Axver (axver) wrote,
Axver
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Ah, U2, remember them? Yeah, they used to be my favourite band back in the day. Nowadays, I think almost everything they've done since 1990 other than the Passengers project should be discarded. However, the band's first three albums are being remastered with bonus discs, and since this is from the 1978-1990 era that I love, I was rather excited by the news. In particular, Boy has a lot of potential for a spectacular bonus disc. The tracklists for the bonus discs have now been announced, and I'd like to give my thoughts on them. I've researched the early years fairly heavily for U2gigs.com purposes (and dug up a lot of setlist information in the process), and in a nutshell I am considerably underwhelmed. I am still excited about the prospect of these remasters and I will undoubtedly enjoy them; I don't want to be seen as being negative for the hell of it or anything silly like that. I'd simply like to make my observations on some rather startling deficiencies.

I'll go album-by-album, inserting my comments into the tracklists.

BOY

U2 have a wealth of unreleased material from the pre-Boy and Boy eras. This remaster has massive potential. There is an album's worth of unreleased material that could be used. I can state for a definitive fact that the band possess studio versions of the following songs: Inside Out, Tonight, Jack In A Box, Trevor, Alone In The Light, False Prophet, Lost On A Silent Planet, The Dream Is Over, and Pete The Chop. I would never expect the first four to ever be released by the band as they are simply dreadful (Tonight being the worst offender), but some of the later ones are better than a considerable amount of released material. The Dream Is Over in particular would seem like a certain inclusion, as it was intended to be Another Day's b-side until the last minute.

There are also unreleased demo versions of Another Time, Another Place and A Day Without Me, and although they have been officially released in a compressed format on iTunes, we lack CD quality audio releases of Street Mission, The Fool, and the demo version of Shadows And Tall Trees. There may also be a studio version of Cartoon World, and although I imagine studio recordings of The King's New Clothes and The Silver Lining don't exist, U2 have soundboard live recordings of them. This is not to mention all the other songs we simply don't know about, or songs such as Concentration Cramp that may be archived in either studio or live form but have not leaked to the bootlegging community. So you can see U2 aren't short on potential material for a bonus disc.

1. I Will Follow (Previously Unreleased Mix)
Alright, interesting. It was the band's first big hit and an alternate take may be worth hearing.

2. 11 O'Clock Tick Tock
3. Touch
U2's third single. Nice to finally get it on CD. Of course, part of the point of these remasters is to have everything from the era in one place, including non-album singles and b-sides.

4. Speed Of Life (Previously Unreleased Track)
5. Saturday Night (Previously Unreleased Track)
This is easily the most interesting part of the tracklist. Although Speed Of Life is known from live performances, there was no known studio version until now, and Saturday Night is a complete unknown. I am guessing these are both from the Boy sessions. I'm very excited about hearing them.

6. Things To Make And Do
7. Out Of Control
8. Boy/Girl
9. Stories For Boys
10. Another Day
11. Twilight
What I find bizarre here is how completely out of chronological order this is. TTMAD was the b-side for A Day Without Me, U2's fourth single; tracks 7-9 were U2's very first release on U2:3, and tracks 10-11 were U2's second single. Not so sure how smart it is to throw these (and the already used 11OTT) together seemingly willy-nilly. The quality of the remaster will determine how well this works, since the unremastered quality of these tracks varies.

12. Boy/Girl (Live at The Marquee, London)
13. 11 O'Clock Tick Tock (Live at The Marquee, London - Previously Unreleased Version)
The live Boy/Girl was I Will Follow's b-side, so for the sake of completion in terms of the era's discography, its inclusion is very welcome. I am also glad to see the band have chosen a live version of 11OTT since the live versions of the song are definitive while the studio version is a comparatively weak and poor representative of the song.

14. Cartoon World (Live at The National Stadium, Dublin - Previously Unreleased Track)
I am quite interested by this. Cartoon World, it has been suggested, was a candidate to be U2's first single rather than Out Of Control, and it would be reasonable to expect a studio version to exist. Either it doesn't, or its quality is unreleasably dire, since it is represented here by a live version. A very good live version, mind you. What I am happy about is that the disc does not muddle the studio and live recordings together; the live recordings act as an appendix of sorts to the studio material.

