Friday, 11 September 2009

1988 U2: Desire

By this stage of their career U2 had embraced the 'rock & roll' mythos to the extent that they appeared to genuinely believe a few trips southside were enough to qualify them as black American bluesmen from the bad side of Memphis. They weren't of course, and the sheer absurdity of the proposition fell apart double time when the notion was stretched across four sides of the bloated folly that was 'Rattle And Hum', though it fared slightly better when taken in bite size chunks like 'Desire'.

Although it broke a run of four consecutive cover versions at number one, it's no small irony that 'Desire' itself is an amalgamated car crash of garage band, Stooges and Seeds (et al) borrowed scuzz and cliche built around a Bo Diddley 'shave and a haircut' rhythm; 'Desire' clumps along in a welter of fuzzy guitar, harmonica riffs and handclaps that would have led directly into a brick wall paralysis were it not for Bono's vocal.

With a lyric that's all sawn off Jim Morrison metaphor and semi-mystical bluster ("She's a candle burning in my room. Yeah I'm like the needle, needle and spoon"), Bono does just about enough to convince that he knows and cares about what he's on about. It's a decent performance, but it's not enough and the main failing of 'Desire' is that although it's short and direct, any sense of spontaneity is absent to the point that it sounds more like the song U2 thought they ought to be recording rather than anything that was knocked up on the hoof during a studio jam. More designer stubble than tramp's beard, it's a conscious attempt to tap into a dirty rock & roll tradition by a band who to all intents and purposes have diligently read their copies of 'Mystery Train' and 'Psychotic Reaction' to tatters but haven't bothered to listen to any of the actual music. The gimmick of recording tracks at Sun Studios was never going to summon up enough atmosphere to paper over the cracks to an extent that convinces; if this stuff isn't going to come naturally, then it isn't going to come at all. In U2's case it only very rarely does, and certainly not here.

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