Friday, 21 December 2007

DVD: U2 - Rattle and Hum

Lowdown: The magical megalomaniac tour.
Joshua Tree is widely considered to be the best album U2 has produced, but at the time it was first published I didn't like it. Neither did I like its follow-up, Rattle and Hum. I did, however, fall in love with Achtung Baby, and for a time U2 was my favorite band. Rattle and Hum became a household name for me, and I even had the laserdisc (recently sold on eBay). By now, however, my love for U2 has greatly faded, mostly the result of their rather mediocre releases during the last 10 years or so. They should have retired 15 years ago; still, I was curious to see how Rattle and Hum the film would feel today...
First for some historical background. Rattle and Hum is essentially a collection of U2 songs compiled together into something that, at the time (late eighties), was out at the cinemas. The songs are performed in various environments, starting from weird studios on to conventional and unconventional live shows and ending in some more exotic recordings. The common themes to all the songs are that (1) they were shot/recorded while U2 was riding high on the success of its Joshua Tree album and (2) they are all very American in nature. Just like Joshua Tree, Rattle and Hum was aimed to hit at the dead center of American psych.
With that in mind, how do the songs fare? Well, I have to say they sound more than a bit dated. And as already stated, my love for U2 has greatly faded over the years. But still, I have to say it, the songs are still good. Not excellent, but good.
Rattle and Hum, however, is not only a collection of songs. It shows a band and it tells its story. What does the viewer take out of that? Well, two things, mainly. The first thing you take is Bono's extremely megalomaniac nature. The guy is a show-off to the 10th degree, and it's so annoying you becoming desperate to take a pin and deflate him. For example, in most of the songs he has a guitar on; does he play it? No, it's just for show. Eventually, he plays a few notes at the end of one song, and it sounds the way it would when you let a child play a guitar (clarification: a child that does not know how to play a guitar).
The second thing you notice is just how much U2 was aiming at mainstream USA. For example, in Bullet the Blue Sky, a song of theirs that is supposed to criticize the USA's involvement in central America during the eighties, performed live, you hear Bono giving the crowd a speech condemning priests that collect money from the sick and the old in the name of god. Excellent, you say; but why doesn't he say anything about what the song is supposed to convey in the first place, that is, why doesn't he say the stuff he really wanted to say but knows that most of the crowd would not like to hear? I guess this is how you end up selling records by the ton.
Worst song: Sadly, Helter Skelter, which is one of the better songs on the Rattle and Hum CD (naturally; it's a Beatles song) is badly performed in the film. It's cut into little pieces and you just can't enjoy it.
Best song: Bullet the Blue Sky, which enjoys a rather tense performance.
Picture quality: Horrible. There's noise all over the place, most of it intentional. Most of the film is black & white, but the bits in color are weird (some of it intentionally, some due to bad DVD authoring). Generally, detail is lacking.
Sound quality: Someone has played with an equalizer way too much and boosted high frequencies to such a level it's almost unbearable to listen to this film. Other than that, the mix has been done at 5.1 but it's not done well, and you get all these weird noises coming at you from the surrounds. This is not an audiophile recording to say the least.
Overall: Say what you say about it all, and you can even criticize Bono for not writing the best of lyrics, the songs are still nice. 3 out of 5 stars.

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