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U2 pick the hits

The video for U2’s ‘Window in the Skies’ is a montage of vintage clips, cleverly edited so that veritable icons like Bob Marley, Louis Armstrong, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Sinatra, The Clash and Johnny Cash appear to be singing the words. Cheeky maybe, but take one listen to ‘U218 Singles’ and it’s easy to hear why these four Irishmen have joined that pantheon of rock royalty.

Equally simple is the concept behind their latest hits collection. From the self-explanatory no-frills title, old black and white cover photo, and heavyweight track selection, it’s clear this is a no-nonsense affair. They want the music to do the talking. And, boy, does it shout.

Kicking off with ‘Beautiful Day’, which saw them reapply for the job of biggest band in the world after their difficult late-’90s phase, the compilation is a non-stop parade of vintage U2 anthems – or, in the case of the more recent tracks, songs that sound like vintage U2 anthems.

Which means there’s no space for anything off the experimental ‘Zooropa’ or ‘Pop’ albums and plenty off stalwarts like ‘The Joshua Tree’, ‘War’ and ‘Achtung Baby’, as well as the recent return to roots releases ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind’ and ‘How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb’.

So instead of the falsetto disco of ‘Lemon’ or monotone mumble of ‘Numb’ we get the yearning gospel of ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’, the rock-song-as-political-protest ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’, and the soundtrack of a million weddings, ‘One’, which retains its dark, brooding intensity despite chronic overexposure.

Likewise the radiant ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’ still sounds as effortless and carefree as it did back in the ’80s, while the child-like hope of ‘New Year’s Day’ remains undiminished nearly 20 years later on ‘Walk On’. Also largely intact is the classic U2 sound – chiming guitars, marching band drumming, insidious basslines and aching vocals – that forms the basis for most of the songs collected here.

Not that everything sounds the same.

‘Vertigo’ and ‘Elevation’ add some more arrogance to the mix, ‘Sweetest Thing’ contributes a real sense of fun, ‘Desire’ injects some vintage hell-raising rock ‘n roll, ‘Mysterious Ways’ offers a hint of, yes, mystery. And, despite their inherent musical similarities, the wide eyed-innocence of the majestic ‘With Or Without You’ couldn’t be further removed from the world-weary despair of the equally sublime ‘Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own’.

But, like the unrepresented and oft ignored ‘October’, it’s not all good.

The restrained ‘Stay (Faraway So Close)’, the call to arms that is ‘I Will Follow’, or aggressive concert staple ‘Until The End Of The World’ should have replaced the tired and clumsy ‘Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of’ – or the prerequisite new songs.

Both ‘The Saints Are Coming’ (a driving cover version that allows the group to expose its punk rock roots) or ready-made stadium anthem ‘Window in the Skies’ (a virtual remake of ‘City of Blinding Lights’ with more keyboards) sound rushed and half-done by U2 standards. And although neither is likely to enter the U2 hall of fame, they’re tucked away at the end of this compilation so as not to get in the way of the bonafide classics.

If it’s a quick crash course in those classics you’re after, ‘U218 Singles’ does the trick. Want anything more? Check out ‘Achtung Baby’ or ‘The Joshua Tree’.

  • This article originally appeared on iafrica.com.

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