Music Condescension: A Sanctimonious Affliction

We’ve all encountered and endured the hyperbolic rantings of music snobs. You know the type; someone who not only thinks they know more than the average music buff, but more than anyone else, period. The stereotypical music fanatic feels self-important and even entitled to an unjustified sense of coolness by playing the anti-mainstream music game; declaring a particular favorite band or artist is better than whomever someone else is listening to because said artist is more obscure. Yet, these so-called music aficionados are the first to abandon their favorites upon the very first sign of even a miniscule amount of commercial triumph, because of some imaginary belief system based on tiresome and ridiculous self-imposed “rules,” which decree mainstream success is evil and taboo.

Now before you start thinking to yourself that I’m the pot calling the kettle black, understand my point is this: I don’t think my musical taste is superior or inferior to anyone else’s. But then again, I’m certainly not the type of musical hypocrite who will stop listening to a band or artist I’ve followed for years just because the mainstream masses eventually jump on the proverbial band wagon (pun intended). Also, I’ll readily admit I’ve had countless first-hand experiences of initially rejecting particular artists too hastily based upon bad first impressions, only to discover later I had prematurely misjudged or overlooked their significant musical contributions. [Read Full Feature]

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U2’s Secret Album Release

U2

So this happened…U2 surprise released their long-awaited new album, Songs of Innocence to the unsuspecting masses via iTunes, but what about the music itself? First of all, Songs of Innocence sounds like a U2 album, unlike their previous effort, 2009’s quickly forgotten No Line on the Horizon.

Secondly, after hearing about the highly touted “Every Breaking Wave” during the past five years (reportedly conceived during the last album’s recording sessions), it’s nice to hear that track not only lives up to its mythic reputation, but is easily the band’s finest tune in years. It’s also good to know the band can still pack a punch, best evidenced in lead-off single “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone),” “Volcano” and “Cedarwood Road.”

While I’ll readily admit I’ve been a U2 fan for over 30 years, that doesn’t mean I’ve loved everything they’ve released. I can still be objective about my favorite artists and I’ll simply agree to disagree with David Fricke’s excessive five-star review for Rolling Stone, although he did make some excellent points concerning the album’s subject matter.

Songs of Innocence is indeed a very good U2 album, but I’d hardly call it perfect. To quote Bono: “Very good is the enemy of great,” but with that said, the band’s 13th release is a welcome return to form. Songs of Innocence successfully manages to be reflective, while concurrently demonstrating a positive step forward in the band’s canon, ultimately proving the world did indeed need another U2 record.

Addendum 10-14-2014:

U2’s Songs of Innocence arrived today in its proper physical release form as a 2-LP set on 180-gram white vinyl (with an exclusive 12” mix of “The Crystal Ballroom”), and as a 2-CD deluxe version complete with bonus tracks, acoustic sessions, plus the hidden full-length version of original lead single “Invisible.” The deluxe version adds a new dimension to the overall listening experience, as it highlights the set’s strong points (most notably the stunning acoustic version of “Every Breaking Wave”), adds high caliber bonus tracks (“Lucifer’s Hands” and “The Crystal Ballroom), as well as corrects the previous omission of “Invisible” with its apt inclusion.

Also, I highly recommend the following playlist sequence in order to maximize your ultimate listening experience:

1. The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)

2. Lucifer’s Hands

3. Every Breaking Wave

4. California (There Is No End to Love)

5. Song for Someone

6. Iris (Hold Me Close)

7. Volcano

8. Invisible

9. Raised By Wolves

10. Cedarwood Road

11. Sleep Like A Baby Tonight

12. This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now

13. The Troubles

14. The Crystal Ballroom

15. Ordinary Love

Zooropa: Revisited and Re-examined

U2: Zooropa

With U2’s eighth studio album celebrating its 21st anniversary, I still recall getting caught up in the premature foofaraw surrounding Zooropa upon its initial release in 1993. The throngs hungrily tried to over analyze and dissect the latest release from Ireland’s renowned rock band.