Now, let me draw your attention to what I wrote before the tracklisting and all the material the band could have used. Yeah, what happened to that? Sure, we get most of the officially released Boy era discography in one convenient place and fully remastered, but in terms of bonus material, in terms of stuff the band has never released before, we just get a few scraps and nothing of substance. This despite the presence of considerable substance in the band's archives! The most glaring question is "where are Street Mission, The Fool, and the Shadows And Tall Trees demo?" Everything else that has been officially released is there, but those three are notably absent. The second most glaring question (and more frustrating to my personal tastes) is "where are Lost On A Silent Planet and The Dream Is Over?" The band back in the day thought Lost On A Silent Planet (also known as Life On A Distant Planet, The Magic Carpet, and Judith) was good enough to perform on a television show, and it dates from the same demo sessions as the dreadful demo version of Twilight that became Another Day's b-side and is on the remaster. And that leads to The Dream Is Over, the song originally recorded to be Another Day's b-side and inexplicably dumped. It exists in studio condition just as good as Another Day, and I would say its absence is by far the most unjustifiable of any.

OCTOBER

The October era was always going to be scarce on material. The band had extremely limited time to record the album and released all the material they had time to record, so I wasn't expecting any unreleased songs in the first place. After the release of Boy, the band did play a couple of unreleased songs on the Boy Tour before the October album was recorded, namely Father Is An Elephant and Carry Me Home, but there is no indication either were recorded in the studio and whether or not the band possess soundboard quality live recordings of either is a mystery as we only know them from poor quality audience bootlegs. So I was expecting some demo versions (after all, the 16 August 1981 gig at Slane Castle demonstrates the song October once had considerably longer lyrics) and a swag of live material. What we got is a disastrous mishmash in every sense of the word. This is the worst tracklisting job this side of U2:18.

1. Gloria (Live at Hammersmith Palais, London)
2. I Fall Down (Live at Hammersmith Palais, London)
3. I Threw A Brick Through A Window (Live at Hammersmith Palais, London)
4. Fire (Live at Hammersmith Palais, London)
5. October (Live at Hammersmith Palais, London)
(The gig these songs come from is 6 December 1982, which I should point out was a Pre-War Tour show, not an October Tour show. Yeah, what?)
These five tracks, along with the next two, seem to be arranged in little more than a gimmicky manner to try to provide a live overview of the October album. In other words, the songs have been completely ripped out of their live context and forced to fit a studio context. On the night, the above songs were played 14th, 11th, 4th, 16th, and 12th in the setlist. What's more, I Threw A Brick's seamless segue into A Day Without Me and October's segue into New Year's Day would have to be forcibly edited out. And in another "what's more", for a gimmicky attempt at a live overview of the studio album's tracklist, it's rather glaringly lacking Rejoice and Tomorrow despite soundboard versions of both existing in just as good quality as the above five. Since the above five are already wildly divorced from their live context, it wouldn't sound any more jarring to throw in recordings of those songs from other gigs.

6. With A Shout (Richard Skinner BBC Session)
7. Scarlet (Richard Skinner BBC Session)
8. I Threw A Brick Through A Window (Richard Skinner BBC Session)
These songs may or may not be out of the order in which they were played. The U2gigs.com set for the Richard Skinner sessions indicates Scarlet came after ITABTAW, but that set is based solely on the order broadcast and may not be an indication of the order the songs were actually performed. Nonetheless, throwing Scarlet in between two drum-heavy songs is hardly a smart idea and breaks up sonic cohesion. Though that's nothing compared to what's coming next!

9. A Celebration
10. J. Swallow
11. Trash, Trampoline And The Party Girl
Yes, that's right, studio songs. After a chunk of live material, and with more live material to come, we suddenly get some studio material thrown into the middle of the mix. Did nobody actually give this any thought? Didn't anyone notice how badly this tracklist strategy FAILED on Rattle And Hum? What's more, the three songs seem to have been thrown together blindly, with Fire's b-side J. Swallow separating A Celebration from its own b-side, Party Girl. Woops. Put down the babboon that made that mistake!

12. I Will Follow (Live at Paradise Theatre, Boston)
13. The Ocean (Live at Paradise Theatre, Boston)
14. The Cry/The Electric Co. (Live at Paradise Theatre, Boston)
15. 11 O’Clock Tick Tock (Live at Paradise Theatre, Boston)
(Sourced from the second 6 March 1981 concert, a Boy Tour show.)
This is quite possibly one of the biggest tracklisting disasters I have ever seen, and there is no justifying how bad this is. These four tracks were used as b-sides; IWF for Gloria and the other three for Fire. Just like tracks 1-5, these songs have been thrown together with complete disregard for their order on the night, stripping them of any context whatsoever, and in this case, there is not even a gimmick to justify what has been done.

