Okay, I admit it. I am closing in on 44 years old and I still subscribe to the fan club of my favorite band. God, that is embarrassing to read and I pray my kids don’t get teased in school when this news breaks around town.
Fortunately, the embarrassment proved worthwhile this week. The good folks at U2.com periodically release special goodies to the dedicated fans in cyberspace.
Sometimes they include standard fan club perks like advance ticket sales, but U2 has always delivered more. Their remix collections and live CDs get sent as well, the latest being Artificial Horizon.
One thing that is worth the price of admission to this collection is the infectious dance remix of “I’ll Go Crazy if I don’t Go Crazy Tonight” from No Line on the Horizon. In concert, this track merged with the famous light show on their 360 Claw stage to create a nightclub in the middle of a football stadium. The song was taken from the Croke Park stop of the band’s last tour and whets the whistle for the next leg of the tour this summer!
Remix tracks at their worst are desperate ploys to distract the listener from the fact that the artist ran dry of ideas toward the end of the album’s recording process; at their best, remixes splice the genetic makeup of a song’s melody to create a transformative listening experience that reveals new pleasures.
On Artificial Horizon, U2 achieves a little of both. The David Holmes of “Beautiful Day” brings the taut bass line front and center and makes the main riff struggle through atmospheric feedback. It is the musical equivalent of dissecting a fetal pig in sophomore biology class; you get to look at the inner guts of this anthemic masterpiece for a deeper appreciation of the guts.
The stripper-strut beat and Elton John-like piano melody on the “Justice Mix” of “Get on Your Boots” allowed me to warm to a song I originally judged as the weakest link on No Line on the Horizon.
Of course, you get your pick of producers when you are the biggest band on the planet, and U2 uses this industry clout to attract the best in the business.
Trent Reznor, famous for his dramatic punky stops and starts with his Nine Inch Nails outfit, adds dreamy electronic soundscapes and dirties up the straight-ahead riff.
Is it as good as the original? No, but that’s not the point. It is interesting to see one artist re-interpret the art of another artist and it is good fun for the fans of both bands.
Artificial Horizon is not without trouble spots. Another superstar producer, Jacknife Lee, ruins the flamenco fun of “Fast Cars,” a rare B-side from How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb that proved to be a fan favorite of that tour. He replaces the dramatic flourish of an acoustic guitar for a bland electronic musical bed that waters down the punch of the original.
The “Monster Truck” mix of “Staring at the Sun” is an unforgivable assault on one of the best ballads U2 has ever made. I think the producer was trying to achieve an ambient club vibe but missed the mark; the “Brothers in Rhythm Ambient Mix” of the song does a much better job at that.
And speaking of duplicates, do we really need two mixes of “Get on Your Boots?” It would have been great to hear a reworking of something like “Love and Peace or Else” from Atomic Bomb, or how about we put some block-rockin’ beats to something like “Man and a Woman?”
But hey, who am I to complain and hate on something that was free with the purchase of a $50 annual membership? Artificial Horizon was a nice surprise in the mailbox, great fun that keeps fans like me panting for what comes next from Bono and the boys and makes the abuse I get from being a middle aged fan club member worth it!
Stand Delivers in Asbury Park
I know Manhattan is the cultural capital of the world, but there’s something about Asbury Park, New Jersey that encapsulates no nonsense rock and roll that eludes the Big Apple ever since CBGB’s was taken from its core.
Irish bars playing host to Irish artists are as rare as hen’s teeth in the big city, but clubs like the Stone Pony and the Saint put out the welcome mat for up and coming artists from the Emerald Isle.
Over the weekend, Dublin’s Stand completed their winter tour in support of their excellent disc, 100,000 Ways to Harvest Hope. I feel fortunate to have seen them in such a small venue as the Saint. They played one radio friendly hit after another, and I get the sense this might be the last time we’ll be seeing them in a club.
The town was buzzing on this night, with the Garden State Film Festival taking place at the beach. Local favorites the Amboys were up first, delivering a concoction of punk, rock, and hillbilly soul that scorched you going down like high octane moonshine.
This might be my new favorite band! Check them out at www.theamboys.com.
Stand opened their set with “Nature My Mother” from the new album, a tentative track sung through clenched jaw over a basic piano melody. The full throttle of “Love Will Never Creep in Tonight,” another track from the new disc, hit the ear like a full beer bottle to the side of your head, and the crowd resumed their high gear cheering.
“Living for the Weekend,” a track from their Hoop’La collection, was one of only a few nods to their back catalog. Stand was committed to getting as many of their new songs out into the universe as possible, and for good reason.
“Feelings only f*** up your life,” sang Doyle, a dead ringer for Eddie Vedder in both style and charisma that did his best to keep to himself. He seemed like a reluctant frontman, letting Neil Eurelle do most of the talking to the audience.
“We want you to get raucous tonight,” joked Eurelle. “That means you’ll have to get drunk and take off your clothes before we finish up here.”
It was advice Doyle never took. He looked at the floor or closed his eyes for most of the set, allowing a brief smile to escape after “The Living Kind.”
If God is a music fan, he will make “She Is” a worldwide hit. “Olivia” is a song David Walsh wrote about his daughter.
“He spent a year of her life being off the road and that’s what came out,” Eurelle told me during our interview a few weeks ago. “It has so much energy and it’s a bit of an anthem. It’s another example of where we found ourselves writing about the family growing up around the band, and I really love the direction we’re all heading now.”
That makes two of us. 100,00 Ways to Harvest Hope is a great album that should be in your collection, but you really don’t appreciate how great this band is until you see them live.
They are going back to Ireland this week for some much needed rest before coming back to the States sometime this year. Visit www.standland.com.
Bloom’s Sweet Dreams
IT’S hard to believe that it has been 20 years since Christy Moore’s kid brother changed his name to Luka Bloom and set off to conquer America and the world. Though he claims to be allergic to nostalgia, he is preparing to bring his disc Dreams in America to our shores.
No word on a US release, though the disc is always available on the LukaBloom.com website, where he writes an essay about the inspiration behind the reworking of some of his best known songs.
“Twenty years later I decided to honor those times in New York with a record,” he says. “It is not a 'best of,’ with tracks lifted from old records. I chose to revisit songs from the last 10 albums since, and bring them back to life with new versions.
“Sometimes it's a song where I don't like the original recorded version anymore; sometimes it's just a new feeling for a song. Sometimes it's the words, sometimes it's the rhythm, and sometimes it's just the sounds on these guitars. This is raw. It's in my living-room.”
He is on tour in Germany through May. Let’s hope he’s using those gigs as practice for a tour on this side of the Atlantic later this year!