Although Zooropa was originally intended to be an EP recorded during a six-month break during the third and fourth legs of the band’s monumental Zoo TV Tour, it eventually morphed into a full-length album. The band immediately hit the recording studio to try and capture the moment fresh from playing sold-out arenas in North America.

Delving even deeper into the alternative rock and electronic sounds hinted at on Achtung Baby, Zooropa may have failed to produce massive radio hits (although I remember the “Lemon” and “Numb” videos being in heavy rotation on MTV), but the Grammy-winning effort is still regarded as a highly creative and experimental entry into U2’s varied discography.

Bono and company, along with the help of Flood and Brian Eno, managed to explore new musical territory with the six-and-a-half-minute opening title track, the robotic rapping of “Numb,” the falsetto soaked “Lemon,” and the compellingly offbeat “The Wanderer,” with guest vocals by Johnny Cash. Add the more signature stylings of “The First Time” and “Stay (Faraway, So Close!)” to the set’s unusually diverse track list, and the result is an oddly satisfying listening experience that still captivates with its infectious grooves.

Although Zooropa received mixed reviews upon its release, there’s no denying it has made a lasting impact among U2 devotees. I remember my first reaction was a combination of excitement and surprise upon its arrival, but over the years I’ve found myself reveling in its inventiveness with incessant appreciation. As far as its legacy, Zooropa managed to sit atop the charts in 10 countries, sell over seven million copies, and has been touted as one of the all-time best albums of the nineties. Not bad for what started out as just an experimental EP.

Top Ten Best U2 B-sides

Top Ten Best U2 B-sides

 

Although music is highly subjective, below is my ranking of the 10 best B-sides by U2. Not only are these tracks some of my personal favorites, but I’d go a step further and say they should’ve been included on the album of their particular era. Agree or disagree?

10. “Salomé” (from “Even Better Than the Real Thing”)

9. “Summer Rain” (from “Beautiful Day”)

8. “Love Comes Tumbling” (from “The Unforgettable Fire”)

7. “Blow Your House Down” (outtake from Achtung Baby)

6. “Dancing Barefoot” (from “When Love Comes to Town”)

5.  “The Sweetest Thing” (from “Where the Streets Have No Name”)

4.  “Winter” (outtake from No Line on the Horizon)

3. “Are You Gonna Wait Forever?” (from “Vertigo”)

2.  “Lady with the Spinning Head” (from “One”)

1. “Spanish Eyes” (from “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”)

 © 2014 U2TOURFANS.com

Four Decades of U2: The Soundtrack of My Life

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(Photos by: Eric Allen ©2011 Popmartzoo)

With so much speculation and innuendo swirling around U2 at the moment regarding the new album, tour, and rumored breakup, now seemed the perfect time to reflect on the band’s body of work and lasting legacy. I’ve read statements made by Bono himself regarding the band’s relevance and if the world needs another U2 album. As a self-professed fanboy of Bono, Edge, Adam, and Larry, I know for certain there is no other rock band more relevant than U2 to myself and millions of others around the globe.

With a musical canon which has inspired millions, I consider U2 to be my generation’s Rolling Stones and Beatles. I know that’s a bold statement to make, but I stand by it as no other band has come close to having the impact nor maintaining the longevity as Dublin’s fab four. Now before you begin to throw virtual stones at me, let’s examine U2 from my perspective.

It all started in the early 80s when U2 began to slowly stream into my subconscious with their first music video on MTV, “I Will Follow.” I remember wondering what a U2 was, but the song and passion in Bono’s voice struck a chord within me, forcing me to seek out their music at my local record store. Unfortunately, all I could find was a lone single of that song, but I forced the record store clerk to special order a copy of the Boy album. I’m embarrassed to admit this now, but I never returned to buy that album. In fact, I didn’t buy my first U2 album until 1984, which was The Unforgettable Fire. However, I became a bonafide fan by listening to my college roommate’s vinyl LPs of War, October, and Boy, and by the time “Pride (In the Name of Love)” was released that fall, I had memorized every word, guitar riff, bass line, and drum beat to the band’s first three albums and live EP. I was also up at the crack of dawn, impatiently waiting for my local record shop to open on the day The Unforgettable Fire was released, skipping class to do so. You know the line “We learned more from a three-minute record baby, than we ever learned in school” from Springsteen’s “No Surrender?” Well that always justified my priorities on days when a new U2 record was released.

