JJLOVEGROVE: My Desert Island Album

“WHAT a night! What a show! What what a life, what a way to go. I have a vision: Eurovision!” Mr Machphisto (Feyenoord Stadium, Rotterdam)

I guess it’s a question of taste. A preference. A choice of all musical offerings on the ever-growing menu of snack sized discoveries to be found on the radio, online & increasingly freely left on the reception desk of your latest streaming service like a bowl of M&M’s (brown ones removed please). For me, music has always been about mischief, magic & mystery. The very theatre of it all. The goosebumps. Its ability to simultaneously read your mind whilst changing it & your life too. For me Achtung Baby by U2 is one of those albums & would firmly be my choice for any desert Island (sorry Afghan Whigs’. I promise to hide ‘In Spades’ in my shoes).

My love affair with U2 actually started when I became obsessed with watching Depeche Mode’s ‘101 Live’. So many guitar bands & so little interest for a little girl with a keyboard. Then along came Depeche Mode in beautiful black & white. Exploring & conquering the United States in a way I had never seen or dreamed of before. This became a visual language I not only understood, but felt transported to, in a sort of reverse Dorothy moment in the Wizard of OZ. In the midst of the hurricane of neon, super garish colours & super pop of the 80’s, here was a world I really wanted to live in. There’s no place like Kansas! So, when U2 released the film to accompany ‘Rattle & Hum’, I already knew the language. I had a crush on U2 & with America, but back then Bono was all God & no gold lame. Then on the brink of collapse, U2 decided it was time to visit the home of greatness, Hansa Studios in Berlin. They didn’t know they were the last flight arriving as the wall had started to be pulled down. Europe was changing, U2 were changing. Now things were about to get really interesting!

Achtung Baby’s journey begins at ‘Zoo Station’. The Edge has a new unapologetically raw chainsaw guitar sound, Adam has perfected the super low dirge 70’s sleazy bass lines Roxy Music were too afraid to use & Larry pulls the whole groove together with distorted bass drums & metal pipe snares. Before Bono even enters the room, you know this is going to be an album that demands your fullest attention. The next stop is ‘Even Better Than The Real Thing’. A track that doesn’t sympathise with the Devil but books it a night at a disreputable Berlin hotel & shows it true overindulgence. It’s pure Rock n’ Roll Jim Morrison egotism at its most decadent & The Edge’s guitars on this and the whole album are jaw dropping. But Bono needs a confessional after all that decadence, or at least a good lie down on a psychiatrist’s couch. Cue ‘One’ The song Michael Stipe wishes he wrote. Michael Stipe! It’s beautiful, honest, lyrically brilliant & completely wide open for us all to interpret the meaning, as all great songs are in my mind.

With sins cleansed, it’s on to another decadent party & the owners of the grand mansion have set the wolves on us with ‘Until The End Of The World’. Again, those guitars, the hunt or be hunted push & pull of this track floors me every time. It’s one of U2’s best & one of my favourites on the album.

Achtung Baby is one of the last albums I remember feeling really to have considered an A side B side old fashioned structure to the album & it works beautifully as side A draws to an end with ‘Who’s Going to Ride Your Wild Horses’ & ‘So Cruel’, a track written as a thank you to Roy Orbison.

Talking of slicked back hair & wrap around shades, it would be impossible to not mention the alter ego behind the entire album. Enter ‘The Fly’, a snake oil salesman, politician, rock star with his hands firmly on the TV remote. Do not adjust your sets. U2 know things had gotten so serious before, but now things were about to change. U2 were going to have a go at playing with all the rock & Roll clichés they could. That’s what the media wanted right? With ‘The Fly’ & ‘Mysterious Ways’ U2 were showing the world they were a band who beLIEved in contradictions, in re-invention, in Elvis, John Lennon, in Rock & Roll. It is an album full of irony & humour, but if you dig a little, you’ll find breath-taking tenderness & the sound of Berlin heaving & shifting around them.

Bono’s Lyrics are rarely showcased as well as they are in ‘Trying To Throw Your Arms Around The World’, ‘Ultra Violet’ & ‘Acrobat’. It’s a stunning end to the album & with the addition of the incredible ‘Love Is Blindness’, my favourite incarnation of U2 is contained here in the deepest darkest after dark final section of the album. ‘Love is Blindness’ is the most heartbreakingly brilliant song ever written in my very humble who asked you anyway opinion. It is where The Edge shows us the depths of his soul in every single note that wails, screams & begs to be understood. The pain & passion in this song is delicious. I am completely unable to listen to it without feeling the full weight of its emotion & it leaves me as close to tears as it does ecstasy every single time. Everything great about ‘Achtung Baby’ is covered in this track. The album is love, lies, sex, deceit, faith, doubt, trust, power, greed, envy. It has it all & it is my sonic scrapbook of all that once was great about good old fashioned Rock n’ Roll.

See, they don’t make rock stars like they used to and there will be many who are quite happy to see an end to all that nonsense. For me though, I miss the giant TV screens & alter egos. The queues of 1000 of people from all over the world outside HMV Grafton Street, to get their hands on this shiny new release at one min past midnight. The live link ups to fans in war torn countries, the phone calls to Russian astronauts, Presidents, Princesses & UN councils. The ordering of 10,000 pizzas with a side order of Larry Mullen Jnr & the giant spectacle & ridiculousness of it all. Those days are long gone & who knows if the climate will ever be right for this kind of Rock Star to ever be born again. Yeah ‘I’d join the movement if there was one I could believe in’, but for now I’m off to spend some “ahem” alone time with The Edge & escape for a little while longer on desert island Zooropa. Well, I didn’t come all the way out here to watch TV now did I?

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