18 Singles

Universal Island

I’m taking the occasion of St. Patrick’s Day to finally get around to reviewing this latest compilation from one of the Emerald Isle’s finest exports. You, of course, know the story of these four Irish lads who, over the past three decades or so, have established their reputation as songwriters, musical innovators, brilliant showmen and concerned citizens of the world. If you don’t know the story, then apparently this compilation is aimed at you, because it doesn’t really serve much of a purpose to anyone who hasn’t lived under a rock since 1980.

There are already two much more complete U2 compilations available highlighting their work from 1980 to 1990 and 1990 to 2000. This single-disc distillation can’t possibly do justice to the band’s entire catalogue and doesn’t really try. Instead it concentrates mostly on the band’s biggest sellers and most recent efforts. Early albums Boy and October are overlooked completely. Come to think of it, October didn’t even land a track on the earlier compilation. It’s the forgotten bastard step-child of the U2 catalogue. To be fair, though, “difficult” albums like Zooropa and Pop also get the shaft on this disc. Also missing is one of the band’s greatest early singles, “A Celebration.” Look that one up on iTunes, kids.

So what is here? Well there are a couple of recent tracks from How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, four from 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind, three from 1987’s The Joshua Tree, a couple of obvious choices from War, one from The Unforgettable Fire, two from Achtung Baby, one from Rattle and Hum and “The Sweetest Thing,” which began life as a B-side and became a hit when it was re-recorded and included on one of the previous compilations. Yes, they’re actually mining previous compilations for this one, folks. All the more reason to buy the original.

The only real draw for longtime fans who already have the band’s entire body of work are the two new Rick Rubin-produced tracks. Fortunately, they’re worth the download. The first is a collaboration between U2 and Green Day on a cover of “The Saints Are Coming” by Scottish band The Skids, which featured the late Stuart Adamson (later of Big Country) on guitar. It’s an inspired pairing that begins with Billie Joe delicately singing a bit of “The House of the Rising Run” against Edge’s chiming guitar. Pounding drums and urgent guitars explode out of the speakers about a minute in. “Window in the Skies,” the other new one here, features a chorus with a nice falsetto from Bono.

So if you really have been under that proverbial rock for 30 years or just really have a desire to hear all the most overplayed U2 songs in one place, in non-chronological order, taken completely out of context, by all means buy this disc immediately. If neither of those is true, download what you don’t have and head down to the pub for a pint of Guinness. That’s what I’m gonna do, anyway.

U2: www.u2.com

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