Reflection on past acts and future decisions can leave a man gasping for air, beaten down, trapped in the exquisite irony of having more choice than ever in world with rapidly shortening dimensions. What should reflection be, in best practice? Guidance that fleets past the grey shadowlines of choice making sprinkling a dust informed with knowledge from elsewhere? Or that choke-hold deliberation that prevents action? You will find it difficult to draw the distinctions between what deserves attention and what doesn’t – your flaw will only increase in it’s crook’d power, the timber of humanity, that warped raw material, kinks in ev’ry step.
Ferguson said: "I don’t understand it, to be honest with you. I don’t know why anybody can be bothered with that kind of stuff. How do you find the time to do that? There are a million things you can do in your life without that. Get yourself down to the library and read a book. Seriously. It is a waste of time. It seems to have a certain momentum at the moment. Everyone seems to want to do it."
I remember discovering "Zooropa" (1993), which is in many ways the cooler younger brother (or, probably more appropriately, sister) of "Achtung Baby" (1991). Here is an album recorded on tour, when U2 Mark II were at the very peak of their powers, a long, long way away from the earnest dust bowl melancholia of "The Joshua Tree" (1987). Here is album with a perfect pop song about watching porn in a hotel room. Here is an album with a track four to beat any track four of the 90s, in ‘Lemon’, Bono’s voice absurdly stretched beyond its normal range, straining for a gospel sound he can’t achieve – but that’s the point. Guiros and high hats counterpoint a neat bass and weird, processed keyboard stabs make it sound unique. Oakenfold remixed it and if possible made it better, or at least, he did what he did to ‘Even Better Than The Real Thing’ and took all the indie out of it so that people could drop E to it in nightclubs. "Achtung Baby" was all about turning the sound ‘inside out’, re-inventing the band (if that were possible), putting Adam Clayton’s manhood in the artwork and hanging Trabants from wire on stage. It was essentially a notice to their American audiences that they didn’t want to be responsible for Kings of Leon’s third and fourth albums, but it was too late at this point. Zooropa was probably one whole travelcard zone east of ‘Zoo Station’: this was much less posed, much less try hard, much more fun. "Daddy’s Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car" is what most of "Pop" (1997) spent its time trying to recapture, but ultimately, it failed. That’s because "Zooropa" is probably U2’s best, least forced, most inventive album. Other albums are more consistent (although even "Achtung Baby" and "Joshua Tree" have points where the quality dips) but none of them sound anywhere near as confidently diffident and relaxed. Later albums saw U2 try to recapture a "commercial phase" that hadn’t seem to have gone away, and their remixing and rerecording of some of their hits for the silver Best Of was a real low point. (A revisionist best of? Please.) Tellingly, they never managed another minimal Bono confessional as good as ‘The First Time’: and on no other album would Johnny Cash have seamlessly blended in.
I listen through some CDs; I mentally sort them, good, okay, very good, classic, an arbitrary movement through words of criticism, words of praise. I get out my copy of U2’s ‘October’ and after Morrissey’s ‘You Are The Quarry’, it is beautiful, plangent, urgent, hungry, and full of (rightly or wrongly, that’s for you to decide) its own importance. I listen to Unbelievable Truth (try the song ‘Name’), and then some of the tracks from The Smiths’ "Singles", and I remember the emotional energy I invested in these little plastic discs and it feels like a long time ago, but maybe it wasn’t so long again that I marvelled at the clear simplicity of the Friendly Fires disc (the disc itself, that is). Maybe it was. I look at the ‘Nice Price’ sticker on the copy of Generation Terrorists I have and I remember that I bought it in Woolworths, but that the ‘Nice Price’ was a Sony thing, you’d see them all, in their racks, browsing through them in their massed ranks and a ‘Nice Price’ on an album you wanted would mean a trip to the counter to see if they could actually find the damn thing in that drawer behind the cash registers. The interminable wait in Our Price for the man to come back and shrug and say, "hmm, no, I can’t find it, sorry." I remember how good the sound system was in East Ham Our Price — I once stood there listening to "Fat Of The Land" just to hear it as it should sound. Like a ‘Lemon’, even. The little ticking into to that song and the guiro right in the background. The Oakenfold remix I once listened to on loop for hours and hours on a night bus spinning round the outer reaches of London’s suburbs.
My copy of ‘Vanishing Point’ has a Priceless Creation promo sticker on it together with a Tower Records price tag on the top right, £10.99; it takes me back to that slightly odd feeling wandering that huge store in Piccadilly Circus with its metallic decking and now all there is GAP and that Boots and the awful Burger King and even Brioche Dorée is gone before I actually got a chance to go in.
It’s good to hear The Edge’s riffs before they span right off into parody, at their closest to the post-punk that he borrowed it from (wholesale, admittedly: maybe take a drag through some Comsat Angels) because post "Pop", that’s what they became, parody, cf. ‘Kite’. Parody perhaps, awaits us all and may already be here for some.