Jack White, "Love Is Blindness"

>> Saturday, January 07, 2012

Last year, Q magazine celebrated the 20th anniversary of U2's Achtung Baby with a tribute album featuring covers by various artists. I have to confess that The Killers' take on "Ultraviolet (Light My Way)" didn't impress me, and I was disappointed in the version of "Zoo Station" that Nine Inch Nails (one of my favorite bands) turned in. But the other night I heard Jack White's version of "Love Is Blindness", and that kicked--was maybe even better than the original.

I was in my first year of college when Achtung Baby came out. This is memorable to me at least partly because Achtung was the first album I think I can remember for which there was buzz, or at least the first album for my generation. Contextwise, for those of you who don't recall, you have to understand that for at least a segment of Gen Xers, The Joshua Tree was kind of almost our generation's Sgt. Pepper's, for want of a better reference point; it's not quite a valid comparison, I realize, and for all sorts of reasons, but it might be the best I can do. If you were of a certain demographic, this was the single ubiquitous album that staked probably the best claim for Single Most Important Record In The Universe.

But what followed it was Rattle And Hum, and, really, Rattle And Hum was kind of crap. I mean, it isn't a terrible record, and a couple of the songs are even kind of great even; "All I Want Is You" is pretty incredible even after every single Gen X romantic comedy made in a five year period attempted to kill it by playing it to death. But mostly Rattle And Hum was a bit self-indulgent, was U2 discovering America in much the same way and to much the same effect as Columbus and his crew happening upon it: they were clearly mighty-impressed with themselves, but the natives kind of already knew it was here.

So I don't know if anybody really expected much from whatever was going to follow Hum. More self-indulgence, more shout-outs to African-American roots music, more echo, I dunno. What I don't think anybody would have predicted was that U2 would sort of follow David and Iggy's fading footsteps and head to Berlin with Brian Eno. And then we all started hearing about it. The Edge did an interview with--I think it was Musician that one of my friends had a subscription to, and this was one of those articles you started reading on the john with sort of a ho-hum kind of thing and finished breathlessly on the couch, needing to hear what this guy was talking about now, immediately, no, yesterday. This was all effectively pre-Internet, these days the thing would have leaked online and people would be streaming it, you'd be able to find torrents of it, people would have choice cuts (or even the whole thing) posted on their blogs. Then, not so much. (Though, if memory serves, some of the band's early session tapes had been stolen and bootlegged onto a really expensive and illegal vinyl that nobody I knew had actually heard.) I don't know if it's better or worse that you don't have to wait so much anymore.

But what really sealed it--because writing about music (even in an interview with the musician himself) really is a lot like dancing about architecture (as the cliché has it)--was when "The Fly" debuted on MTV. MTV was still showing music videos back then, though they'd already begun something of a transition by throwing in some game shows, sketch comedy series, cartoons, etc. An I remember my friend Don and I watching "The Fly" in the living room of my dorm suite and just looking at each other, because this wasn't what U2 sounded like at all and it was fucking amazing. It wasn't like we didn't like old U2; hell, I was playing guitar really seriously then, and my entire so-called "sound" was more or less cribbed wholly from The Edge's jangle and twang (and I still like me some serious delay... elay... lay... ay....). We loved U2. Nearly everybody did. But this was... this was stunning. This was U2 walking away from the wreckage of their last badly-conceived concert film/documentary/live album/what-were-they-thinking as a completely different band.

I remember all of my friends tracked the release date. And then a bunch of us had classes, so we all gave our money to one guy--I think it was Don, actually--and he went and stood in line at the record store and bought a half-dozen CDs for everyone. I was, again if memory serves, the first person who'd heard about this new album and the last person who got his copy in his hands. And gods, it was a good record. It was a great record. It was just something else. Twenty years later, I don't know if it's really as good a record as Joshua Tree was, or The Unforgettable Fire, an album that got mixed reviews at the time but stands out of the band's discography like... well, like an unforgettable fire, actually. (Might as well go with that, I can't do any better than they already did when they titled it.) But in 1991, Achtung was the shit.

I don't know if that kind of excitement for a record is something I'll ever experience again. I don't mean that I don't get excited about music, I mean that particular kind of excitement, that anticipation, that tension. I don't know if that kind of thing is a figment of youth or just part of a lost era when things moved more slowly and you had to wait. It was something, though. It was something.


Nick from the O.C.,  Saturday, January 7, 2012 at 11:54:00 AM EST  

I wonder if my generation's Sgt. Pepper might have been The Dead Kennedy's Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables?

On second thought, I guess I'll have to go for the obvious -- Never Mind the Bollocks ....

Eric Saturday, January 7, 2012 at 12:57:00 PM EST  

When I was in high school, Rolling Stone did what I believe was the first of what would become a perennial-ish feature for them: "The Hundred Best Rock Albums Of The Past Twenty Years". A dubious list, and they've beaten it to death since then with the hundred best this and that, but that first one was a phenomenally good buyer's guide, if nothing else. I can thank that stupid article for introducing me to Richard Thompson and a few other acts and albums.

Anyway, the number one choice was, of course, Sgt. Pepper's. And number two was Never Mind The Bollocks. And that caused a huge tizzy, because: Beatles, number one, sure, but the fucking Sex Pistols at the runner-up, really?!

The thing that's funny and ironic, though, is that as time goes on I have to confess that while Sgt. Pepper's was a monumental album, it just hasn't aged well. It isn't as good an album as Revolver or Rubber Soul, to be sure--those are fucking amazing records that sound completely displaced from time (I remember how shocked I was to discover "Got To Get You Into My Life" wasn't recorded in the early 1970s--'72 or '73, absolutely, had to be--which is something). I really don't know if Pepper's deserves to be number one or not; musically, I'd have to say, it doesn't (culturally, maybe). And meanwhile--here's the ironic and funny part--I have zero doubt that Never Mind The Bollocks absolutely is the second-greatest rock album of all time.

No clue at all what the greatest is. Maybe it ought to be Revolver or possibly (a slim chance) The Stones' Exile On Main Street. But Bollocks, that record was a fucking atom bomb. Not the first punk record, not the best punk record, but undeniably the record that marked a "before" and "after" point in the history of popular music.

Nick from the O.C.,  Saturday, January 7, 2012 at 6:07:00 PM EST  

"I'll take ancient music for 400 Quatloos, Alex."

Answer: Beach Boys' Pet Sounds

Question: What is the second greatest rock album of all time, according to Rolling Stone magazine in 2010?

/not a big Beach Boys fan

Eric Sunday, January 8, 2012 at 2:51:00 AM EST  

Okay, Pet Sounds is a phenomenal album. And an important album: it was a step up in the arms race between The Beatles and The Beach Boys.

But I'm still gonna stand by my guns on Bollocks... and, ironically, by Rolling Stone's guns circa 1987 or 1988. (You'd think they'd commit to some kind of consistency, no?)

Nick from the O.C.,  Sunday, January 8, 2012 at 9:58:00 PM EST  


Hobgoblin of little minds!

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