Author Topic: The Embarrassment of Premature Evaluation  (Read 4570 times)

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Offline The Exile

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The Embarrassment of Premature Evaluation
« on: March 19, 2009, 09:44:33 PM »
[Yes, the innuendo is intentional.]

When I was a student pursuing my Masters degree, one of my history professors used to warn us against what he called “diachronic historical enquiry,” by which he meant comparing the thoughts of a prominent figure in one period with those of another who lived many years earlier. The reason for this danger, he insisted, was that when a few centuries separate the men under consideration, it’s very difficult to compare them with any objectivity due to their different time periods.

The same is true with U2 (to a much smaller degree, of course). The desire to compare and contrast NLOTH with The Joshua Tree or Achtung Baby is almost impossible while NLOTH is still so new. The reason for this, I think, is that not enough time has elapsed for the new songs to take on the iconic, even mythical qualities that surround the tracks on JT and AB. In other words, many of the same criticisms that people are leveling upon NLOTH (especially when comparing it with U2’s two masterpieces) could have, and probably were, made about all their albums when they were brand new.

A couple examples….

Many have compared Magnificent with Where the Streets Have No Name, saying the former just doesn’t measure up. But not so fast. Streets is a pretty simple pop song like Magnificent is, and by Bono’s own admission its lyrics aren’t that great. “I want to run, I want to hide”? Not exactly Shakespeare. Sure, it’s great now that it has had the time to sink into our souls, but we mustn’t forget that the same may be true of Magnificent if given the time. I mean, one talks about building love and then burning it down, the other talks about love making its mark and then healing its own scar. Pretty similar if you ask me.

And while I would concur with those who consider the poppier songs on NLOTH to be its weak points, we mustn’t forget how Ultraviolet sounded right next to Acrobat, or how poppy Mysterious Ways and Trying to Throw Your Arms Around the World are. Do they sound out of place on Achtung Baby? No, but that’s probably because we’ve been listening to it for almost 18 years now.

And speaking of a lack of consistency or flow, listen to Pop for crying out loud! I love the album, but how on earth are Mofo and Miami on the same album as Please and Playboy Mansion?

My point? It’s simply that the chances are pretty good that when we return to this forum and read all our initial thoughts on NLOTH a few years from now (whether good or bad), we’ll probably all have a nice chuckle.

Music, like women, can be virtuous or, well, slutty. Sometimes it walks up to you, undresses, and gives you full and immediate access. But in my view, it’s always better when it makes you work for the payoff by taking the time to listen attentively and, as a result, fall in love.
« Last Edit: March 20, 2009, 12:45:07 AM by The Exile »



Offline Mr. T

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Re: The Embarrassment of Premature Evaluation
« Reply #1 on: March 19, 2009, 10:05:11 PM »
Excellent post.

Though I may present a counterpoint:

Getting caught up in the moment is a good thing. Check that, it's a great thing.

Being blow away by music is a wonderful moment for the soul. It should be let out. Not tempered
by the fact that opinions may change in 2 months. 2 years. Or 2 decades. The moment of discovery
is a precious time. It should be savored, not squandered by self conscious thought.

It's all about the joy art gives us. Being overly critical can completely destroy it's intent. Once those moments
are gone, they're gone forever.

Maybe, just maybe, you marry the slut.



Revolver7

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Re: The Embarrassment of Premature Evaluation
« Reply #2 on: March 19, 2009, 10:30:11 PM »
I don't like No Line on the Horizon. My judgment isn't based on past comparisons...it's based on the quality of music. I just don't like it...and I felt like we fans were promised something that wasn't given (experimentation, durastic departures, pushing the limit of sound)

streetmission

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Re: The Embarrassment of Premature Evaluation
« Reply #3 on: March 19, 2009, 11:01:39 PM »
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I don't like No Line on the Horizon. My judgment isn't based on past comparisons...it's based on the quality of music. I just don't like it...and I felt like we fans were promised something that wasn't given (experimentation, durastic departures, pushing the limit of sound)

You're expressing your opinion.  Many people, myself included, like it a lot.  I know a lot of casual U2 fans that like it a lot, and many of them will be going to see U2 for the first time!  Just because you don't like it doesn't mean that the singles and album can't be successful.  I think you're letting your opinion cloud your judgment.

Offline adamsmark

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Re: The Embarrassment of Premature Evaluation
« Reply #4 on: March 20, 2009, 12:03:25 AM »
I just find the new album deeply pleasing. I'll probably have the same view in 20 years, as my feelings about each of U2's albums has only increased (with the exception of Pop, which I hated then, and hate today) over the years. In a word, I simply like U2, and once I got over the band not making War II, I've pretty much appreciated everything that's followed.

