Thursday, July 03, 2008

Music Review... sort of

Something I don't do often here... but I've been so amazed by this CD that I can't help myself. Anyway, this is more of a useless musing on my part than any sort of authentic review, since most of you will likely never hear these tracks.

I managed to come across a bootleg CD of U2's called The Working Tapes. I'm generally very conscious of intellectual property issues... I don't steal music off the Internet. I pay for what I listen to; it's only fair. I think I have one other bootleg tape (yes, tape) somewhere in my collection, but I haven't seen it in years. This one was just too rare and too tempting for a hardcore U2 fan to skip.

From what I've been able to gather from a little Googling, The Working Tapes is a CD made off of a bunch of tracks that were stolen from the studio during the early Achtung Baby recording sessions. Achtung was released in late 1991, so it's a good guess that these tapes were made sometime in late 1990 or early 1991.

What I find myself listening to over and over is exactly what the title says: working tapes. Working versions of music as it's being written and put together, and I get to listen as if I'm sitting in the corner at Windmill Lane, un-noticed. One other person lucky enough to have heard this gem said, "Eavesdropping has never been this fun."

Getting a small, rough (very rough) glimpse of what an incredible band like U2 goes through when creating a song is pretty interesting. A run down on the tracks:

  • Turn Around. I didn't first recognize the melody or most of the words as anything that ever made it into a release, except for when Bono starts in with "don't turn around" then declares, "This is the verse, yeah." Sounds like the beginnings of Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses. Ghostly, almost rambling lyrics by Bono almost sound like he's making it up on the fly. Subtle, but nice bass riff in the back.
  • Where did you go. Starts with the "Lady with a Spinning Head" riff. Sounds like Bono is feeling out melodies more than lyrics. Lots of humming, ad libbing, and the signature Bono moan/groan sound. It's obvious that at least a little studio work had been done on this one, as some background vocal tracks are mixed in there, too.
  • She's Gonna Take You Down. Starts out with strong instrumentation, with drums and bass in particular sounding like they know where they are going. Perhaps the most developed of the songs so far, which is funny, because I don't think I recognize any of the lyrics or music as anything that was ever released. There's a familiar cadence to the lyrics, that it took me a while to place but that I finally identified as the rhythm from the verses in "Lady with a Spinning Head."
  • Here Comes Changes. Wow. This doesn't open sounding like anything U2 has ever produced, or anything I would expect them to. The music sounds like something from an 8th grade slow dance at my first boy/girl party. It grows on you by the end... but again, I don't think the melody or lyrics ever saw the light of day.
  • Nothing Feels Like This. This almost sounds just like a free-for-all jam session. You can hear Bono giving the other members instructions as they go along, trying different things out. "Give me better vocal sound there!" "OK, Adam... come in... just play around maybe." "Adam, go 'round there so you can hear the drums... You know the chords by now! Same thing!" There's a persistent riff that Edge keeps going back to, and I recognize it but can't for the life of me place what song it eventually ended up in.
  • Wake up Dead Man. (1) This one, that ended up on Pop, makes an appearance here... although it's with completely different music and the only similar lyric is "Wake up, wake up dead man." There's another version of Wake up Dead Man later on this CD, too.
  • Sick for Love Disk. Nice melody, lyrics kind of ramble, but it's enjoyable. The only thing I recognize are the words, "walk on" that are repeated quite a bit.
  • Seize the Day Disk. Sounds very much like the rough beginnings of "Acrobat." Music is pretty well developed, but Bono's obviously still feeling out the lyrics. Where the finished version has, "Don't let the bastards grind you down" Bono has something else in the place of "bastard" ... it sounds like he throwing different words in there, but I can't clearly make out any of them.
  • Even Better Then The Real Thing. Yes, the track listing says "then" instead of "than." Sounds nothing like the final version. Some of the melody off of what was eventually their cover of Cole Porter's Night and Day.
  • Acrobat Different Take. The beginnings are there... you can hear Acrobat coming through, along with a hodge-podge of other riffs that made it into another song or two eventually. All musical, no lyrics.
  • Wake up Dead Man. (2) The second installment with this title on the CD. Music is almost the final version of Ultra Violet, perhaps mixed in with Lady with the Spinning Head, (which I've always thought was very similar musically to Acrobat, anyway) although lyrics are different ... same melody, different words, except for in a few spots where the words are almost the same.
  • With the Spinning Head. Musical, no lyrics. Nice tune, but nothing I think I've heard before.

All in all, this is an incredible piece to own, and I'm going to guard it as closely as I guard the T-shirt Bono signed for me in 1987. I read in a few places that the band was really pissed over the theft and release of these tracks when it happened; and I can understand why: the listener is getting to hear unpolished U2 building songs from the ground up.

Sorry, lads... I just had to have it. And no, I won't burn you a copy.


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