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Saturday 23 March 2019

Are U2 out of their trees - or what?

Are U2 on a nostalgia trip with The Joshua Tree tour? And have they returned to their ascetic earnestness of 30 years ago? Our music critic ponders

Barry Egan

Barry Egan

RevieWing the super-duper deluxe edition of U2's Joshua Tree album in early 2008, Dorian Lynskey was decidedly downbeat in The Word magazine. "The lyrics haven't aged well. Like the archetypal bad novelist who opens up with, 'it was a dark and stormy night', Bono can barely complete a verse without summoning fire, rain, wind and similar signifiers that something very important is afoot."

Personally, I like nothing better than Bono telling us, a la Born Again Christian-period Bob Dylan, that something very important is afoot. Not least when Bono imagines the agony and the ecstasy of Christ - "see the thorn twist in your side", riffing on the Apostle Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 12:7 - in With or Without You; or "the tongues of angels" as referenced in 1 Corinthians 13, in I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For; Or your man Jacob milling with the Angel of the Lord on Bullet the Blue Sky. All together now: "In the locust wind comes a rattle and hum/Jacob wrestled the angel/And the angel was overcome."

Obviously with U2 ramping up to do a world tour paying sonic homage to the 30th anniversary of their fifth LP, The Joshua Tree - performing the heroic classic album from 1987 in its ascetic entirety each night to lucky pilgrims - it has been on my mind of late.

Whatever your take is on The Edge's declaration that the band are holding back on the release of their next album, Songs of Experience (the follow-up companion piece to the 2014 album Songs of Innocence) because we now live in a world where a racist moron with worse hair than Bono's is in The White House, U2 touring the Joshua Tree is intriguing on so many levels.

Is this tour just U2 having run out of ideas, an exercise in nostalgia, that most seductive liar?

Intriguingly, in From The Sky Down (Davis Guggenheim's 2011 documentary about the making of Achtung Baby), the central point appeared to be that U2 are about perpetually reinventing themselves - and the opposite of nostalgia.

As Bono put it: "How can you be nostalgic about something that really doesn't want to be?"

Or as Lou Reed, I think, joked, once: "I don't like nostalgia unless it's mine." Bono should rob that line.

I have that famous quote from Bono - that the revelatory and iconoclastic Achtung Baby album in 1991 was "the sound of four men chopping down The Joshua Tree" - blowing through my mind.

Is this imminent U2 tour therefore the sound of four men digging up something they hacked down all those years ago and buried in the Mojave Desert, like a body in Martin Scorsese's Casino?

The Edge thought of Achtung Baby as a letting go of earnestness. "Earnestness is the thing that we started to get allergic to at the end of the Lovetown tour behind Rattle and Hum," the U2 guitarist said in an interview with Interview magazine in 2011. "I think the pressure of being in that position of becoming hugely successful for the first time, this feeling that we were being robbed of an important component of what we were personally..."

"The importance of not being earnest," was how Bono in his turn described it.

If anything on Songs Of Innocence, U2 have almost returned, unconsciously, to that earnestness of 30 years ago.

Hopefully that won't be the case when U2 emerge at Croke Park on July 22. I know of only one sure-fire way to kill any earnestness dead before U2 take proper to the stage at Croke that night: that a certain support band take to the stage before them. Allow me, then, to introduce you to... Alton Dalton! (Bono) Luke Dalton! (Edge) Betty Dalton! (Adam) Duke Dalton! (Larry)

The Dalton Brothers, U2's country and western alter-egos, who opened a few dates on the American leg of the Joshua Tree tour in November 1987 - with Adam Clayton in full drag - would be a sensation.

The critics calling U2 dull nostalgia bores would find it hard to get their knickers in a twist over that.

Sunday Independent

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