20 October 2010

Moving Pictures: U2 - Rattle and Hum

{ Remember when U2 wasn't a cliche? }

On 10 October 1988, U2 released a little film called Rattle and Hum and it still stands as one of the best music documentaries in rock 'n' roll.

{ U2 - "Bullet The Blue Sky" [Live] }

Twenty-two years ago U2 released Rattle and Hum and re-watching it reminds you that, yes, U2 was one of the best rock 'n' rolls bands in the world.

Today, they are an aging and bloated rock act. They haven't released a creatively interesting album since Pop and they haven't released a decent album since All That You Can't Leave Behind.

Sure, their stadium shows are impressive. With modern audio technology the old songs have never sounded better. But these days the whole U2 experience is a lot of flash and not enough substance.

But watch Rattle and Hum and you remember (or realize) why U2 holds such a special place in so many hearts.

A U2 show back in the '80s was like a religious experience with Bono as the preacher for the masses, leading throngs of the converted in rapturous fervor. It was a time when U2 and their politics never felt forced and where true change through the power of music felt not only possible but even probable.

This isn't hyperbole, U2 was legitimately that good.

If I had a time machine, I'd want to be a teenager in the '80s at some massive U2 show.

It was a time when Bono's sermons to the crowd and his bombastic statements felt genuine and real and powerful. It was a time when punk wasn't so much a sub-genre as it was a way of life. It was a time when leaping off the side of the stage and crawling onto rocks or using a spotlight or climbing the rafters wasn't a rock 'n' roll cliche, it was as if Bono himself had invented how to be the frontman of a stadium rock band. And, y'know, he probably did.

No doubt, Bono's convictions haven't changed and he has certainly grown beyond mere rock star. But the power of U2's music these days doesn't fit with their convictions.

But, seriously, watch Rattle and Hum and you'll realize what all the fuss is about.

Bono is generally regarded as one of the best voices in rock 'n' roll and you'll never hear his voice better than it does in this film.

The stark look of the documentary is a little pretentious but the power of the music matches the weight that black and white footage tends to bring.

Beg, borrow, or steal this film and strip yourself of the preconceived notions that you have of U2. Strip away the associations that you have of U2 because the amount of times you've heard their songs overplayed on adult-contemporary radio stations.

Watch and listen to U2 with fresh ears.

Take a listen to the live version of "Bullet The Blue Sky" (use the media player at the top of the post) and you can hear the raw energy of this band. You hear The Edge wailing away on the guitar and the punishing rhythm from Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr.

Watch the clip from Rattle and Hum of U2 performing "Where The Streets Have No Name" to a massive stadium crowd. Take note of the sparse stage, the simple lighting. These are just four lads from Ireland inspiring millions with their music.

If you're a little surprised at the masses celebrating U2, think for a second about how huge the quartet was at this time. Before releasing Rattle and Hum they put out five incredible records that yielded classics like "I Will Follow," "Sunday Bloody Sunday," "New Year's Day," "Pride (In The Name Of Love)," "Bad" and pretty much everything off of The Joshua Tree which was released about a year before Rattle and Hum.

This pretty much makes Rattle and Hum a stunning retrospective of their amazing career before they shifted gears and moved on to more experimental records like Achtung Baby and Zooropa.

That's what makes a film (and soundtrack album) like Rattle and Hum such an important piece in the U2 collection. Rattle and Hum serves as a bookend to an incredible chapter of their career before they moved on to more challenging records and more extravagant tours.

Rattle and Hum stands as a powerful reminder of what U2 used to be: an inspirational and moving band that truly changed the music world in a way that no band has really been able to do in such a wide scale since The Beatles.

I kind of wish that U2 would re-watch their own documentary and take some notes. Perhaps there is a bit of hope on the horizon. Old U2 producers Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno got together with U2 for their 2009 release No Line On The Horizon which was a solid record but still forgettable. An album - titled Songs Of Ascent - featuring discarded songs from the Horizon sessions is set to be released later this year.

I suppose we'll have to wait and see if U2 can remind us that they're not a cliche and that they can still bring it.

If not, well, we can still Rattle and Hum.

{ Oh, Rattle and Hum is on Blu-ray?
I might have to grab a new television set and a Blu-ray player. }