Don’t Care Who’s Watching When We Tearing It Up

The only thing I know of Kesha’s music is this amazing piece, but I’ve heard a considerable amount about her case, and it’s appalling.  The judge said that her “instinct is to do the commercially reasonable thing,” because Sony would suffer “irreparable harm” if Kesha didn’t give them 6 more albums.  Mind you, this is a label that has sided wholeheartedly with a man who has been accused of raping her.  I can’t imagine she’d be comfortable dealing with any part of that entity, regardless of whether or not they were going to ease up on forcing her to work with the man.

The response from various circles has been loud, with female artists (just now!) lining up to voice their support for Kesha, (not prior to the ruling, but nothing motivates like outrage).  The infighting and gatekeeping has already started, as well.  Taylor Swift tossed Kesha a quarter million to do what she needs to do. Considering Kesha has only two albums to her credit, and her second, from over three years ago, being a commercial flop partially due to some bad timing, it’s safe to assume that her legal fees alone have her looking at some financial hardship.  $250k was probably the best news that she’s had in a long time.  But that wasn’t enough for some people, apparently, because Swift didn’t voice her full-throated support for Kesha.

Putting aside that in America, money is speech, so in effect, this was the largest statement possible, there’s a few other considerations here.  First, Taylor Swift is also signed to Sony, so coming out in direct support of Kesha has, at the very least, financial concerns above and beyond $250k, and quite possibly has legal ramifications.  Second, the statement is pretty clear: that money is a huge show of support, regardless of statement.  It says “I am putting my money where my mouth is.  I support you in a very real, very tangible sense. I have your back in a non-theoretical way.” Third, and probably most importantly, how Taylor Swift deals with what is a horrible subject is her call.  Maybe she’s not comfortable with a statement because of something she’s experienced or someone close to her experienced.  No one should be gatekeeping how women deal with sexual assault.  No one gets to say that her response is any less appropriate.  Her support is there, it shouldn’t be diminished because it wasn’t the exact kind of support that someone else gave.

Review: Songs of Innocence

“Heav’n has no rage like love to hatred turn’d”

– William Congreve, The Mourning Bride (1697)

Anyone who spent more than 10 minutes with me for the two decades between 1992 and 2012 knew, without a doubt, that I was a U2 uber-fan. I’ve seen them in concert 5 times, been a member of the fan club, memorized lyrics before actual release dates, and generally learned everything there was to learn about the band. I lived and breathed U2 for quite some time.  I wore out tapes.  I have two copies of Achtung Baby on CD when a packing error while moving left me thinking I’d lost my original.  I’m one of those chumps that Bono referenced on U2 Go Home who had “given us about £500.”  That’s around $800 USD.  After paying (on average) $100/ticket, $15/CD, and $40/year for five years of the fan club, I’d say that’s actually a few hundred short.

Let me be clear where I’m going with this: No Line on the Horizon is my 4th favorite U2 album behind The Joshua Tree, Achtung Baby, and The Unforgettable Fire (position in that ranking subject to day and mood). Of the 11 tracks, I could do without two of them – “Get On Your Boots” and “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight.”  Unfortunately, that represents 2/3rds of the singles from the album.  No Line had everything that you expect from a U2 album – a song about how much Bono loves his wife and/or Jesus (“Magnificent”), a song to remind us that heroin addiction will kill you (“Unknown Caller,” “Moment of Surrender”), and a song about how we shouldn’t kill each other (“White As Snow,” “Cedars of Lebanon”).

From 1991 to 1997, U2 put out 4 albums (Achtung Baby, Zooropa, Passengers, and Pop), which can practically be viewed as one long, weird creative process.  After that, they took three years to put out All That You Can’t Leave Behind, four more years to put out How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, and then another five years for No Line on the Horizon.  After No Line released in September of 2009, the band claimed that they’d have a album out by the end of the year.  Then it was going to be out that March.  Then definitely the end of 2010.  Or the end of 2011.  Maybe 2012.  2013? Probably.  Five years, and in that time, U2 probably leaked 100 times that they’d have an album out “soon.”  Because let’s not forget about them!

