Wednesday, December 06, 2006

standing by the window where the light is strong
Anyone who has seen Woody Allen's (very funny) film 'Zelig' will probably understand my feelings about the Irish pomp-rockers U2. It's the way they - or more particularly their guiding light, Mr Bonio - crop up everywhere. I think it began the day I discovered that U2 had hired Eno to produce their 'Joshua Tree' album, although at that point I didn't think 'here's a bunch of Irish punks trying to buy some serious credibilty by hiring Eno' so much as 'has Eno lost it, or is he just selling out?'. Who knows? I've never managed to listen to the album all the way through. Anyway, that was just the start.

I mean, one day I'm casually browsing through Bob Dylan's autobiography 'Chronicles' and suddenly Dylan's talking about how Bonio is visiting him and advising him on lyrics for his next album, and then picking up the phone and putting him in touch with Daniel Lanois as a possible producer; I'm watching a documentary about Mick Jagger and who's at the door? Yes, Mr Bonio again, this time dropping in to add some vocals to Sir Mick's solo album; I'm reading something about Lou Reed and here's old Bonio advising him to extend the ending of 'Satellite of Love' so that the audience can sing along; I'm watching the most recent Live Aid thingy and here's Bonio and Co. opening the show with Sir Paul 'Grecian 2000' McCartney belting out 'Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band'; and so it goes on ...

It's not that U2 aren't decent enough performers and songwriters, but somehow everything about them seems to have an underlying element of pastiche - from their supercool stadium rock personas to the fact that much of their material sounds as if it derives from a careful trawl through the works of the generation of great writers and musicians who immediately preceded them. They are the mynah birds of the rock world, adeptly parodying all the great riffs of the past and making them their own. The process even works in reverse. Not long ago I noticed that one of their songs sounded suspiciously like an attempt to out-snow-patrol those young upstarts Snow Patrol. Anyway, true to form, the ubiquitous shamrockers pop up again on the recent Leonard Cohen tribute album, this time accompanying the man himself on Tower of Song, which is not at all bad, but then it is a great song, and Lenny (sans Grecian 2000, a knighthood or a pair of yellow-tinted wraparound shades, but born with the gift of a golden voice) sings it just beautifully.

ps (thanks brian)