Offline The Exile

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Re: The Embarrassment of Premature Evaluation
« Reply #5 on: March 20, 2009, 12:42:02 AM »
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Excellent post.

Though I may present a counterpoint:

Getting caught up in the moment is a good thing. Check that, it's a great thing.

Being blow away by music is a wonderful moment for the soul. It should be let out. Not tempered
by the fact that opinions may change in 2 months. 2 years. Or 2 decades. The moment of discovery
is a precious time. It should be savored, not squandered by self conscious thought.

It's all about the joy art gives us. Being overly critical can completely destroy it's intent. Once those moments
are gone, they're gone forever.

Maybe, just maybe, you marry the slut.




"Marry the slut," that's good stuff. They should have called their tour the "Marry the Slut Tour."

I agree. I don't think we should temper our excitement, that wasn't my point at all. But I do think we need to temper our disappointment. I'd love to dig up some old reviews of AB from '91, because I remember kind of freaking out, trying hard to convince myself it was good, &c. Hard to imagine now, I know.

In fact, the only song I for sure liked was its version of I Go Crazy: Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses.

Offline u2yooper

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Re: The Embarrassment of Premature Evaluation
« Reply #6 on: March 20, 2009, 07:21:19 AM »
"Marry the slut?"  You  guys are killing me!   :D  Good post, Exile.  It's true that some music offers itself up easily and "Steets" of course was one of those.  But I can remember wrestling with AB at the time.  Sometimes you have to live with the album for awhile, get to know it and its moods.  As a woman, I will always go for the slow reveal... ;)

Offline ESMITH747

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Re: The Embarrassment of Premature Evaluation
« Reply #7 on: March 20, 2009, 07:36:58 AM »
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[Yes, the innuendo is intentional.]

When I was a student pursuing my Masters degree, one of my history professors used to warn us against what he called “diachronic historical enquiry,” by which he meant comparing the thoughts of a prominent figure in one period with those of another who lived many years earlier. The reason for this danger, he insisted, was that when a few centuries separate the men under consideration, it’s very difficult to compare them with any objectivity due to their different time periods.

The same is true with U2 (to a much smaller degree, of course). The desire to compare and contrast NLOTH with The Joshua Tree or Achtung Baby is almost impossible while NLOTH is still so new. The reason for this, I think, is that not enough time has elapsed for the new songs to take on the iconic, even mythical qualities that surround the tracks on JT and AB. In other words, many of the same criticisms that people are leveling upon NLOTH (especially when comparing it with U2’s two masterpieces) could have, and probably were, made about all their albums when they were brand new.

A couple examples….

Many have compared Magnificent with Where the Streets Have No Name, saying the former just doesn’t measure up. But not so fast. Streets is a pretty simple pop song like Magnificent is, and by Bono’s own admission its lyrics aren’t that great. “I want to run, I want to hide”? Not exactly Shakespeare. Sure, it’s great now that it has had the time to sink into our souls, but we mustn’t forget that the same may be true of Magnificent if given the time. I mean, one talks about building love and then burning it down, the other talks about love making its mark and then healing its own scar. Pretty similar if you ask me.

And while I would concur with those who consider the poppier songs on NLOTH to be its weak points, we mustn’t forget how Ultraviolet sounded right next to Acrobat, or how poppy Mysterious Ways and Trying to Throw Your Arms Around the World are. Do they sound out of place on Achtung Baby? No, but that’s probably because we’ve been listening to it for almost 18 years now.

And speaking of a lack of consistency or flow, listen to Pop for crying out loud! I love the album, but how on earth are Mofo and Miami on the same album as Please and Playboy Mansion?

My point? It’s simply that the chances are pretty good that when we return to this forum and read all our initial thoughts on NLOTH a few years from now (whether good or bad), we’ll probably all have a nice chuckle.

Music, like women, can be virtuous or, well, slutty. Sometimes it walks up to you, undresses, and gives you full and immediate access. But in my view, it’s always better when it makes you work for the payoff by taking the time to listen attentively and, as a result, fall in love.


I completely agree with those post, see Rolling Stone review from 1987 -

The stakes are enormous, and U2 knows it. Its last album, The Unforgettable Fire, contained "Pride (In the Name of Love)," its biggest-selling single ever, and last year the band was the musical heart of Amnesty International's Conspiracy of Hope tour. Now, it seems, U2 is poised to rise from the level of mere platinum groups to the more rarefied air above. For a band that's always specialized in inspirational, larger-than-life gestures – a band utterly determined to be Important – The Joshua Tree could be the big one, and that's precisely what it sounds like.