When it became apparent that U2 really truly meant it and had definitely been in the studio, they “shocked the world” by releasing Songs of Innocence, their first album in 17 years with a title of three words or less, which is about the only noteworthy thing I can say about it.

“You wanted to get somewhere so badly, you had to lose yourself along the way. You changed your name, but that’s okay… it’s necessary. And what you leave behind you don’t miss anyway.”

-Gone

Man, U2 sold out hard.

Prior to 2004, U2 was never willing to accept corporate cash.  They never had a sponsor for their tours, never gave up music for any sort of promotion, and rarely even lent their music to soundtracks.  They rose to the top of their prominence on their own.  Then they hooked up with Apple for the release of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, using it to shill for the iPod.  After that, it didn’t really come as a surprise that they’d drop their new album on the planet at the annual Apple new product feeding frenzy.  Since then, they’ve licensed their music to promos for Sons of Anarchy (a show where the protagonists run drugs, kill people, and generally treat the women they love terribly) and The Walking Dead (a show where taking a tween girl with serious mental problems and shooting her in the back of the head was part of a character’s redemption arc) – disclosure, I actually like both of these shows, but let’s not kid ourselves, these aren’t really what the band that sang “One” is all about.

But hey, I’m reviewing an album.  Let’s not get hung up on the commercial butterfly that U2 has transformed itself into.  Let’s talk about the music!

“Can’t sing but I’ve got soul”

– Elevation

I said in 2009 to everyone I discussed No Line on the Horizon with that I loved it, but there were a few songs I could do without, and that while it’s a great album, I could see the direction they were headed with the promotion of those songs, and wasn’t very confident that I’d like the next album.  When that album finally arrived in the form of Songs of Innocence, and it was free, I realized I’d gotten what I paid for.  There is one song that I even remotely like, and that’s “Every Breaking Wave,” which is the only song on the album where U2 tries to directly rip themselves off instead of parroting whatever its imitators are doing these days.  I’m not even sure if Adam Clayton plays bass on it, or if they just took the master from “With Or Without You” and used his line from that.

Once claiming to not be able to sing, but have soul to make up for the deficiency, Bono seems to have reversed that trend – He can sing well enough, but there is no soul on this record.  Yes, there is the song about loving his wife (“Song for Someone”), one probably about heroin (“The Troubles”), and one about not killing each other (“Raised By Wolves”), but let’s just say it’s no Achtung Baby… or even Zooropa (I really like Zooropa, by the way).  Lyrically, the album skews heavily autobiographical, with nearly every track telling some vignette from U2’s past when they cared about music and taking on the world.  Those days seem long behind them now, but I get the concept of attempted nostalgia.  The problem is that they’re trying to connect to a past that they no longer understand.

“The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)” and “This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now” are apparently odes to The Ramones and The Clash, two bands that helped define the scrappy Dublin-based band in the early 80s.  And what better way to honor those bands than to make drippy pop songs that they would hate, and spray one of them all over television to sell a product that practically (actually?) sells itself? I’m imagining Joey Ramone and Joe Strummer beating up Bono in an alley, spitting on his back, and telling him to piss off with his “radio rock.”  These songs are insulting to the memory of everything that Ramone and Strummer stood for.  Even when U2 evokes The Beach Boys on “California (There Is No End To Love),” it sounds like the disjointed, uninspired depths of “Miami” from Pop, which was rightly panned in its time (Pop had some gems, but also some real clunkers).

“Raised By Wolves” was, for me, the most disappointing track on the album lyrically, because it sounds like someone born in the late 1990s writing about The Troubles in Ireland.  We went from “September, streets capsizing / spilling over down the drain / shards of glass splinters like rain / But you could only feel your own pain” from “Please” to “Blue Mink Ford I’m gonna detonate and you’re dead.”  Bono claims that it’s about a bombing that he barely missed getting caught in, but it’s so impersonal, so disconnected from the actual events, that I wonder if the 16 years since Omagh have doused the righteous fire of the man who stalked around a stage screaming “Fuck the Revolution!”  U2 has a lot of amazing songs about a conflict that was intimately personal to them, but “Raised By Wolves” doesn’t even belong in that pantheon.

