U2 – Rattle And Hum (1988): Review

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Produced by Jimmy Iovine
Label – Island

For better or worse, “Rattle And Hum” is a sprawling project, an ambitious mixture of live and studio recordings, visually accompanied by a Phil Joanou directed movie. It’s the band’s attempt to portray their supposed “identity” by revisiting and reinterpreting the roots of rock music. Extended spells with Bob Dylan left lead singer Bono searching the unconscious realms of his creative imagination, with a view that by laying bare the foundations of both his musical and moral beliefs, he would provide fans with a insight into the inner workings of an artist well known for clarion calls and soundbites expressing the inhumanity of the human soul. He also attempts to pay homage to the icons of rock and roll, which includes amongst others, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley and of course, Dylan. Musically, the post punk that the band built their brand on is virtually non-existent, as the seventeen song selection harvests the traditions of rock with added Gospel, blues and country. The new songs are on the whole fine, but there’s a lot of wading through self righteous live and studio convictions that simply dilute what could have possibly been a superb single long player.

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The live songs are mixed; a revved up version of “Helter Skelter” is faithful to The Beatles original recording, “All Along The Watchtower” is untidy but spirited (the band had never rehearsed the song previously), and for all its honest anti-apartheid rhetoric, “Silver And Gold’s” sermonizing feels somewhat unwelcoming. The underlying Gospel tones of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” are sweetly benefitted by the uplifting tones of The New Voices Of Freedom choir, and “Pride (In The Name Of Love)” is as equally impassioned as the original studio recording. Having recorded the nine new studio recordings over a considerable period of time, at studios in Dublin, Los Angeles and Memphis, and based on the emphasis to capture classic rock themes brings a resultant predictability that confirms that the band have all the skills to re-interpret, even if there’s little new innovation. The blues rocker “Desire”, is smeared with a Bo Diddley/Rolling Stones “Not Fade Away” riff that we’ve all heard before, “God Part II” is a well intentioned effort to pay homage to John Lennon that falls flat in that it feels like a borrowed platform for Bono to bleat about his personal temptations. The lyrically co-written country ballad with Bob Dylan (“Love Rescue Me”) passes through harmlessly, bettered by the surging blues of “When Love Comes To Town”, which sees BB King’s growls and intricate guitar licks stretch both Bono and The Edge. The Memphis horn led tribute to Billie Holiday (“Angel Of Harlem”), is an infectious, joyous gem, and the oft forgotten closer, “All I Want Is You”, an intense song of intimacy is bolstered by a highly original string arrangement written by Van Dyke Parks.

There are genuine highlights, but one gets the feeling that U2 bit off more than they could chew. “Rattle And Hum” is either a cunningly crafted piece of contemporary musical parody that inspires detached appreciation rather than emotional participation, or in their attempt to soak up America, and the forefathers of rock music, it’s a typically dilettante venture that’s carefully grabbed all the right ingredients, but forgot when to stop adding them.

7/10

Track Rating
1 – Helter Skelter (7)
2 – Van Diemen’s Land (7)
3 – Desire (7)
4 – Hawkmoon 269 (7)
5 – All Along The Watchtower (6)
6 – I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (8)
7 – Freedom For My People (n/a)
8 – Silver And Gold (6)
9 – Pride (In The Name Of Love) (8)
10 – Angel Of Harlem (9)
11 – Love Rescue Me (6)
12 – When Love Comes To Town (7)
13 – Heartland (7)
14 – God Part II (6)
15 – The Star Spangled Banner (n/a)
16 – Bullet The Blue Sky (6)
17 – All I Want Is You (9)

U2 – Boy (1980): Review (7/10)

U2 – October (1981): Review (5/10)

U2 – War (1983): Review (8/10)

U2 – The Unforgettable Fire (1984): Review (8/10)

U2 – The Joshua Tree (1987): Review (9/10)

 

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6 responses to “U2 – Rattle And Hum (1988): Review

  1. I always look at the film especially as their first big misstep and a lot of the criticism they are still receiving started with the film I think. Also after this I think they started to think too much. I am a big U2 fan but they have been frustrating since this period… Note to Bono: Get the boys together- record your new album and release it– I remember hearing 3 years ago when the Songs Of Innocence was released how the next album was pretty much good to go—and we are still waiting… Trump is elected and they see that as a reason to ‘re-tool the album…. I recall hearing in 2011 that “this is going to be the year of U2- they have over two albums of material recorded etc….. nothing was released. .. one album this decade..

  2. A strange one for sure. My dad is a fan. Was a bigger fan when I was younger, though. This was one of the U2 albums that I actually liked and would encourage him to play. As I got older, discovered music, etc… it sounded pretty uninspired. Which is odd given the background was their intentions to inspire themselves. It’s a fair review, but I’d give it a 5. Just fails to make any sort of statement really.

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