Friday, May 26, 2017

CD Odyssey Disc 1009: U2

Another week is over and I’m looking forward to a relaxing weekend of chillin’ with my girl. Let’s kick that experience off with a music review.

Disc 1009 is…Boy
Artist: U2

Year of Release: 1980

What’s up with the Cover? A boy. While this is appropriate to the album title I am not a big fan of kids and if I did want a kid on an album cover I’d prefer an angry kid, like the kid on the cover of “War” (reviewed back at Disc 176). Yeah, I know he’s the same kid but he looks cooler when he’s angry. This kid looks like he just broke an expensive vase or something and is about to cry and hope mom goes easy on him.

How I Came To Know It: Back in the mists of time I bought a U2 greatest hits package and it encouraged me to go buy more of their earlier studio albums. Some of this really worked out for me, but this wasn’t one of those moments.

How It Stacks Up:  I have seven of U2’s studio albums (spoiler alert: soon to be five). Of those seven, “Boy” wasn’t exactly inspiring. I’ll put it sixth, just ahead of “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb”.

Ratings: 2 stars

You know how with so many artists, their first album ends up being their best album? This is not one of those moments. “Boy” is U2’s first album, and it is clear they still have a lot to learn.

“Boy” is an album that manages to combine pointless droning sounds with pretention. That’s not an easy combination to manage, but just because they find the sweet spot between the two doesn’t make it enjoyable. The droning is designed to create atmosphere (I think) but it just feels listless. The pretention? I don’t think that’s by design, I just don’t think they can help themselves.

This album is the musical equivalent to that awkward kid who sits in the corner of the party sighing heavily while trying to make eye contact every time you pass him on the way to the kitchen. You know he desperately wants someone to come over and ask him about his internal emotional upheaval but frankly, it just isn’t worth the effort. So you just look away and find your beer as quickly as possible. Frankly, I regret inviting this album into my CD party to begin with.

Even the band’s best weapon, Bono’s voice is either tucked away in the mix or crooning away on songs that aren’t interesting enough to make you appreciate his art. The bass and drums are solid and are the stars of this show, but they are not enough to overcome the Edge’s pedestrian guitar work and the boring song structures.

There is a lot of overdubbing and echo effects throughout the record, and you can tell the band is trying to create a multilayered tapestry of sound. The production is actually effective at doing this, and I appreciated how much they could squeeze into these songs and not make them sound busy. Unfortunately, it was like a tapestry without a focal point, where a song would cycle around a bit and then fade into the next one, each less memorable than the last.

The most memorable song is the album’s one hit “I Will Follow,” which has what is a passable pop hook. However, I’ve never cared for “I Will Follow” and having it removed from its fellow hits puts too much pressure on it to carry the rest of the record. Also, the song has some annoying bell ringing in it that is one extra layer of sound they could have done without. Early U2 loves this bell sound, but I don’t care for it, and on “Boy” the songs aren’t good enough for me to ignore it like I usually do.

In fact, many of the songs have some kind of xylophone or bells or some equally monstrous sound making machine played by demented elves in Santa's workshop after they broke into the egg nog cupboard. Every time I hear it I cringe anew.

The best song on the record is “An Cat Dubh” which is carried along by a pretty sweet riff from bassist Adam Clayton. Even this song has some kind of Christmas bell effect that made me grimace with frustration. Also, the Edge’s “solo” on this song is basically him experimenting – poorly – with feedback.

There are occasionally interesting moments on “Boy” and you can hear the nascent sounds of what they would eventually turn into good music, but for the most part this album was a reminder of why I didn’t like U2 when I first heard them. These songs take a long pointless circle before they finally go down the drain, and by the time I got near the end of the second listen I was gritting my teeth.

On my walk home tonight I opted to just enjoy the lovely spring evening without music. I didn’t want to spoil the moment with “Boy” moaning away in my ear.

Not only am I selling this album, I’m selling “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” as well. I reviewed that record way back at Disc 106. Back then I was a lot more forgiving as to what stayed in my collection. That’s another album where it feels like U2 is gargling their own atomic bathwater. Well it’s purge night on the CD Odyssey, and I’m throwing out the bathwater and the boy. Good riddance to both.

Best tracks: An Cat Dubh,

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