“Haven’t seen you in quite a while. I was down the hold just passing time. Last time we met was a low-lit room, we were as close together as a bride and groom.”

-Until The End of the World

The direction that I heard them going on No Line with “Boots” and “Go Crazy” was that it was over-produced, commercialized, radio-friendly pablum.  The problem with that is that U2 was all over the radio when they weren’t doing that, and now that they are, it’s not what gets the heavy rotation.  You’ll hear this noise (if you still listen to the radio) for about a week, and then it’ll cycle off for the new hit single from whatever U2 imitator U2 will try to imitate next.  U2 were at the top of their game when they were experimental and dangerous.  When they wrote songs like “The Unforgettable Fire” that might feel at home in a goth club on an album that had a song about Martin Luther King, Jr. and a practically psychedelic track about Elvis Presley. When they would tell the IRA to fuck off and then go live full-time in Dublin. When they would go from The Joshua Tree to Achtung Baby and dare the world to flinch.  When they would go from Achtung Baby to Zooropa and dare the world to figure out what the heck “Lemon” meant and why The Edge was droning at us. “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” and “One” were every third song on alternative radio in 1992.  “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)” is going to get more play as an Apple commercial than it will on any radio station.

Let that sink in.

Seriously, that is the defining criticism here: This album, this hyper-produced, designed-to-sell-yet-given-away-for-free album is going to get more exposure as a 30-second hype piece for Apple than it will by the media it wants to get in front of.  Because U2 has sold out.  They sold out their vision, they sold out their claim to being the most important band in the world.  They’ve betrayed their fans, and they’ve betrayed themselves.  U2 died in that five-year gap.  What came back is a sad, unrecognizable shell.

My favorite song from No Line is “Cedars of Lebanon.”  Bono dreamed this song up from a character’s perspective; it’s not personal experience, it’s just an imagined scenario.  But it is beautiful, a perfect slice of his writing that is poetic and allegorical and genuinely musical in the way that 99% of humanity fell in love with back in 1987 when their mind was universally blown by The Joshua Tree.  I’m going to imagine that was the last U2 song.  I’m going to believe that they start with “I Will Follow” and go out with “Cedars of Lebanon.”

“I was on the outside when you said, you said you needed me. I was looking at myself, I was blind, I could not see.”

-I Will Follow

“Choose your enemies carefully, ’cause they will define you. Make them interesting, ’cause in some ways they will mind you. They’re not there in the beginning, but when your story ends. Gonna last with you longer than your friends.”

-Cedars of Lebanon

 

Is It?

Is Anyone Here Alive?” – Kill Hannah
Is That All?” – U2
Is There Anybody Out There?” – Pink Floyd
Is There Something I Should Know?” – Duran Duran
Isabella” – This Ascension
Island” – Iris
“Island In The Sun” (Y100 Sonic Session) – Weezer
The Isle of Dreaming” – Kate Price
Isobel” – Björk
Israel” – Siouxsie and the Banshees
It Could Be Sweet” – Portishead
It Generates” – Iris
“It Screams Disease” – Carfax Abbey
“It Shall Be No More” – Laura Powers
Ito Okashi” – Passengers
It’s A Fire” – Portishead
It’s Come To This” – Fuel
It’s Good To Be King” – Tom Petty
It’s My Life” – Bon Jovi
It’s No Good” – Depeche Mode
It’s Hurting For The First Time” – Wolfsheim
It’s Not Me” – Neuroticfish
It’s Oh So Quiet” – Björk
It’s Probably Me” – Sting
It’s The Law” – Social Distortion

Lots of synthpop and some Björk today.

