U2 in their 'Achtung, Baby!' days

If you live in North America, chances are that you missed out on picking up a copy of (Ǎhk-to͝ong Bāy-bi) Covered, the U2 Achtung Baby cover CD that was bundled with the December issue of Britain’s Q magazine. 

Not to worry, you can now get the album digitally for about the same price as the imported Q magazine would've cost as it’s now available on iTunes. All proceeds go to Concern Worldwide, the Irish non-profit organization that provides aid to the world's poorest countries.

Concern's CEO Tom Arnold said, "Offering the proceeds to Concern's East Africa appeal also provides a timely reminder that alleviation of the hunger and wider health crisis in the region must not be forgotten and should remain a global priority."

The performing artists are a mix of U2's contemporaries and successors, including Jack White, Patti Smith, Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode and the Killers.
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The reviewer is entering into dangerous ground here. The heart says download the album because it goes to a good cause, but the head would advise the reader to proceed with caution.

We all know that U2 has just finished the most successful tour of all time and have put out a string of classic albums in the 20 years since Achtung Baby was released, and that the songs from that album sounded fresh in 2011 when dropped into the last tour’s set list.

The same can’t necessarily be said for many of the artists on this album. I loved Patti Smith, Garbage and Depeche Mode in their heyday, but they have declined precipitously since they ruled the charts and their contributions to the album give you a hint as to why.

Smith slows “Until the End of the World” down to a screeching halt, layering what is essentially a monotone delivery onto a soft piano bed. I suppose playing fast and loose with a classic is in and of itself counterculture. But Smith to me is a snarling punk poet, not the toothless chanteuse we hear on this disc.

Snow Patrol sucks the funky blood from “Mysterious Ways” and replaces it with bloodless, pointless balladry.

Depeche Mode’s take on “So Cruel” begins promising enough, with a shimmering electronic beat percolating underneath the familiar chord structure. Singer David Gahan’s oozes seduction on Mode’s classic tracks, but he sounds like a lost lounge lizard playing for spare change in a hotel ballroom on this track.

There are some high points on the disc. It is fitting that Nine Inch Nails begins this collection with “Zoo Station.”

Lead singer Trent Reznor has worked with the band before, and U2 was allegedly listening to a lot of NIN and other industrial bands when they holed themselves up in that Berlin studio. Reznor plays it straight on this track, adding subtle electronic nuances and echoes that display creativity and restraint at the same time.

Damien Rice treads on sacred ground with “One,” one of U2’s biggest hits. He strips the song down to bare bones, lightly strumming the chords on an acoustic guitar before the song drifts off into a sonic dreamscape with layered and whispered vocals.

The organizers saved the best for last. Jack White pulls off a brilliant cover of “Love Is Blindness,” adding a creepy church organ, echoed drums and corrosive guitar feedback to the mix with marvelous results.

The Killers, a pale U2 facsimile if ever there was one, add crisp guitar chords and a marching beat that adds a fresh coat of paint on “Ultra Violet (Light My Way).” They accomplish what few do on this compilation -- they inject their own band’s personality in the disc without dishonoring the original.

Do something nice for the planet and download the whole album on iTunes. Yeah, some of the tracks are weak, but that’s no excuse to deny a starving continent its daily bread.

Snowpatrol's cover of 'Mysterious' Ways of Q Magazine's 'Covered':