That's not to say that this record is either a flagrantly commercial move or another Born in the U.S.A. The Joshua Tree is U2's most varied, subtle and accessible album, although it doesn't contain any sure-fire smash hits. But in its musical toughness and strong-willed spirituality, the album lives up to its namesake: a hardy, twisted tree that grows in the rocky deserts of the American Southwest. A Mormon legend claims that their early settlers called the Joshua tree "the praying plant" and thought its gnarled branches suggested the Old Testament prophet Joshua pointing the way to the Promised Land. The title befits a record that concerns itself with resilience in the face of utter social and political desolation, a record steeped in religious imagery.

Since U2 emerged from Dublin in 1980 with a bracing brand of hard, emotional, guitar-oriented rock, its albums have followed a pattern. The first and third (Boy and War) were muscular and assertive, full of, respectively, youthful bravado and angry social awareness; the second and fourth studio albums (October and The Unforgettable Fire) were moody and meandering and sometimes longer on ideas than on full-fledged songs.

But The Joshua Tree isn't an outright return to the fire of War. The band ruled that out years ago: Songs like "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "New Year's Day" hit with driving force on the 1983 album and subsequent tour. But U2 saw itself in danger of becoming just another sloganeering arena-rock band, so the group closed that chapter with a live record and video. The band swapped longtime producer Steve Lilly-white for Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois and, with The Unforgettable Fire, declared its intention to no longer be as relentlessly heroic.

On the new album, U2 retains Eno and Lanois, brings back Lillywhite to mix four songs and weds the diverse textures of The Unforgettable Fire to fully formed songs, many of them as aggressive as the hits on War. U2's sonic trademarks are here: the monumental angst of Bono's voice, the driving pulse of Adam Clayton's bass and Larry Mullen Jr.'s drums and the careening wail of the Edge's guitar. But for every predictably roaring anthem there's a spare, inventively arranged tune, such as "With or Without You," a rock & roll bolero that builds from a soothing beginning to a resounding climax.

The band still falls into some old traps: Bono's perpetually choked-up voice can sound overwrought and self-important; some of the images (fire and rain, say) start to lose their resonance after a dozen or so uses; and "Exit," a recited psychodrama about a killer, is awkward enough to remind you that not even Patti Smith could regularly pull off this sort of thing.

More than any other U2 album, though, The Joshua Tree has the power and allure to seduce and capture a mass audience on its own terms. Without making a show of its eclecticism, it features assertive rock ("Where the Streets Have No Name"), raw frenzy ("Bullet the Blue Sky"), delicacy ("One Tree Hill"), chugging rhythms ("I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For") and even acoustic bluesiness ("Running to Stand Still") – all of it unmistakably U2.

But if this is a breakthrough, it's a grim, dark-hued one. At first, refreshingly honest, romantic declarations alternate with unsettling religious imagery. Then things get blacker. The raging, melodramatic "Bullet the Blue Sky" ties Biblical fire and brimstone with American violence overseas and at home. In the stomping, harmonicaspiked rocker "Trip Through Your Wires," what looks like salvation could easily be evil seduction; "One Tree Hill" is a soft, haunting benediction on a U2 crew member who died in a motorcycle accident; and "Red Hill Mining Town" echoes Peter Gabriel's "Don't Give Up" in its unsparing look at personal relationships savaged by economic hardship – here, the aftermath of the largely unsuccessful British miners' strike of 1984.

But for all its gloom, the album is never a heavy-handed diatribe. After the first few times through "Running to Stand Still," for instance, you notice the remarkable music: the wholly unexpected blues slide guitar, the soft, Nebraska-style yelps, the ghostly harmonica. It sounds like a lovely, peaceful reverie – except that this is a junkie's reverie, and when that realization hits home, the gentle acoustic lullaby acquires a corrosive power that recalls "Bad," from the last LP.

The Joshua Tree is an appropriate response to these times, and a picture bleaker than any U2 has ever painted: a vision of blasted hopes, pointless violence and anguish. But this is not a band to surrender to defeatism. Its last album ended with a gorgeous elegy to Martin Luther King Jr.; The Joshua Tree closes with a haunting ode to other victims. "Mothers of the Disappeared" is built around desolate images of loss, but the setting is soothing and restorative – music of great sadness but also of unutterable compassion, acceptance and calm. The Unforgettable Chill, you might call this album, and unforgettable is certainly the right word.