Intercede – Invisible

Intercede Light” – Iris
Interceptor” – VNV Nation
Interior Lulu (Acoustic)” – Marillion
Interlude” – This Ascension
International Dateline” – Ladytron
Interstellar Overdrive” – Pink Floyd
Into a Darkened Room” – Inertia 8
Into the Fire (Extended Remix)” – Sarah McLachlan
Into the Heart” – U2
Into the Void” – Nine Inch Nails
Intolerance” – Tool
“Intro” – God Lives Underwater
Intro” – This Ascension
Intro” – VNV Nation
Introspectre” – Depeche Mode
Inverse” – Neuroticfish
Invisible” – Anthrax
Invisible Ink” – Marillion
The Invisible Man (Live)” – Marillion

Back in the crazy outlaw days of internet music, when Napster was still a thing and before piracy completely killed the music industry, I wwas busily downloading all of the music I owned and very little that I didn’t. Yes, I was pretty weird like that. I didn’t have a computer fast enough to rip the CDs that I owned, but I didn’t want to be constrained to single albums when I listened to music on my computer, so I went about finding it all online. Even when I did get stuff that I didn’t already own, I tended to not listen to it a lot. One day, as I was trolling around for music (it was largely disorganized and often of poor quality), I came across a file labeled “Depeche Mode/Nine Inch Nails/U2 – Into A Darkened Room.” Intrigued, I downloaded it. I was fairly certain it wasn’t a U2 song, as I’d never heard of it. Maybe it was some mythical live mash up with Bono, Trent Reznor and Dave Gahan all on stage?

Turns out, it was neither Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, nor U2. It took me years of searching, but I eventually found the name of the actual band: Sublevel 27. Of course, even as I looked for the video just now, I learned that it was recorded by Sublevel 27’s precursor, Inertia 8. Some people haven’t been willing to let go of the notion that it’s Depeche Mode, going as far to argue with the writer in the comments.  I’ve been listening to this song for years, and it’s kind of awesome. So how fortunate that it makes it into this week’s lineup with some Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, and U2?

Home – House

No one should brave the underworld alone.Home” – Depeche Mode
Home Boys Home” – The Dubliners
Homesick” – Soul Asylum
Homeward” – VNV Nation
Honey Bee” – Tom Petty
Hong Kong Garden” – Siouxie and the Banshees
Honour” – VNV Nation
Hope for the Future” – Marillion
Horror Show” – The Birthday Massacre
Horses” – Tori Amos
Hot For Teacher” – Van Halen
Hot Rails To Hell” – Blue Öyster Cult
Hot Rails To Hell (Live)” – Blue Öyster Cult
Hotel” – Tori Amos
Hotel Hobbies/Warm Wet Circles/That Time of the Night” – Marillion
Hotel Hobbies/Warm Wet Circles/That Time of the Night (Live)” – Marillion
House in the Woods” – Tom Petty
House of Death” – Manowar
House of Leaves” – Poe
“House of Love” – Page & Plant
House of Pain” – Van Halen

Underscoring that there my music library is… eclectic, I’ve got Manowar, Depeche Mode, Van Halen, and Tori Amos on this list.  Not the type of lineup you’d expect to see at any music festival.

And if you haven’t yet, get yourself a tape measure and read House of Leaves while listening to Haunted… then loan them to someone, because no one should brave the underworld alone.

Happy

The Happiest Days of our Lives/Another Brick in the Wall Part II” – Pink Floyd
Happiness in Slavery” – Nine Inch Nails
Happiness in Slavery [Fixed]” – Nine Inch Nails
“Happiness Is A Warm Gun (Danny Saber Mix)” – U2
Happiness Is A Warm Gun (The Gun Mix)” – U2
Happiness Is The Road” – Marillion
Happy” – Natasha Bedingfield
Happy” – Stabbing Westward
“Happy” – God Lives Underwater
Happy Birthday” – The Birthday Massacre
“Happy Face” – Toadies
Happy House” – Siouxsie and the Banshees
Happy Jack” – The Who
Happy Nation” – Ace of Base
Happy Now” – Bon Jovi
Happy Now?” – No Doubt
Happy Phantom” – Tori Amos

Interestingly enough, the subject material is not universally upbeat.  The video for U2’s cover of “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” is probably one of their craziest videos, which is saying a lot because the era that it came out of was their “let’s make weird videos” era.

But the gem of this crop is “Happiness is the Road” by Marillion.  The second verse tends to play in my head when I’m feeling stuck or down:

I met this man In Utrecht Netherlands
He was a doctor of the body and the soul
He said to me: Man, there’s a book you have to read.
I feel your pain, it makes me cry
But these tears are yours – not mine.

