Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

U2
Boy


Released 1980 on Island
Reviewed by Le Samourai, 15/07/2001ce


Question: What do Noel Gallagher, Morrissey and our very own Julian Cope all have in common?

Answer: An odd yet passionate hatred for U2 (or at least for their lead singer/lyricist Bono Hewson.)

Does that seem a little odd or perhaps a cliched case of the pot calling the kettle black? Well let’s consider some facts:

U2 are practically the Official “Whipping Boy” for the UK
Post-Punk Movement and are still today the butt of many
musician’s jokes (second only to Sting, Paul Weller, Robbie
Williams, The Spice Girls and last but not least Cliff Richard) for the following reasons:

1. They had several Top 10 Hits all over the world during the last 2 decades.
2. They also became one of the biggest concert attractions of the last 2 decades filling arenas around the world. They even played Live Aid (when they were considered “nobodies”)
3. They made an OBSCENE amount of money doing both 1 & 2 making them perhaps the BIGGEST act EVER to come out of Post-Punk or any genre related to Punk (scary huh?)
4. They were constantly (not so much now - what happened?) pointed to by “out of touch” music journalists as a Band “That Cares”, a Band “With A Social Conscience”, In other words, a Modern Day
“Goody-Two-Shoes”, “Do-Gooder” Rock Band “Of The Common People” (makes you just wanna puke huh?)
5. And FINALLY to add Piousness to Pomposity, most of their members of U2 are devoted Catholics (not sure about Adam Clayton or Larry Mullen Jr. but definitely Bono and The Edge.) Hey, Bono has even met The Pope. The Edge even helped future ordained Catholic minister Sinead O’ Connor get a record deal by featuring her on one of his moody film soundtrack projects.

Not very “Punk” and certainly good reasons enough to hate ‘em right? NOW let’s consider THESE facts:

1. Bono and co. got all that attention NOT by selling out their trademark sound or having more “Popular” people write their songs but by fine-tuning the same old sound they had when they started (with the help of Mr. “I Make ”Difficult” Albums With No Song Structure Or Even Commercial Appeal Whatsoever All The Time And I Don’t Care” himself Brian Eno no less.)
2. They’ve NEVER preached hard to their listening audience to join Christianity in their music. For example one of their biggest hits ever “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” is a big (yet gentle) statement of disbelief in Modern Christianity. What Bono hasn’t “Found” is something in Modern Christianity to make him believe it’s the answer to all of the world’s problems. Could you EVER imagine Julian writing a song like that about any
of his fave Pre-Christian cultures? Could you ever picture Cliff Richard singing that song either? HELL NO!

SO why am I writing about U2’s debut LP BOY for “Unsung”? Because it’s a great snapshot of a band “In Progress”, “Under Construction” “Just Taking Its First Steps” if you will. The Edge has admitted early in his career that he stole licks from the guitarist for Scottish Post Punk greats The Skids (and future Big Country frontman) Stuart Adamson. But let’s go even further and say that The Edge also xeroxed from Public Image Limited’s guitarist Keith Levene. Don’t believe me? OK then play BOY next to The Skids debut LP Scared To Dance next to P.I.L.’s debut LP. Hell if you can’t afford those, then just play P.I.L.’s “Theme” next to U2’s “I Will Follow.” Weird huh? I think Bono even stole his singing style from Skids frontman Richard Jobson (compare Hewson & Jobson’s drunken, romantic “over the top” crooning on their respective debuts, you’ll be on the floor with laughter:)

Still this amazing debut LP stands moody and proud like the menacing, grey Irish thunder cloud it was when it was first released in 1980. Producer Steve Lillywhite must’ve simply said “Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em” because the band just rocks out. They’ve never sounded this boisterous and/or energetic since. BOY starts with perhaps one of the finest “Mama’s Boys” records of all time “I Will Follow” - a Post Punk “Happy Mother’s Day” card fer crying out loud!

Much weirder, darker and perhaps sicker is the voyeuristic
trilogy of “Twilight”, “An Cat Dubh” and “Into The Heart.” Don’t like Bono ‘cuz he don’t sing about cool “psychotic” stuff like Nick Cave does? Well forget that. On these 3 tunes Bono croons about a “meeting” between an adult and child that’s so eerie one would nearly think of child rape or incest as its outcome. Sure it ends with “Into The Heart” where Bono desperately needs to go back to some kind of innocence but one is still left wondering what the person in the song had to run from.

“Stories For Boys” is probably one of the best tunes ever about reading comic books, listening to the radio and just being a kid I’ve ever heard. “Out Of Control” is basically a dress rehearsal for the long drawn-out lyrical battle over the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland that would continue on future U2 LP’s like October, War and The Unforgettable Fire.

Throughout all of BOY the band howls behind Bono in a “take no prisoners” performance. The Edge truly went for “God Of Thunder” guitar status here. Bono singing is barely held in check and just a few yards shy of “campy.” For example, just as the listener is enjoying the Irish Viking raid party of “Another Time, Another Place” Bono ends the thing with some ragged German crooning like
he was auditioning for “Cabaret.” What the hell is he saying at the end of this song? Another highlight on BOY is one of the shortest U2 have ever done called “The Ocean” - a 1 minute 34 second meditation on being alone with loneliness. Bono and the boys almost sound like P.I.L. playing on Patti Smith’s “Elegie” - ending with the band slowly sinking into the ocean with dubbed-out ocean sound effects courtesy of Mr. Lillywhite. Steve Lillywhite usually just gives the band a huge snare drum sound and leaves it at that but here he just CANNOT stop messing with
the Post Punk Dub effects. The outro to “I Will Follow” sounds like an alien Mothership landing in a used car parking lot with broken bottles. Yet the effects really work this time.

They end BOY with “Shadows & Tall Trees” and here’s where their ambition really shines through. Bono sings lyrics like “I walk the sweet rain tragicomedy, I walk home again to the street melody” while the band just builds and builds to a sing along climax where Bono yells “C’mon people now - Shadow!, Shadow!, Shadow!” ripping Patti’s “Wild!, Wild!, Wild!” refrain from “Ask The Angels” (they’d later get even more ridiculous with the Patti
Smith worship with “Gloria” (their first single from the October LP) which is practically Bono’s love song to Patti.) They the end that song and the album with a strange German space funk march outro with some weird noises. Hard to believe huh?

What really stuns about BOY is that U2 borrowed from artists that were very much alive at the time in 1980 (except for The Patti Smith Group who went into a premature retirement around then.) I could just picture members of The Skids and Public Image Limited
considering a group lawsuit against them. Yet U2 still makes those sounds their own. Edge adds a dash of Television noir-ishness to his guitar playing and was never as heavy as Stuart Adamson or Keith Levene were. Bono really wants to be Patti Smith or David Bowie (but I ask in all fairness, what lead singer for nearly any Post Punk band round that time didn’t?) than a third rate Richard Jobson.

Have I gone mad? Will Julian, Dorian, Merrick, Webmaster Chris, Holy McGrail, Thighpaulsaundra, Donald Ross Skinner, the other members of Brain Donor and JoAnne send a modern Viking Horde of Cope supporters (and supposed “righteous” drudes) and HH Posters to burn my home down with me in it in a state of premature Viking
Burial for actually liking music by Jesus H. Christ’s favorite
Post Punk band? I mean it surely must’ve hurt Julian very badly to know he was on Island records the same time U2 were just about to become huge. Well anyway, I hope not as it’s just music anyway and I still like Julian’s music as well. Still none of that should obscure the fact the BOY remains a Post-Punk triumph in its own right.


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