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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, November 29, 2002

U2 survives pitfalls, releases 'Best of' II

By Edna Gundersen
USA Today

The Edge once described U2's '90s period as "four men chopping down 'The Joshua Tree.' "

"U2 Best of 1990-2000" includes tracks from the Irish quartet's '90s albums plus 2000's "All That You Can't Leave Behind."

Anton Corbijn

Today, the guitarist elaborates: "What drove that decade was finding inspiration in unusual locations, first in some kind of avant-garde music in the early '90s, then in visual terms through collaborations with video artists and animators for the Zoo TV and Popmart tours. We were absorbed in a lot of dance music when we started making "Pop," and by the end of that record, we found ourselves moving back to band arrangements, the springboard for "All That You Can't Leave Behind," which completed the circle."

As Y2K dawned, Edge, singer Bono, drummer Larry Mullen Jr. and bassist Adam Clayton had retreated from techno excursions to rediscover core assets.

"After spending most of the decade abstracting what a rock 'n' roll band is about, it felt really radical just being four guys playing in a room together."

The Irish quartet charts that crucial decade of its evolution in its new CD, "U2: Best of 1990-2000," 16 tracks drawn from 1991's "Achtung Baby," 1993's "Zooropa," 1995's "Passengers: Original Soundtracks 1," 1997's "Pop "and 2000's "All That You Can't Leave Behind." Fresh lures include new songs "Electrical Storm" and "The Hands That Built America," also due on the soundtrack for Martin Scorsese's "Gangs of New York."

'U2's Beautiful Day'

9 tonight


The set, a sequel to 1998's chart-topping "The Best of 1980-1990," chronicles a tumultuous era of sonic creative risks that culminated in the Grammy-showered "All That."

On Tuesday, a "Best of 1990-2000" DVD hits shelves with videos, alternative clips, directors' commentary, such bonus tracks as "MoFo" and "Lemon," and "The Road to Sarajevo," a documentary featuring performance footage of the band's historic 1997 concert in Bosnia.

The final concert of the band's Elevation Tour airs tonight as "U2's Beautiful Day," on CBS. The one-hour special was filmed at Ireland's Slane Castle and marks the band's first return since recording "Unforgettable Fire" there 18 years ago.

U2, not only intact but in full bloom, reached the 21st century via a slalom course strewn with rewards and pitfalls, both external and self-imposed.

"After 'Joshua Tree' and 'Rattle and Hum,' U2 had been heavily criticized for embracing America and being saviors of the world," Mullen recalls. "We had to think about approaching the '90s differently. Dance music had taken off, and we had the choice of ignoring it or learning from it. 'Achtung Baby' was a calculated risk."

Instead of alienating fans, the alien territory of "Achtung Baby" and "Zooropa" cemented U2's relevance and enhanced its cachet as intrepid explorers. The band lost its footing with "Pop," which was rushed to completion so the band could meet tour commitments.

"It's hard to look back on that record," Mullen says. "We were confident we could finish a record in a year and go on the road. We had lots of great ideas, so we agreed reluctantly to tour on certain dates, and then we realized a lot of songs were incomplete. The real tragedy of 'Pop' is that it could have been a huge adventurous record if we'd had two more months to finish.

"Having said that, 'Pop' did extremely well everywhere else except America," he says.

In tackling "Pop" and the subsequent Popmart tour, "we bit off more than we could chew," Edge says. "But we had some of our proudest moments toward the end of that tour. We were stripping away the complex sonics and getting back to simple band arrangements."

U2 treasures its roots but seeks inspiration in existing trends and unlikely pockets of pop offshoots.

"We look to what's exciting and fresh," Edge says. "For a large part of the '90s, all the innovation seemed to be in hip-hop and dance music. A lot of rock music was pretty tedious and not very ambitious. Cut to now, and there's a resurgence of the simple guitar/bass/drum formula."

That formula remains a cornerstone but not a holy grail, and while U2 gets its share of scorn for messianic posturing, few would accuse the band of rock snobbery.

"Rock bands need to be challenged," Mullen says, confessing that teen pop threw down the gauntlet. "We took the attitude that some of those people were making very good pop music. Do we fight it or compete with it? 'Beautiful Day' was us competing with Britney Spears."

He laughs and adds: "OK, she won, but we don't see it as a threat. It's a challenge. We don't want to be part of some rock elite. We want to be on radio and MTV."