By the time The Joshua Tree was released in the spring of 1987, listening to U2 wasn’t merely a daily ritual, but a way of life. Upon its release, I was working in a record store myself and witnessed the steady growth of anticipation for the band’s fifth full-length release. My co-workers and I had many discussions about how we could feel the excitement building around the forthcoming album, but that didn’t prepare us for the throngs of people who flocked in to buy The Joshua Tree on the first day of its arrival. To this day I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed such an overwhelming reaction. It was literally weeks before supply could keep up with demand. I’d played that album every day for months by the time I saw my first U2 concert in the fall of ‘87. After that show, I’d made a promise to myself that if there was any way possible, I’d see every tour U2 would embark upon, and throughout the years I’ve managed to keep that promise.

After the hoopla of The Joshua Tree finally began to subside, I began anticipating the release of Rattle and Hum. I recall thinking I’d died and gone to heaven when I heard a concert film accompanied by a soundtrack album was in the works. I remember getting goose bumps watching my favorite band on the silver screen during the film’s late night premiere. Although many panned it at the time, I reveled in the magic of reliving my first concert experience of my favorite band while watching the film as well as listening to its companion album.

The three year gap after Rattle and Hum seemed mind-numbingly long as I scoured the musical trade magazines for any scrap of info on the forthcoming album Achtung Baby. Remember, this was still before the days of home computers and Internet access which we now take for granted. But alas, November 1991 saw the release of what was to become my favorite U2 album of all time. U2 had reinvented themselves with Achtung Baby, which more than made up for the lengthy wait. I couldn’t believe my ears upon listening to the album in its entirety for the first time. The compact disc age was well underway by then, which was a good thing because if that CD would’ve had grooves, I’d have surely worn them out. I listened to “Zoo Station” through “Love is Blindness” and back again repeatedly in my music room, my car, and my headphones, all the while hearing some infinitesimal detail I’d missed previously. By the time the Zoo TV Tour kicked-off, I’d sang along to every song on Achtung Baby and could’ve sang them in my sleep. I’d spent the better half of 1992 counting the days until it was my turn to see ZOO TV at the end of that summer. During that show, I reconfirmed my vow to see every U2 tour from there to eternity.

By the end of 1992, rumors had begun swirling around the promise of a new EP, which resulted in the full-length album, Zooropa, during the summer of 1993. I’ll admit I was a bit taken aback upon first listen, but over the years, “Zooropa,” “Lemon,” “Stay (Faraway, So Close!) and “The First Time” have claimed their place on my list of favorite U2 tracks. It’s funny to think back now how some fans declared the album to be the demise of U2’s career. I remember the same consensus reared its ugly head again five years later upon the arrival of Pop.

I recall considerable conjecture leading up to Pop before its release and how the album sounded like the most un-U2 album of the band’s career. While Pop definitely explored new territory, it was far from the musical debacle the press had made it out to be. Again, some of Pop’s tracks rank at the very top of my all-time favorites. Most notably “Mofo,” “Do You Feel Loved,” and “Wake Up Dead Man.” Pop was the ultimate lesson I learned not to believe any hype about an album before listening to it myself. Besides, a new album always brought another tour, and I don’t remember hearing anyone bitching about Pop during the PopMart Tour.

This brings us to a new decade. The new millennium saw the release of U2’s tenth album, All That You Can’t Leave Behind. With radio mainstays “Beautiful Day,” “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of,” and “Walk On,” Bono and company seemed to have left their experimental days behind them. ATYCLB sounds like a collection of superb U2 singles compiled together instead of a thematically cohesive album to me, but I’m not saying that’s a bad thing by any means. I’d hold any song on that album up against 90 percent of what passes for music today.

