Taking it Down a Notch (3/23/2001)
U2, All that You Can't Leave Behind (Interscope 2000) - Once they were the biggest band on the planet, with lead singer Bono delivering with blistering intensity on The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby.
Then U2 seemed to outgrow its own grandiose schemes, culminating in the baffling, Pop (1997).
For its tenth studio release, All that You Can't Leave Behind, U2 returns to a more rootsy, earthy sound, with uber-producers Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno. Even old friend Steve Lillywhite is brought in for mixing. The result is a coherent whole - more time-worn and lacking the sense that "we can change the world," but also displaying more humanity.
With the recording career covering 22 years and record sales in excess of 100 million albums, U2 has nothing to prove. Yet prove it they have done time and again, reinventing themselves, and working in fields that none have previously found.
The band consists of Bono (real name Paul Hewson) on vocals and guitars, The Edge (real name Dave Evans) on guitar, piano, and vocals, Adam Clayton on bass guitar, and Larry Mullen on drums and percussion. The band boasts that they remain intact for two decades - no one has ever left U2, and no new member has ever joined.
There is a sense of melancholy on All that You Can't Leave Behind, a feeling of getting older. "Stuck in a Moment with You" and "In a Little While" are back-to-basic numbers, with gorgeous guitar work by The Edge and with Bono taking it down a notch, stripping away some of his more recent flamboyance.
The lead-off single, "Beautiful Day," has been getting plenty of radio play, and displays U2's new-found rootedness. Yet U2 is not ready for the rest home; "Wild Honey" is a full-tilt acoustic rocker, and "When I Look at the World" is a smooth hip-hugger.
My favorite track is the concluding, "Grace," in which Daniel Lanois brings out the shimmering beauty of The Edge's guitar work. At the heart of every great band lies a great guitarist, and The Edge has always carried the weight.
U2 is consciously seeking to recreate it's past on All that You Can't Leave Behind. Bono confesses that the colossal POP MART tour, supported by an army of designers, engineers, artists, and accountants, "was like taking a blockbuster movie on the road. It was too much."
Chimes in Larry Mullen, "I think everything ended up in such a rush. We underestimated how long it would take to get ready for the show. We ended in Las Vegas under-rehearsed, and it was one of the most frightening experiences of my life."
Everyone in the band wants to get back to basics. Says Bono, "We spent most of the 90s experimenting and I think we finally realized on the Pop Mart Tour that it was time for us to start stripping back again." Adds The Edge, "We did consciously make a band record with simple, clear arrangements and direct melodies and lyrics."
The band remains rooted in Dublin, which is still their home town. Label honcho Jimmy Iovine (and former U2 producer) flew to Dublin to preview the new album. Says Iovine, "I knew 30 seconds into the first song that they had nailed it. When you hear a great record, it sounds three-dimensional. You don't know where the middle is."
U2 has found that middle on All that You Can't Leave Behind. The band is older, wiser, and more grounded. Gone is Bono's Mephistopheles-inspired persona developed for the Zooropa tour. Instead, Bono has found himself again, tempered by the death of his friend, Michael Hutchence (from INXS).
Explains Bono, "There was a moment that had to do with one's mortality. It was a time when I saw how you can lose everything, and it woke me up in a way. Suddenly the person in the bar who was very interesting before becomes boring. You want to spend more time with your family, with your kids. You also realize you don't have the time anymore for things like the irony and the masks. There was never any irony in the songs, just the way we presented them."
The irony and the masks are absent from All that You Can't Leave Behind. Much as I love U2, I can't give the new album my whole-hearted endorsement. Other albums (especially Achtung Baby) held my rapt attention for hours on end. I find myself listening to All that You Can't Leave Behind and saying, "Nice album. What's next?"
Music from Malcolm in the Middle (Restless Records 2001) - Malcolm in the Middle is the new comedy hit for Fox TV. Airing on Sundays, it follows the escapades of Malcolm (Frankie Muniz), his uptight dad, Hal (Bryan Cranston), and his dead-on modern mom, Lois (Jane Kaczmarek).
The Malcolm in the Middle soundtrack is aimed directly at a teen audience, with alternative pop and hints of rebellion. Naturally, the album opens with the hits theme song, "Boss of Me," preformed by the New York combo, They Might be Giants.
The album draws from a broad-based selection of alternative pop, including Eagle-eye Cherry ("Been Here Once Before"), the muted pop of Travis ("We Are Monkeys"), and the electrified Screamin' Cheetah Wheelies ("Right Place, Wrong Time").
Also appearing are newcomers Citizen King with the smooth groove of "Bizarro," teen favorites Hanson on "Smile," and the oddball hit, "Cotton Eye Joe" by Rednex. Finally, vocals from the show are sampled on The Dust Brother's "I Just Don't Care."
Says Malcolm in the liner notes, "Okay, they only gave me a little space here, so please listen . . . It's all a giant con! I know I play a rebellious kid on TV. But hey, that's my friggin job. I'm only doing it for the money, which by the way doesn't grow on trees."
Like the Sopranos album, it's hard to call Malcolm in the Middle a real soundtrack. Your kids will like this collection from the show.
Soundtrack to State and Main (RCA Victor 2000) - State and Main is the new comedy from director David Mamet. Starring Alex Baldwin, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, and Sara Jessica Parker, it's a film about making movies, as a big budget movie crew descends upon a quaint New England village, sewing a bumper crop of vanity, greed, and love.
I didn't see the film, so I don't know how the music holds up in the context of the movie. But on its own, the soundtrack by composer Theodore Shapiro more than holds it's own. With 18 tracks, all instrumental (except for the concluding, "The Song of the Old Mill" with vocals by Patti LuPone), State and Main is an elegiac and engaging affair.
Born in 1971, composer Shapiro is a New York native with a Master's degree from the Juilliard School of Music. Mr. Shapiro has composed music for several films, including Prince of Central Park and Six Ways to Sunday.
State and Main was recorded in a four-day period at Right Track Recording in New York City. The musicians included Larry Saltzman (guitar), Jeffery Allen and Edward Mann (bass), Ben Perowsky (drums), and Theodore Shapiro (keyboards). The recording was rounded out by violins, violas, cellos, oboes, and an accordian.
State and Main works on its own, as the album builds a sense of place and time. Sometimes jazzy pop ("Claire Finds Religion"), sometimes introspective moog ("The Printshop"), the soundtrack develops a sense of place on the East Coast, with a feeling of fall coming.
The highlight of the album is "The Old Mill," with a soaring trumpet solo by Robert Sullivan. "The Old Mill" brings to mind the gorgeous soundtrack to the Barry Levinson film, Avalon.
For a sweet soundtrack that shimmers with grace, try State and Main.
- Randy Krbechek © 2001
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