You’re focussing on all of your bad yesterdays
The worry lines are getting deeper every day
And deep inside you, no surprise – there’s a crisis!
You might have been to blame
But you can’t go on this way
Must I watch and pray?

While you torture yourself with what’s behind you
Torture yourself with what awaits you
Dragging that guilt and regret inside you
Anxious of the goals that always evade you

Your mind will find a way to be unkind to you somehow
But all we really have is happening to us right now

Happiness ain’t at the end of the road, happiness is the road.  Sometimes I need to remind myself of that.

Goin’, Going, Gone.

Been that way all along
Goodbye, you can keep this suit of lights.

Goin’ Through The Motions” – Blue Öyster Cult
Going Mobile” – The Who
Going Strong” – The Business
Going Under” – Evanescence
Going Under” – Marillion
Going Under (Extended Version)” – Marillion
The Gold It’s in the…” – Pink Floyd
“Golden Glass” – Blind Faith and Envy
“Gole Laleh / She’s Got the Whole World in Her Hands” – Mahsa Vahdat
Golgotha Tenement Blues” – Machines of Loving Grace
Gone” – U2
Gone [New Mix]” – U2
Gone to California” – Pink

Gone is my one of my favorite U2 songs from Pop, but I actually prefer the new mix they did for the Best Of 1990-2000 album.  I didn’t really like Pop when it came out, because I thought it was such a radical departure.  It was only after I learned that some of the song titles actually appear hidden on the cover to Zooropa, and that it was just an extension of the experimentation that began with Achtung Baby, that I really gave it a solid listen.  There are some intense tracks on there – “Please,” one of their more pointed political songs, “If You Wear That Velvet Dress,” a sultry romancin’ tune, and “MOFO,” which is a much more complex examination of Bono’s relationship with his mother than a cursory glance at the title would reveal.

Of course, after all of that, I’m still going to be listening to a lot more BÖC today.

Garden – Genesis

Garden” – Pearl Jam
The Garden” – Guns N’ Roses
Garden of Eden” – Guns N’ Roses
Garden Party” – Marillion
Gas Hed Goes West” – Live
Gasoline Alley” – Rod Stewart
The Gauntlet” – Dropkick Murphys
Gave Up” – Nine Inch Nails
Gave Up [Mix]” – Nine Inch Nails
Gaza” – Marillion
Geek U.S.A.” – The Smashing Pumpkins
Gender” – Orgy
Genesis” – VNV Nation

There’s a lot of my early 90s in there.

Forever-Forward

Forever” – Dropkick Murphys
Forever Shaken” – This Ascension
Forever Young” – Rod Stewart
Foreward” – Linkin Park
Foreward” – VNV Nation
Forgiveness” – Sarah McLachlan
Forgotten” – Linkin Park
Forgotten Sons” – Marillion
Formerly Known As Us” – The Outlaw Pandas
Forsaken” – VNV Nation
Forsaken (Vocal)” – VNV Nation
“Fortunato” – Blade Fetish
The Fortunes of War” – Dropkick Murphys
Forty Six & 2” – Tool
Forward” – Gravity Kills

Ex

Ex Lover’s Lover” – Voltaire
Exchange” – Massive Attack
(exchange)” – Massive Attack
Excuse Me Mr.” – No Doubt
Ex-girlfriend” – No Doubt
Exhibition” – This Ascension
Exile” – Enya
Exile on Princes Street” – Marillion
Exit” – U2
Exit” – This Ascension
Exogenesis: Symphony, Pt. 1: Overture” – Muse
Exogenesis: Symphony, Pt. 2: Cross-Pollination” – Muse
Exogenesis: Symphony, Pt. 3: Redemption” – Muse
The Expatriate Act” – The World/Inferno Friendship Society
Exploration B” – Poe

More good stuff in here, including a version of “Exit” by U2 from the improperly cut original CD pressing of the Joshua Tree, which was one of my first CDs. The end of “One Tree Hill” was erroneously spliced onto the beginning of “Exit”, which makes for some weird listening if you play the track alone.

Apropos to nothing, I do a mean rendition of “Ex-girlfriend” in Rock Band.