Four years later brings us to 2004’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. I remember seeing the iPod commercial and hearing “Vertigo” for the very first time. My heart palpitated, as I have to admit I was ready for U2 to rock by this time. Packed with such highpoints as “City of Blinding Lights,” “All Because of You,” “Original of the Species,” and the now classic “Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own,” Atomic Bomb more than lived up to its name as it became the soundtrack embedded in my mind for all of 2005 and beyond, which was a good thing considering I’d have to wait more than four years until the next U2 record. Of course, seeing them live for the fifth time during the incredible Vertigo Tour helped to soothe my inner savage beast.

This catches us up to the present with U2’s latest output including the often maligned No Line on the Horizon and the most recent singles “Ordinary Love” and “Invisible.” Yes it’s true NLOTH didn’t include a single that was played to death on the radio, but is that such a bad thing? When I listen to Horizon, I find I’m relieved that “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” and “Magnificent” still sound as fresh as when I first heard them. NLOTH may not be the band’s career defining album, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that it has epic moments and rightly deserves an important place in the U2 catalog. Not to mention it reared the colossal 360° Tour (my best U2 concert experience to date, which you can read about here). However, my biggest point of contention with Horizon is the band’s last minute decision to delete “Winter” from its track list, as it’s not only one of my favorite U2 tracks, but it would’ve made a hell of an album closer.

As far as the two latest singles, I think “Ordinary Love” is an excellent ballad and “Invisible” more than whets my appetite for U2’s twelfth opus. I learned long ago not to judge any U2 album by the teaser release of a lead-off track. What if I had judged Achtung Baby by “The Fly” or Pop by “Discotheque” alone? I love those songs, but there are far better treasures to be found on either of those albums.

I’m not going to pretend that U2 hasn’t had hits and misses throughout the years, but I don’t judge any band or artist’s legacy on the merit of any one song or album. Besides, U2 has given me more highs than lows over the past four decades while providing the most memorable soundtrack to my life. I, for one, am looking forward to the next chapter with great excitement. U2 may have opened my ears to music, but their music opened my eyes to the world.

© 2014 U2TourFans.com

At the Closing of the Year

2013

As we say goodbye to 2013 with all too fresh memories of Miley Cyrus’ embarrassing raunch, the aural overkill of Lorde’s “Royals,” and the over saturated blandness of Katy Perry still lingering about, we can only look ahead with hope that 2014 will redeem this year’s failures.

The beginning of a new year always seems exhilarating as it promises a fresh start and a renewed faith that things can only get better. Looking into the not so distant future we can expect new releases from U2, a return to alternative pop from Tori Amos (after her last three classical infused releases), Cher’s final farewell and last hurrah (Dressed to Kill Tour), and after an extended absence from live performing, cerebral shit stirrer Lady Gaga returns to the touring scene with her upcoming artRAVE: The ARTPOP Ball Tour.

Although too much time was wasted during the past few months on less than triumphant spectacles and dashed expectations, 2013 managed to deliver some great musical moments including David Bowie’s return with The Next Day, Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience, Cher’s first album in 12 years, Closer to the Truth, Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP 2, Christian Burns’ Simple Modern Answers, Panic! at the Disco’s Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die! and of course Lady Gaga’s heady party record ARTPOP. The year’s end also saw masterfully crafted seasonal offerings by Kelly Clarkson, Erasure, and Leona Lewis, all of which brought 2013 to a fitting and timely end.

With fingers crossed and musical palettes cleansed, let’s close out 2013 by taking a beat to remember how music makes us feel as it permanently finds its way into the soundtrack of our lives. As we prepare to leap forward into a new year, let’s hope our high expectations of better days to come are fulfilled in 2014.

