Saturday, February 11, 2012

1988: Love Rescue Me

U2 w/ Bob Dylan: Love Rescue Me


U2's 1988 two-disc release Rattle and Hum is a hybridized bastard of an album, designed to accompany a rockumentary of the same name, with live cuts, b-sides, and revisionings of the U2 back catalog mixed with a handful of new originals, borrowed fragments such as Jimi Hendrix's Star Spangled Banner, and cover songs performed with B.B. King, Bob Dylan, and New York gospel choir The New Voices of Freedom completing the journey of exploration of American roots music which previous studio album The Joshua Tree had begun, while acknowledging the confusion which the band had experienced in attaining major mega-star status on tour for that previous album.

Though I recognize that this allows us to interpret any resultant lack of cohesiveness in the tracks and performances as deliberate artistic statement, and though I still have great affection for Achtung Baby, which would follow a few years later, in many ways, the disjointed result of this mixed-source approach to album-and-film creation is nonetheless a mess, making it easy for purists to mark it as the moment when the Irish band jumped the shark, turning away from the angry UK-centric political noise of their early post-punk incarnation to a broader theme of global social justice couched in sentimental love.

Notably, however, the critical ill-will that received the album and film release were totally unmatched by the global fan reception to the recently-elevated superstars, making this one of the best-selling albums of U2's career. In this way, the very fame which so confused the band and confounded the potential of this recording led to huge profit, thus cementing Bono's ability to spend the next two decades at the preening, pretentious forefront of social policy-making without having to worry about making sense on stage.

But all whole-album exploration aside, having recently performed it in a UU church service with full choir, I find a powerful gospel song for the ages under the lurching, over-emotive, genre-drifting production choices of the original Love Rescue Me, which moves from hollow folkrock balladry to Springsteen-esque sax-rock in mid-song only to collapse into an oddly quiet coda at the end which sounds like it should have faded out a verse earlier. The performance may be difficult to love, but the lyrics (cowritten by Bono and Dylan) and melodic composition (attributed to U2) are stunning in their simplicity. Subsequent choral versions of the song, such as the amazing version recorded by international music education and support foundation Playing For Change, are revelatory exposures of the song's core potential, and should be listened to immediately afterwards to cleanse the palate and complete the appreciation process.

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