Offline The Exile

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Re: The Embarrassment of Premature Evaluation
« Reply #8 on: March 20, 2009, 11:23:08 AM »
Wow, thanks for posting this. It is simply amazing, looking back 22 years later, so see that The Joshua Tree was not hailed by Rolling Stone as the classic we all realized it to be later on.

Makes you wonder how seriously we'll take our own reviews of NLOTH five years from now, huh?

Offline macphisto96

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Re: The Embarrassment of Premature Evaluation
« Reply #9 on: March 20, 2009, 12:11:52 PM »
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I don't like No Line on the Horizon. My judgment isn't based on past comparisons...it's based on the quality of music. I just don't like it...and I felt like we fans were promised something that wasn't given (experimentation, durastic departures, pushing the limit of sound)

They always do that.  Well, almost always.  Wasn't Bomb supposed to be a real rock record?  Bono has always claimed that he was misquoted on Achtung Baby when reports were it was to be a dance record.  He said he said dense.  I'm not so sure.  I recall them promising a techno record before POP came out. 

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Re: The Embarrassment of Premature Evaluation
« Reply #10 on: March 20, 2009, 01:01:08 PM »
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I think you're letting your opinion cloud your judgment.


When I listened to the album for the first time, I absolutely loved it. I thought it was really great. As I began to listen to it some more, the appeal started to fade. It sounded too familiar for me.   

My opinion did not cloud my judgment. I'm just not a U2 fan who loves everything they do blindly. 



Revolver7

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Re: The Embarrassment of Premature Evaluation
« Reply #11 on: March 20, 2009, 01:03:41 PM »
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Makes you wonder how seriously we'll take our own reviews of NLOTH five years from now, huh?

No. That's the opinion of Rolling Stone.

In actuality, think of this: The Joshua Tree wasn't hailed as a masterpiece at first, but later it was. No Line was hailed as a masterpiece by Rolling Stone. According to your logic, for all we know, No Line's opinion could fall just as the Joshua Tree's opinion rose. You have to take both sides of the coin into consideration.

Offline The Exile

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Re: The Embarrassment of Premature Evaluation
« Reply #12 on: March 20, 2009, 01:07:32 PM »
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Makes you wonder how seriously we'll take our own reviews of NLOTH five years from now, huh?

No. That's the opinion of Rolling Stone.

In actuality, think of this: The Joshua Tree wasn't hailed as a masterpiece at first, but later it was. No Line was hailed as a masterpiece by Rolling Stone. According to your logic, for all we know, No Line's opinion could fall just as the Joshua Tree's opinion rose. You have to take both sides of the coin into consideration.

I'm not disagreeing with you. If you read what I wrote in my post, you'll see that I was careful to say that we all may very well chuckle as we read, some years from now, our initial thoughts on NLOTH, "whether good or bad."

Offline 1985

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Re: The Embarrassment of Premature Evaluation
« Reply #13 on: March 20, 2009, 01:22:18 PM »
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Makes you wonder how seriously we'll take our own reviews of NLOTH five years from now, huh?

No. That's the opinion of Rolling Stone.

In actuality, think of this: The Joshua Tree wasn't hailed as a masterpiece at first, but later it was. No Line was hailed as a masterpiece by Rolling Stone. According to your logic, for all we know, No Line's opinion could fall just as the Joshua Tree's opinion rose. You have to take both sides of the coin into consideration.

Actually, I think the RS review of Joshue Tree is remarkably on target. No, it doesn't use the term "masterpiece." But it does call the album unforgettable and their best effort to date. The things that weren't anticipated by the review were the commercial success of the album and its singles, the full impact some of these songs would have once stadiums full of people were surrounded by them (the "Streets" effect) and the band's ability to convert moderately impressive songs from the album into memorable live songs (Exit). I think the reviewer gets the album's strengths and short-comings pretty well -- with shortcomings like: overwroughtness at times in Bono's voice, overuse of certain images, etc.


Offline adamsmark

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Re: The Embarrassment of Premature Evaluation
« Reply #14 on: March 20, 2009, 04:38:22 PM »
I seem to recall that The Joshua Tree was regarded as a masterpiece in its day. Rolling Stone gave it five stars (they gave War four stars; later, they assigned Unforgettable Fire three -- Achtung Baby! got four and a half!). Other magazines hailed JT as U2's best, and Time magazine put U2 on the cover.