I think it is imperative to emphasise that on the Fire single, 11OTT and The Ocean are one track. Now look at the remaster's tracklisting. That's right. Whoever has done this has ripped apart two songs that seamlessly segue together and taken them out of order! What the hell? The only possible alternative explanation is that they have used the performances from earlier in the concert when they appear separately, but those performances weren't used as the b-sides, and that doesn't mesh with the whole idea of including the b-sides themselves. So what we've got here is the main set closer, followed by the concert closer, followed by a song from the middle of the main set, followed by an encore song that once seamlessly segued into the concert closer. The Ocean will have a forced beginning, manufactured by editing, and 11OTT will have a forced conclusion, manufactured by editing. Why the hell wouldn't you keep them together? And why would you throw The Ocean, a song only ever performed in a pairing with 11OTT (except in 2005), in between IWF and TEC? It just doesn't make sense. It is complete stupidity.

16. I Will Follow (Live From Hattem, Netherlands)
I Will Follow AGAIN? Funny, I thought this was October's remaster, and instead we get two separate live performances of a song from BOY. Yes, yes, I know this performance of I Will Follow was released as a single between the October and War albums and is from an October Tour show, but since matters of album/tour connection seem rather irrelevant everywhere else on this tracklist, I don't see why it's suddenly a legitimate defence for IWF's inclusion, and it could have just as easily been included on War - probably a good idea too, due to the lack of variety on the War disc that I'm about to discuss!

17. Tomorrow (Bono & Adam Clayton, Common Ground Remix)
And to wrap it up, we suddenly jump back to a studio track. Fuck cohesive tracklists, huh? Let's just jump around everywhere.

WAR

War, like October, is not an era that I expected to provide anything in terms of unreleased songs. It is not exactly a secret that when U2 recorded 40 at the end of the War album sessions, they were desperate for 1. enough material to fill up an album and 2. a suitable track to close the album. However, demo versions of a number of War songs are floating around, so I expected perhaps an insight into the development of the songs, and some more live material. Instead, we get a disc that has little beyond curiosity value.

1. Endless Deep
A natural inclusion, being a War era b-side.

2. Angels Too Tied To The Ground (Previously Unreleased Track)
This was a big surprise. As I just said, I did not expect there to be any unreleased material. So it was very, very nice to see this turn up, even if it proves to be no good!

3. New Year’s Day (7” single edit)
4. New Year’s Day (USA Remix)
5. New Year’s Day (Ferry Corsten Extended Vocal Mix)
6. New Year’s Day (Ferry Corsten Vocal Radio Mix)
... no, that's not a joke. Four versions of New Year's Day. FOUR. IN A ROW. Good god.

7. Two Hearts Beat As One (Long Mix)
8. Two Hearts Beat As One (USA Remix)
9. Two Hearts Beat As One (Club Version)
So how do you follow four versions of New Year's Day? With THREE of Two Hearts Beat As One! Let's hear two songs over and over and over again! This disc is unlistenable. I dread a remastered Achtung Baby with nine remixes of Mysterious Ways and ten of Even Better Than The Real Thing.

10. Treasure (Whatever Happened to Pete The Chop)
And here's the other natural inclusion, the other War era b-side.

Wait, that's it? The two b-sides, an unreleased track, and a belting around the head with more alternate mixes than anybody could possibly need? Now you see what I mean when I say the live I Will Follow should be here rather than on October! And after the swag of live b-sides included on War, where are the live versions of Fire, I Threw A Brick, and A Day Without Me that appeared as New Year's Day b-sides? What about the demo versions of songs such as Sunday Bloody Sunday and Surrender? What about the studio version of Pete The Chop recorded in 1980 that was recycled in 1983 as the basis for Treasure? What about anything to make this disc worth purchasing at all?

Probably the smartest idea would have been to divide the live and studio material between October and War. Since it's an October era track, put J. Swallow on the main October disc itself as a bonus track much in the style of Fast Cars on HTDAAB, and move A Celebration and Party Girl to the War album's studio affair, since they can be sonically connected to the War era just as much as the October era (in fact, I'd argue the connection to War is stronger). Make the October bonus disc an exclusively live affair, and include the live b-sides from the War era, since they were recorded at October Tour shows. This leaves only the Common Ground version of Tomorrow to address, which I admit I'm not entirely sure about; it could probably join J. Swallow on October as a bonus track, though it dates from the mid-1990s. It's not as if the b-sides and alternate versions need to be separated from the main album by a disc split; thousands of re-issued albums feature bonus tracks on the same disc as the main album, and due to the hasty recording and compiling of the October album, it doesn't exist as a cohesive album in a manner that would be ruined by having a couple of bonus tracks tacked on after it like Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon would be.

Well, anyway, those are my thoughts. Longer than I expected, but I wanted to be comprehensive. I am still very excited to hear all this material, but I have to recognise it has been done in a haphazard style and it could have been so much better and more comprehensive.
Tags: music, u2
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