Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Send In The Clowns.

Being a Beatles fan in Australia can be an unsettling experience. I first noticed this when talking about The Beatles with an Australian girlfriend in 1999. I had assumed that, being of reasonably sound mind, she would agree with my contention that the Beatles were, in fact, avatars of the Godhead, sent by a merciful and compassionate universe to light our way through the dark valley of this existence. Something like that. Anyway, she stopped me short, sniffed and said: "I don't really rate The Beatles. The Stones were much cooler". The Stones were much cooler? Huh? Now, obviously The Stones have got some Tunes. I bow to no man in worshipping Wild Horses (that they didn't write it and I prefer The Sundays version is neither here nor there) and Gimme Shelter is colossally good, but really, come on. You don't gaze up at the Horsehead Nebula and complain that it isn't cool enough. Nor do you don't look up at the Taj Mahal and sniff that it's not hardly rock'n'roll. To do so would be point-missing on an epic scale; when things are too sublime for mere human minds to grasp, the only correct response is awe. So lay off the Beatles-hate. Let me say again: you may think that The Beatles were four pleasant chaps from Liverpool who started making beat music and then went on to take some drugs and go a bit mental. You may also think that you can fruitfully compare The Beatles to the Stones. Not so. It's not a case of comparing apples with oranges. It's more a case of comparing apples with Sublime Manifestations Of The Benevolent Godhead, sent to light our way. Got that? Good.

And yet, I've met more than a few people in the land Down Under who seem to think that The Beatles are just too weird, not rocky enough, not my cup of tea, thankyou. Why this I don't know, and is a subject for another time. The Australian Girlfriend made some noises to the effect that Australia shared with America a preferrence for blue-collar, earthy, no-frills music, not yer pretentious art-school nonsense. Which would certainly explain why bands like John Butler Trio, Something For Kate, Eskimo Joe, You Am I, [fill in revered Aussie pub rockers here. There are millions of 'em] etc. But I digress.The release of A New Beatles album should be an occasion for national rejoicing (and would drown out the Ashes crowing that's sure to turn the next coupla months into a living nightmare) but I suspect that it won't.

Love, the giant Beatles mash-up that soundtracks that latest Cirque Du Soleil extravaganza, is pretty damn awesome. Which is that least you expect from yer average Godhead. What's so good about it? Haven't we heard mash-ups before (the Grey Album, Revolved)? Sure, but none of those guys have had access to the original masters, and it's the fact that so many of the songs have been so beautifully remastered that's so cool - songs that had previously been mixed down onto an eight-track have had their constituent instruments split out and polished up, so now songs like I Am The Walrus and A Day In The Life sound reborn. A Day In The Life is especially wonderful. You can hear all the instruments in the symphonic freak-out, and the vocals after "I fell into a dream" are now startlingly clear. There's some kind of reggae breakdown in Hey Jude, with bass parts I've never heard before. As for the mash-ups, it all works astonishingly well, given how awful it could have been. Being For the Benefit Of My Kite rolls out on the psych noise of I Want You/She's So Heavy, Within Without You has been given Tomorrow Never Knows pummelling undercarriage, and there's a brand new string part written by George Martin for a demo of While My Guitar Gently Weeps.

It's all too good. I'm off to worship.

Monday, November 27, 2006

U2 Gone Poo

We went to see U2 the other day at the Telstra Dome. Man o man, but they were piss-poor. Who got in their ears and told them that the era 1990-97 was an aberration and should be quietly dropped from all future sets, and where can I find that person and set about ruining them in kind? Their last two albums have been stuffed full of highly polished, highly awful turds. Even the lead-off singles are doggish. Beautiful Day - ruined by football. Vertigo - please God spare us. What's worse is that the songs that they do play are now shamelessly slaved to Boon's messianic philanthropy, all the ambiguity removed so that now One is about Africa, With Or Without You is about, er, Africa probably and can you guess which continent could be described as a place Where The Streets Have No Name? Never mind that these songs might have meant something personal to you once. Bono was quoted the other day as wanting to go back and rewrite some of his early lyrics. I dread to imagine the damage he could do: "I Will Follow/Assuming you make a donation to charity". At one point- it's hard to recall this clearly as I fear I was at that moment trying to ingest my own sensory organs- Bono wore some sort of head-scarf with symbols of all the major monotheisms, and a touchingly simple logo: CO-EXIST. Of course! That's what we should do! Co-exist! Suddenly it seemed so simple. Although, can I be churlish for just a teensy moment and suggest that of all the bothersome people in the world that message should be directed to, a stadium full of U2 fans in Sydney would be fairly low on the list? And in other news; are you fucking kidding me? Where did all the irony go? What happened to the playfulness, the pisstaking? Did I miss a meeting? "All that dance stuff, and silly costumes and lemons and MacPhisto? That's all out. It wasn't playing well in Denver." There was a two-song salvo of the ways things were, when they played an encore of Zoo Station and The Fly. Even the big screens finally came to life. Up to that point, they had entertained merely slow-moving blobs of colour, which I suppose was at least fitting. Remember Bullet The Blue Sky, with the burning crosses which morph into swastikas? Can't have that! Too weird for the new post 9-11 U2. We can be the generation that ends poverty, Bono said over and over again. Is it too much to ask that U2 address their poverty of imagination first?

The very next day I went back and listened to POP, to see if maybe I had been kidding myself about its qualities. Not a bit of it. It sounds great. What's best is the quality of doubt that, again and again, can be read into Bono's lyrics. Please and Wake Up Dead Man are both pleading, questioning, confused, and are great. Last Night On Earth rocks harder than any of their later efforts, and the opening trio of songs punch hard to the solar plexus, wherever that is. Best of all though, I think, is Gone, where for once Bono seems to simply give up the preaching and retreat as if into a sensual bliss, aware that it's an abdication of his sloganeering self: "Goodbye/You can keep this suit of lights/I'll be up with sun/ I'm not coming down". An improvement on "A mole/living in a hole". And Please, while it deals with a similar subject as Sunday Bloody Sunday, is far more tortured, the cracked 'please' of the chorus an exhortation that knows it's falling on deaf ears.

All this, coming off a run of Achtung Baby, Zooropa and Passengers, were the U2 of awesome juxtapositions, of calling for pizzas and calling a beseiged Sarajevo. They embraced techno hip-hop and popular culture's dazzling contradictions and made music as big as before but this time with teeth. The worthy was always there, but the vehicle was sleek and sharp. Once they emerged from a lemon. Now they are the lemon.

Co-exist? Shove it up yer bum.