'...four driven musicians ... highlighting social injustices, the enigma of superpower America, and generally laying balm upon the wounds of the world...'
It's nearly a decade since a tired and emotional Bono stood on a Dublin stage and announced, albeit elliptically, the demise of U2 Mk I. His, as it transpired cautious, contention was that to survive the band had to "go away and dream it all up again". So, 10 irony-strewn, glitter-shod and giant lemon-encased years later seems as good a time as any to step back and re-evaluate the decade during which the world succumbed to U2.
Inevitably the group's youthful repertoire suffers by comparison with its post-modernism-touting '90s incarnation: sanctimonious lyrical didacticism and elephantine '80s production are what immediately strike the ear as Island's 14-track retrospective unfolds. It's as if the band were on a singular crusade to re-cast juddering anthemic rock as a thing of evangelical epiphany and not the Devil's music after all.
But, taken as a whole, this is also a document of four driven musicians forging a unique identity on the anvil of virtuous ambition, highlighting social injustices, the enigma of superpower America, and generally laying balm upon the wounds of the world, all in a unit-shifting, football-chant-friendly style. No mean achievement.
From juvenilia like 1980's I Will Follow (where The Edge's ham-fisted Tom Verlaine-isms and Larry Mullen's Joy Division-aping drums evince a sense of charming fandom), busker-friendly modern standards like With Or Without and Where The Streets Have No Name (from 1987's The Joshua Tree high watermark), an undeniable spirit still leaps from the speakers, undiluted by any amount of studio sheen or stylistic pomposity. And credit where it's due: U2 are never shy of experimenting. To enlist Brian Eno and protege Daniel Lanois for production duties on 1984's The Unforgettable Fire was a neat piece of lateral thinking and in the hymnal opening bars of Pride (In The Name Of Love) their collaborative efforts created the band's,if not '80s pop's, most beautiful passage of music.
In contrast the later Rattle And Hum roots exercise was a more dubious creative decision - evidenced here by the lame B.B. King collaboration, When Love Comes To Town, although it did spawn the scintillating Angel Of Harlem and the band's first UK Number 1 single Desire, both included. Prompt purchasers will have the bonus of a gratis, limited edition B-sides collection (which is perhaps a more telling account of U2's musical evolution) of which the closing Trash, Trampoline And The Party Girl is the boldest hint of what was to come.