I Was Working in the Prison With a Two Headed Dog

Dear Joe Tangari, today’s Pitchfork reviewer of re-mastered 2XCD deluxe versions of U2’s Boy, October, and War:

First, a disclaimer: I believe U2 deserved a Lynryd Skynryd-style plane ride following Achtung Baby. And that’s being generous to Achtung Baby.


Please tell me you didn’t write this review before you heard these reissues? On the one hand, you mention Edge’s remastering sounds great; and yet I don’t hear much difference. As an early adolescent, I burned these albums into my cochleae, tone and all; so is there really any improving on Steve Lillywhite? I still hear him, and only him. If Edge did anything, he simply fixed the CD transfer that was never done correctly in the 80s. The vinyl always sounded great.

But here’s what tipped me off your potential laziness:

“the 2xCD versions will reward committed fans with a handful of good-to-great live recordings and every available studio curio from the era. (It’s admittedly weird to hear “New Year’s Day” turned into a club track, but intriguing nonetheless.)”

U2 fans have probably already heard the club remixes (a one or two by remix-hero Francois Kevorkian, by the way, which was worth noting) and much of the b-sides if they were buying singles back then, which I was. But then who cares about the converted? Preach to the unconverted with the “curios,” Joe. The studio version of “11 O’clock Tick Tock,” included here, produced and recorded by Martin Hannett and somewhat hard to find otherwise, sports “She’s Lost Control” drums, no foolin’. I’m also betting “Tomorrow (Common Ground Mix) is not a “studio curio from the era” at all, but a recent and totally whack redo of the gorgeous original, exposed by Bono’s post-1996-trademark Counting Crows vocals.

Among other things, the curios contain firsts: falsetto on the BBC session for “Scarlet,” and the heavily electronic/acoustic studio version of “Trash, Trampoline, & Party Girl,” better known as “Party Girl” to leisurely fans of the popular live version.

There’s also a wild synth version of “October” missing from these reissues that I heard once and never again late at night on the radio in the 80s. Or was I dreaming?

A real review would have taken these reissues to task for omitting real rarities in favor of providing heaps of live material from an era already well-documented by Under a Blood Red Sky, not to mention a slew of dynamite bootlegs. The BBC sessions included here beg for a collected BBC release.

A real review would have noted that the live versions on October include some unheard lyrics and melodic lines, which Tangari could have noted as a lead-in to the odd and interesting recent story of Bono’s suitcase showing up, in 2004, 23 years after it was stolen on the Boy tour. It contained the true and intended lyrics for October, which was later rushed to completion without them.

Worst omission: with this paragraph —

On gentle album closer “40” he [Bono] returns to a refrain from “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, saying “I will sing, sing a new song/ How long to sing this song,” regretting the need to sing about the world’s ills. The U2 we’ve known ever since had arrived on War, and even today it sounds vital. As much as cynical critics and listeners often swipe at U2 for their earnestness, it’s still refreshing to hear a band that cares so much, wants to be heard by so many, and isn’t afraid to show it. As if to hammer home the point, the reissues each include contact information for half a dozen activist charity organizations.

–Tangari ignores U2’s then-flourishing Christian religious bent, and not even to couch it in the context of the religious politics they couldn’t avoid around them, at home, at the time. Admit it: U2 were God-Squad-ers, almost a Christian rock band (and also in one, not U2, during this time), marginally accepted by that then-marginal pop tributary of Christian rock. “40” is literally the 4oth psalm, its lyrics and refrain written by Gutenberg long before “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” Gloria” should be self explanatory, even in Latin. Tangari needed to address this and, as far as I can tell, didn’t. I’m so un-religious that I can’t even be counted atheist, but it’s a striking thing to compare the current incarnation of U2 (or the androids who replaced them in 1995) with the dudes who sang, in all seriousness, choruses of “rejoice” and “Jerusalem.”

PS: A real review would have mentioned that new and casual fans ought not ignore curios like War’s “Endless Deep,” a soundtrack inclusion waiting to happen. U2 always gave good instrumental:

U2 – Endless Deep

U2 – Trash, Trampoline, & the Party Girl

U2 – 11 O’Clock Tick Tock (single version)

Posted in U2.

One thought on “I Was Working in the Prison With a Two Headed Dog

  1. You and I must be about the same age. I was completely besotted with those first two U2 albums as a teenager, even though I was unmoved by their religiosity. I thought they made a real mistake dumping Steve Lillywhite in favor of Brian Eno, and the Unforgettable Fire was the first U2 album that seemed kinda forgettable.I’ve mentioned this band before, but I recently realized that the Colour Revolt’s song “Shovel to Ground” could be an outtake from Boy or October.


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