U2, "Van Diemen's Land"

>> Monday, September 17, 2012

I wouldn't say this was what I meant to have up here today, although I adore the song and didn't have anything else intended. I looked around for something to wax indignant or comedic about, found myself scoping YouTube to see if there was a video for a song I hadn't heard in a while, found myself watching the video for a different song I only half-liked before it aged badly in twenty intervening years, ended up with "Van Diemen's Land" from the Rattle And Hum soundtrack. Ah, well.

Rattle And Hum doesn't stand out as a high point in the band's biography, if you ask me. Some okay material on the soundtrack, but a lot of it seemed like warmed-up leftovers from The Joshua Tree and a lot of it--along with the entire documentary/concert film accompanying it--came off as naïvely pretentious. I guess you might wonder what I mean by that last part: well, y'know, it was both charming and irritating, watching U2 "discovering" the United States or whatever it was they were being documented doing. "Congratulations, Bono, on your discovery of blues music--but did you know Americans have been playing this music for almost a whole century? It's true! And that other European acts before you, like The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton also learned about blues music and copied its form and stylings? Really! Look it up!" I know they didn't mean to be annoying and you're supposed to be caught up in their youthful exuberance and all that, it's just that even when I was a teenager I was dimly aware that one of youth's most irritating qualities is the way kids always think they're the first people to find out what everybody already knows about.

And then, along with that, there's the fact that what made U2 great in the day was fusing postpunk guitar atmospherics with an obviously Gaelic sound. Bono working with Clannad or The Edge working with Sinéad O'Connor were right in ways that U2 working with American blues artists (B.B. King, "When Love Comes To Town") or folk-rock legends (Bob Dylan, "Love Rescue Me") don't quite manage (don't get me wrong: I'll crank "When Love Comes To Town" as much as the next guy when it comes on the radio, it ain't bad at all; as for "Love Rescue Me"... well, yeah, that's a song, alright, yep). And Bono name-checking Billie Holliday, John Coltrane and Miles Davis (et. al) on "Angel Of Harlem" just sounds forced, a songwriter in his late 20s (old enough to know better) pulling the equivalent of a high schooler sketching band logos on the cover of his five-section ring notebook; again, there's this forced earnestness to the affair, this ostentatious enthusiasm that plays against the band's actual strengths.

This is where I think I have to say that Van Diemen's Land" ends up being one of the strongest tracks off of Rattle And Hum even if it's kind of a throwaway. There's a lot of earnestness in this song, maybe, maybe too much earnestness, this is not a folk song--but it does call back to classic U2.

Of course, what goes to show I'm entirely full of shit is that the band's very next record would leave Dublin behind entirely to embrace Berlin, and would be one of the band's strongest catalogue entries. So I think that disproves everything I might have just said about Irish soul being the essence of the band, or tries to.


Random Michelle K Monday, September 17, 2012 at 7:21:00 PM EDT  

When we saw BB King, he played "When Love Comes to Town."

That's all I got for you, aside from the obvious statement that BB King was AWESOME to see.

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