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Latest U2 collection includes hits and misses

Brian Doxtader | Tuesday, January 23, 2007

U2 already has a pair of greatest hits albums, “Best of 1980 – 1990” and “Best of 1990 – 2000,” so “U2:18” might seem like a cheap cash-in on previously released material. Unfortunately, it is. The band doesn’t really need another compilation, and “U2:18” doesn’t provide anything new or revelatory about the most popular band in the world.

U2, led by singer Bono and guitarist The Edge, started out as an above-average post-punk outfit before finding its footing as a socially-conscious band with a penchant for sweeping anthems. Driven by the rhythm section of Larry Mullen Jr. and Adam Clayton (the two members of the band that actually have names), U2 married eclectic experimentalism with simple rock beats, a combination that proved to be both artistically and commercially successful. On 1991’s “Achtung Baby,” it reinvented itself as an electronic/dance band.

U2 continued along this path for the decade until re-reinventing itself as a neo-classicist pop band, which was evident on its most recent two albums, 2000’s “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” and 2004’s “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.”

Sadly, despite this history, there’s a lot wrong with “U2:18.” It isn’t arranged chronologically, so it’s nearly impossible to get a feel for the band’s considerable artistic growth. This problem is compounded by the complete absence of several key U2 albums, including 1981’s “Boy” (the band’s debut), 1982’s “October,” and 1993’s “Zooropa.”

The music that is included is generally great, though it relies a bit too heavily on U2’s later renaissance. Songs like “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “New Year’s Day” have a timeless, anthem-type quality to them, while love songs like “One” and “With or Without You” hint at the band’s depth. The best song on the compilation (still one of the defining songs of the 1980s) is U2’s tribute to Martin Luther King Jr., the fiery “Pride (In the Name of the Love),” which features fantastic guitar work by The Edge.

The two new songs on the album are respectable, but not nearly as good as the rest of the collection’s material. A cover of The Skids’ “The Saints are Coming” features Green Day, while “Window in the Skies” is a U2-by-numbers anthem that showcases a fine vocal performance by Bono despite an excess of strings.

Still, for a collection that purports to be a collection of singles, it’s disappointing just how many of the band’s biggest singles have been forgotten – “I Will Follow,” “Gloria,” “Bad,” “Stay (Faraway So Close!)” and “Even Better Than the Real Thing” among them. “U2:18” is also disappointing because it omits unreleased album tracks, so the breadth and depth of U2 is lost in the commerciality of the singles. It also fails to include anything from any of U2’s side projects, which means that “Miss Sarajevo” (featuring Luciano Pavarotti), one of its best songs from the 1990s, is also missing.

In the end, it’s hard to see the point of a compilation like “U2:18.” Faithful fans will most likely own most of the album’s material, and wouldn’t feel compelled to buy the disc simply for a few new songs. Those unfamiliar with U2 would be better off buying one of its previously released “Best Of” collections, or better yet, picking up 1987’s “The Joshua Tree” and 1991’s “Achtung Baby.” There’s no arguing with the greatness of the music included on the disc. However, it’s hard not to wish for more of it.