of dollups of hair gel. The quick litmus test of which album you’re listening to is the videos from each period. “Where the Streets Have No Name” is a rousing bacchanal of benevolent and beatific energy, presaging a future without racism or violence. On the other hand, “Mysterious Ways” shoves a camera in Bono’s crotch. Either way, there is a skeleton in U2’s closet, and his name is The Edge. Seinfeld Joke Intermission: What’s the deal with The Edge? Is he going to fall off his guitar? He’s holding the guitar! People!!

1988’s semi-live double album, Rattle and Hum is neglected, buried amidst the cobwebs of history. U2’s method goes something like this: when you have to release an album between two masterpieces, you make that album an incoherent seizure of styles and songs, then pile a lot of clich