photo by Helena Christensen
U2, Ireland’s own Fab Four, ignited a blaze in the mid-1980s with The Unforgettable Fire, then turned up the heat later in that decade with The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby. Things cooled off a bit in the 1990s, which witnessed the release of the uneven Zooropa and Pop, plus a retrospective collection. But the group greeted the new millennium (or ended the last one, depending on how you figure) with a bang: 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind, the band’s 10th album, which builds on the elements that make their 1980s work so great.
Reunited with the production team of Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, who produced all of the aforementioned early triumphs, the band offer an 11-song set that finds Bono singing passionately, with the Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen Jr. respectively adding shimmering lead guitar, rhythmic bass lines, and an insistent beat. Moreover, the anthemic, hooks-laden compositions are consistently as majestic and tuneful as any U2 has ever produced. “I’m just trying to find a decent melody,” Bono sings in “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of.” He and his bandmates find a whole bunch of them here.
The album—which debuted at the top of the charts in nearly three dozen countries—produced four well-deserved international hits, “Beautiful Day,” “Elevation,” “Walk On,” and “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of.” And this is an all-killer, no-filler recording on which tracks such as “Wild Honey” and “Kite” are just as memorable as the singles.
Twenty years later, All That You Can’t Leave Behind still sounds magical—and better than ever in the remastered copy that’s included in a new “super deluxe” anniversary edition. The set arrives in an LP-sized slipcase with a double-sided poster, a 20-page booklet with lyrics, and a 32-page hardcover book of band photos, but those are just icing on a five-layer CD cake.
In addition to the aforementioned remaster, the first disc features “The Ground Beneath Her Feet,” a number with lyrics by novelist Salmon Rushdie that appeared as a bonus track on the original album in several countries outside the U.S. A second CD holds nine odds and ends, including an acoustic version of “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of”; “Stateless,” from the soundtrack of the film The Million Dollar Hotel; four remastered B-sides; and three excellent session outtakes: “Levitate,” “Love You Like Mad,” and “Flower Child.”
There’s also a disc with 11 extended remixes of songs from the original album, including two versions each of “New York,” Beautiful Day,” and “Elevation.” For the most part, these remixes add the sort of tech clutter that detracted from the group’s 1990s albums. But the new box also devotes a couple of CDs to a nearly two-hour June 2001 Boston concert that finds U2 at the peak of their form. It incorporates seven numbers from All That You Can’t Leave Behind plus such earlier highpoints as “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “Bullet the Blue Sky,” and The Joshua Tree’s “Where the Streets Have No Name” and “With or Without You.”
What’s not to like? Well, it seems a good bet that most fans would have preferred a Blu-ray with concert video and/or a surround-sound mix of the album instead of the CD with remixes. That said, there’s more terrific music in this one box than in many artists’ entire catalogs.
Elliott Murphy and Olivier Durand, The Middle Kingdom. If you’ve followed the long career of Paris-based rocker Elliott Murphy, you won’t be surprised to learn that he is releasing an album of poetry set to music. He has always loved language and has issued spoken-word recordings before, such as the excellent “On Elvis Presley’s Birthday,” which first appeared on 1993’s Unreal City. His side projects, moreover, have included several novels and a 2017 book called The Middle Kingdom & 50 Other Poems.
Now he has combined 18 of that book’s poems with music composed and performed by his longtime accompanist, Olivier Durand. The wide-ranging program features two numbers about departed rock stars (“On the Death of Prince” and “Last Night I Dreamed about Lou”) as well as several that appear to focus on Murphy’s own life and family: “Nasty Wife” (which is considerably sweeter than the title would suggest), “Grandpa Murphy on 10th Street,” and the clearly autobiographical title cut. Throughout, the verse is deft, laced with humor, and well-complemented by Durand’s music.
Various artists, The Ska from Jamaica. Wikipedia defines ska as a music genre that “combined elements of Caribbean mento and calypso with American jazz and rhythm and blues [and is] characterized by a walking bass line accented with rhythms on the off-beat.” That’s not a bad description but it fails to note one key point: this music, which evolved into rocksteady and reggae, is among the happiest you’ll ever hear. Even when a lyric is about confessing sins or a broken heart, the upbeat rhythms and lively horn arrangements will likely still put a grin on your face.
One treasure of this genre turns out to be The Ska from Jamaica, a multi-artist collection overseen by producer Lindon Pottinger that was originally scheduled for 1966 release. The master tapes for the album—which feature the Maytals, Winston Samuels, and many other leading Jamaican acts—remained lost for decades but were discovered earlier this year. Now they’ve been released on a two-disc collection that adds 47 more Pottinger-produced recordings, most of which have been unavailable since the 1960s. The set clocks in at two and a half hours, which is probably about how long you’ll be smiling.
Jeff Burger’s website, byjeffburger.com, contains more than four decades’ worth of music reviews and commentary. His books include Dylan on Dylan: Interviews and Encounters, Lennon on Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon, Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters, and Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters.