Among the holiday season's biggest sellers is a double-disc set by the Irish rockers U2, but it may be the last hit the band produces for its longtime label, Island Records. "Best of" debuted at the No. 2 spot this week.
The group is reportedly preparing to sign with the upstart Interscope Records, home of Marilyn Manson and Snoop Dogg. In addition to recapping the band's first 10 years, "The Best of 1980-1990" could be U2's farewell to Island and a signal that it's beginning another phase.
The first of these two discs does an admirable job of tracing the quartet's development from the ultra-earnest, flag-waving, new-wave rockers of "New Year's Day" and "Sunday Bloody Sunday" to the even more earnest experimental arena rockers of "Pride (In the Name of Love)" and "Where the Streets Have No Name."
Since the cutoff is 1990, the set ignores the band's postmodern/ironic phase that began with "Achtung Baby."
Disc two consists of the singles' B-sides, and it features some gems, including covers of "Unchained Melody" and Patti Smith's "Dancing Barefoot." Even the failed experiments ("Bass Trap," "Walk to the Water") are interesting because they show producers Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno encouraging the group to experiment, an open-minded attitude that led to more breakthroughs but less consistency in the '90s.
The rarities are what's drawing the hardcore U2 fans to this set, but its position near the top of the charts in the midst of this busy music season indicates that plenty of others are also investing in "The Best of 1980-1990." It's a convincing argument for U2's rank on the top rung of rock's superstars.