Christmas Music Wrap-Up 2012

With the inescapable return of the holiday season, another eclectic batch of Christmas music releases is heaped upon us, for better or worse. Some of these Christmastime offerings may fill you with comfort and joy, while others could have you wishing for an early spring and pondering if this really is the most wonderful time of the year.

colbie1

Colbie Caillat: Christmas in the Sand  Colbie Caillat’s full-length holiday collection is everything you could want from a contemporary Christmas album. Christmas in the Sand is synchronously fresh, bubbly, and sentimental without sounding maudlin. Caillat has cleverly succeeded in crafting a delightful mix of old and new coastal California breeziness sure to warm the cockles of your heart throughout the entire Yuletide season. Christmas in the Sand is a surprisingly charming stocking stuffer and essential addition to any pop music fan’s Christmas music collection.

ceelos_magic_moment

Cee Lo Green: Cee Lo’s Magic Moment  – This soulful and funk-a-licious holiday romp will absolutely spice up your present and future Christmas playlists. Even an overwrought version of “Baby it’s Cold Outside” with Cee Lo’s overzealous diva and fellow The Voice judge Christina Aguilera can’t ruin this irresistible modern day classic. From the bouncy opener “What Christmas Means to Me” to the heartfelt rendering of “River,” Cee Lo’s Magic Moment sounds like the kind of Christmas album Elton John wishes he would’ve made before he turned into a cynical, acid-tongued, blowhard.

LadyA

Lady Antebellum: On This Winter’s Night – After dominating the airwaves and claiming the spot as country music’s best new trio, Lady Antebellum is teetering on the brink of overexposure with this unnecessary release of holiday standards. However, On This Winter’s Night sufficiently achieves its ultimate goal as a holiday gift surprise for Lady A fans, which simultaneously whets musical appetites for new music and further endears them to the country music masses.

Christmas-Spirit

Richard Marx: Christmas Spirit – Although the idea of Richard Marx recording a Christmas album at this point in his career may at first seem pointless and a little desperate, surprisingly Marx delivers a lushly layered and gratifying effort. These 13 tracks cohesively make the perfect romantic holiday soundtrack for sipping warm cider by the fireplace with the one you love most.

Christmas-With-Scotty-McCreery1

Scotty McCreery: Christmas with Scotty McCreery – This futile and obligatory exercise of holiday blandness falls flat. McCreery sounds emotionless as he mindlessly and effortlessly bleats out 11 dispassionate renditions of holiday ditties. Don’t bother unless you’re completely enamored with the 2011 American Idol winner or in need of a short winter’s nap.

Blake-Shelton

Blake Shelton: Cheers, It’s Christmas – Despite Shelton’s renewed enthusiasm from his run on The Voice, endearing duets with Reba, Kelly Clarkson, (and of course Miranda Lambert), aren’t quite enough to make this holiday album exceptionally good or bad. While there are some noteworthy highlights that are more than just typical holiday fare (“Santa’s Got A Choo Choo Train,” “Time for Me to Come Home,” and “The Very Best Time of Year”), ultimately, Cheers, it’s Christmas ends up sounding like little more than a mediocre country Christmas collection targeted specifically towards hardcore Shelton completists.

ONJ John-T

John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John: This Christmas (Universal Music) – No, this isn’t a joke. Obviously a marketing department’s attempt to appeal to fans of Grease, this dismal holiday collection (grossly marred with auto tuned vocals by Travolta) is better suited as a gag gift than as a tree trimming soundtrack, despite guest appearances by James Taylor, Tony Bennett, and Barbra Streisand.  This embarrassingly bad addition to Newton-John’s catalog sounds like a Donny and Marie holiday album gone horribly wrong.

Very Special Christmas

A Very Special Christmas: 25 Years – Bringing Joy to the World – This series has continued to wane and become a bit of a disappointment since the first volume debuted in 1987 with notable performances by Sting, Madonna, Eurythmics, and U2. Unfortunately this latest mixed bag of various artist holiday filler is no exception, but at least a portion of the proceeds benefit Special Olympics. A few album highlights include tracks by Train, Michael Bublé, and Jason Mraz, but overall this collection is rife with non-essential holiday fodder that leaves you hoping Santa has something better loaded on his sleigh.

© 2012 ForASong Media, LLC