Saturday, April 17, 2010

417. Boy- The first of many.

Album: Boy.
Artist: U2
Year: 1980
Genre: Rock

1. I Will Follow
2. Twilight
3. An Cat Dubh
4. Into the Heart
5. Out of Control
6. Stories for Boys
7. The Ocean
8. A Day Without Me
9. Another Time, Another Place
10. The Electric Co.
11. Shadows and Tall Trees

Sometimes I'd love to be able to travel in time. It would be great to jump into a machine (preferably one bigger on the inside than the outside so it could also help with storage issues around the home) and pop back a few years. It would be fantastic to attend Woodstock and hang around at the Cavern club and check out the scene at Haight Ashbury. I'd also love to take a copy of the Times newspaper from December 12 2003 back 35 years to the English house of Lords and say: "Those Rolling Stones you guys all hate so much- if you're still alive four decades from now you're going to address him as Sir Mick Jagger." And it would be great to hang around Dublin in the late 70's and early eighties and tell people that the four guys gigging around town would one day be the biggest band in the world. Not only that but I'd quite like to show Bono some video of his later performances and see what he thinks. I'm fascinated by what the young Bono would think of the older Bono. Would he take one look at the strange get-up he chooses to wear on stage and the ever present sunglasses and dismiss him as a prat or be enraptured by the huge crowds and adoration he receives? In 1980 there would have been dozens of bands considered more likely to succeed than U2 and in 2009 many of them are forgotten by their fans and possibly even by several of the bandmembers. But Bono, The Edge, Larry and Adam took less than ten years to become the biggest band in the world and have pretty much stayed that way for another two decades.

So is there much on Boy that shows what was to come? Is it obviously the work of a band destined for greatness or something the future Rock gods would be ashamed of years later? Actually I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by U2's debut. As someone who got into the band in 1987 when The Joshua Tree came out I've always grouped the first 3 albums into an indistinct lump of tracks that pretty much sounded the same. They hadn't discovered the U2 sound by then and were basically just a more melodic variety of punk with vocals that weren't trying to save the world. Sitting down and actually listening to Boy from start to finish as an album in it's own right revealed a lot that I actually enjoyed hearing. The first thing that hit me was Larry Mullen Jr, U2's drummer, who gets a chance to really shine on a lot of this release. He's clearly a powerful thumper of skins and you can see why he lists Led Zeppelin's John Bonham amongst his heroes. The drum sounds really kick on this release and give the songs a lot of oomph. Also fairly oomphafied is the Edge's guitar tone which is given a lot more reign in these early releases than he has later on. I've often wondered what happened to the Edge and his guitar. Early on he was trying to stamp his place as a guitar god and a possible rival to Bono's dominance as a frontman but somewhere in the nineties he seemed quite content to slip into a more supportive role. Lead breaks pretty much disappeared from his repertoire and when he does solo live he's prepared to play the exact same thing that appeared on the original album and he's cranked out in every concert since. It's like his passion for the instrument left him at some point but on Boy he's clearly loving the chance to play Jimmy Page.

As far as songs go the most recognizable on the album is I Will Follow which is familiar to anyone who has seen a U2 show ever. It's an old chestnut they don't seem able to drop and crops up in every tour they play. Electric Company is also fairly well known to the later fans of the band thanks to it's appearance on Under a Blood Red Sky, the live album which acted as an early best-of and saved people from listening to the early albums in their entirety. But there are some great tracks on Boy that the band themselves have long forgotten but are worth checking out. Twilight shines more than a vampire in sunlight, An Cat Dubh is much easier to listen to than pronounce even if it does feature some glockenspiel that sounds like a small child let loose in the mixing room, Out of Control is one of The Edge's finest moments on Vinyl or whatever CD's are made of; the same could be said for Larry Mullen Jr on Stories for Boys.

The album is not without misfires however- The Ocean is one of those small and pointless tracks that just takes up grooves on vinyl and the final track proves that it was only later in the career that they learned out to play ballads.

I was surprised to find there's more to like on Boy than on most U2 album's released in the last decade. Since Achtung Baby I've regarded most of their albums as a good rocker or two surrounded by forgettable filler material and a cringingly bad ballad. Boy on the other hand rocks. It's not an attempt to reinvent popular music as we know it, it's just a really simple concept done very well. I think the main difference is that when they wrote songs in the eighties they wrote them for clubs and pubs. They recorded them with their instruments in mind because that's all they had. Today U2 seem to write material based on their huge sets and lighting displays. They crank out tunes with stadiums in mind and it affects the quality of what they produce. I'd love to take a copy of No Line on the Horizon back to the U2 of the eighties and say: "One day lad you'll turn into this, try not to let it happen."

Highlight: I will follow is a great song.
Lowlight: Shadows and tall trees, putting it at the end of the album was a wise move.

Influenced by: Led Zep and post punk British rock.
Influenced: Future U2

Favourite Amazon customer review qoute:
"It often sounds like a band member is choking the singer who has the clown name. Kinda like James Taylor on a bennie bender, like he's been jogging for hours in a chicken suit in the desert while sucking on sandpaper."

-I think he and I were listening to very different albums.

So will you follow U2 or would you rather keep this album in Another time and another place.

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