U2 explores American musical traditions in Rattle and Hum

Winnipeg Free Press (1988-10-12)

U2 / Rattle and Hum (Island). The group that redefined arena rock, with a droning, issue-oriented power style fires off a double-header of old and new tunes, mixing live tracks from the last U.S. tour with studio cuts.

Despite taking a slap at the ’60s on God Part II (dedicated to John Lennon), U2 covers The Beatles’ Helter Skelter, and slips in its well-travelled Hendrixian version of ‘The Star Spangled Banner.’

Curiously enough, the band whose identity has been wired in to Irishness opens up to American musical traditions — going so far as to cut three “Sun sessions,” one of them with guest B.B. King on guitar and vocals (When Love Comes to Town, the steamiest cut on the album).

There’s even a Bob Dylan connection, which goes beyond doing a live cover of All Along the Watchtower. Hawkmoon 269 features Dylan himself on Hammond organ. Love Rescue Me (cut at Sun Studios) was co-written by Dylan and he provides backup vocals.

The Memphis Horns hop on board for Angel of Harlem (another Sun Session). A soaring new live version of I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For features the gospel group New Voices of Freedom.

All I Want is You, a new studio track, features The Heartbreakers’ Benmont Trench on keyboards.

The U.S. influence makes for a more open, impromtu sound, and not even The Edge’s tense, signature guitar is immune. Since U2’s aua of depth and conviction has depended so much on its narrow, pit bull’s intensity, the band might seem to be playing with that unforgettable fire when it milks the blues, gospel, country and folk-rock.

However, such new studio cuts as Desire, plus live versions of Pride or Bullet the Blue Sky (a left hook at U.s. involvement in Central America) wear the revisionism very well.

And, ultimately, U2 isn’t about to kill the goose that laid the platinum egg: The offshore cultural exploitation is balanced by heavy anchor points for the band’s identity. Bono’s vocal hand-wringing and U2’s folk politics emerge intact – as highlighted by Silver and Gold, a mighty blow against apartheid originally penned for Little Steven’s Sun City LP. Van Diemen’s Land, a balled honoring Fenian poet John Doyle O’Reilly (poignantly sung by The Edge) keeps the line to the Emerald Isle wide open. (Three stars out of four)

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