Real-time review of Disc 5 of the Super Deluxe version of the Achtung, Baby reissue (related: the review of the Kindergarten disc). Ready … set …
LADY WITH THE SPINNING HEAD
This is not a random choice for the opening track. As Edge has noted, this song is a seed song, a patriarch of sorts, for what would become Achtung Baby. “Zoo Station”, “Ultraviolet”, and “The Fly” all have their origins in this b-side to the “One” single. So it’s a kind of Frankenstein in reverse, but it has at least three good instrumental and vocal hooks.
BLOW YOUR HOUSE DOWN
For those who knew the rough figure-it-out-as-we-go-along recordings from the Achtung session boots, this was a must-have for the reissue tracklist. Riding the propulsion of fat bursts of guitar, it was for many of us the best shot (as far as we knew) of a Great Lost Track from these sessions. It falls short of that lofty ambition, thanks to a two-part bridge that derails just enough of the first half’s more primitive energy to knock it down a notch.
However, this “Even Better Than The Real Thing” b-side ranks near the top of the era’s b-sides, with Adam’s bass riff, a well-constructed melody, and an ever-interesting blend of guitar and little production weirdnesses on top (including a few handclaps). Its guitar solo is also much better than on the previous track. If you or a loved one like Achtung, Baby but for whatever reason weren’t buying singles back then, this is the kind of reason to jump in now.
EVEN BETTER THAN THE REAL THING (SINGLE VERSION)
Gotta admit, not a ton of difference to these ears between this single version and the album version (identical lengths, by the way). Not like “Please” a few years later, where they would really put some effort into making a better track.
SATELLITE OF LOVE
Another “One” b-side. A good arrangement and performance, more enjoyable if you are a big Lou Reed fan, but it doesn’t approach the greatness of, say, “Dancing Barefoot” in the band’s cover b-side canon.
WHO’S GONNA RIDE YOUR WILD HORSES (TEMPLE BAR REMIX)
More an “alternate mix” in spirit than a remix — this isn’t trying to draw you onto the dance floor. This b-side probably the remix that makes the best case for being a reasonable replacement on the album. Another fine version of some grand, sweeping U2.
HEAVEN AND HELL
Another title recognized from the old pre-release bootlegs. A midtempo 3/4 featuring a descending bass line and a prominent organ part, its bridge is shorter and with a better solo than its previously unreleased predecessor on the disc. Bono has a finished lyric with more than its share of details, but you could understand if they figured it just didn’t sound like the album they were making.
A couple of awkward moments in the instrumental performance demonstrate that this didn’t get pursued but so far in the sessions, but Edge was kind enough to put some stylistically appropriate riffs and fills in here, and it is cut down from a more meandering exploratory version on the boot.
“Down All The Days” is an odd juxtaposition in retrospect — the music that would come to be known as “Numb” behind a spiritually based vocal from Bono.
Now here’s one that wasn’t even on the Hansa boots. It’s a postcard from Bono to the city where they got both lost and found making this album. Spoken verses and a sung chorus give it something different, but this is squarely in b-side territory (an assessment cemented by Bono’s extended Rilke quote. It may be good literature, but in a rock setting, it sounds not unlike wanking.)
A certain college in Ohio should totally rework the lyrics into some sort of avant-garde fight song, since the chorus sounds exactly like, “Oberlin … Oberlin …”
NEAR THE ISLAND (INSTRUMENTAL)
About 2:45 of relaxing piano/guitar interlude. Could be Eno and Edge. Could be Edge and Edge. If it were fleshed out, it’d sound like a close cousin to “Bass Trap”. Nice.
DOWN ALL THE DAYS
An odd juxtaposition in retrospect — the music that would come to be known as “Numb” behind a spiritually based vocal from Bono. Maybe they decided the chasm between the sound of Edge’s guitar here and the lyric vibe was just too great. Maybe if they had instead pulled in the organ from “Heaven & Hell” ….
As it stands, the most impressive part is, as alluded to on one or two tracks in the Kindergarten post, how willing the band was to do a total 180 regarding what to put on top of this music.
PAINT IT BLACK / FORTUNATE SON
Pairing these “Who’s Gonna Ride …” b-sides together since the review is the same: Exceptional, concise, tough covers. Strong choices and strong performances, totally finished and produced. And they — especially the John Fogerty’s — haven’t lost all of their relevance, either.
“Where Did It All Go Wrong” just wants to grab you by the collar and not let go for three minutes. It wouldn’t’ve worked at all on Achtung, Baby, but they were right to not give up on this one.
ALEX DESCENDS INTO HELL FOR A BOTTLE OF MILK / KOROVA
Although it may be their last, “Spiderman” was not Bono and Edge’s first foray into musical theater. They wrote some music for a Royal Shakespeare Company interpretation of A Clockwork Orange. I don’t think it went over terrifically, but then again, it didn’t become a synonym for theatric disaster, either. Anyway, this was a disappointing b-side to “The Fly” at the time. Now, it’s an enjoyable enough atmospheric curio from the time.
WHERE DID IT ALL GO WRONG?
The companion to “Salome” and the two previous covers, in terms of catchy songs that are produced more like A-sides than the B-sides they were (this backed “Even Better Than The Real Thing”). The guitar breakdown, the handclaps, the guitar riff, the other guitar riff, the backup vocal hooks … I mean, the song just wants to grab you by the collar and not let go for three minutes. It wouldn’t’ve worked at all on Achtung, Baby, but they were right to not give up on this one.
EVERYBODY LOVES A WINNER
Another midtempo 3/4 like “Heaven & Hell”, this cover makes for the better finished product. Bono leans on a soul-singer approach here, moving between R&B falsetto and a very broad chest voice that almost doesn’t sound like him. The voice you eventually hear that definitely isn’t him is, in fact, Maria McKee.
Still sounds like a b-side in the traditional sense, but it’s good enough as a sort of modern third cousin to “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out” to survive the iPod cut. McKee’s collaborator Bruce Brody also contributes some nice organ.
EVEN BETTER THAN THE REAL THING (FISH OUT OF WATER REMIX)
We wrap up the disc with a previously unheard remix. The guitars-as-car-alarms in the intro (not unlike “Zoo Station”) I could do without. But things get tougher, leaner once the verse comes in. This is not an extended mix at over 4:00 and it’s still anchored by guitars, but a few handfuls of electronic flourishes and other mix maneuvers put this squarely into the “good alternate version” category.
(In fact, it’s probably the strongest track among the non b-sides here, although it’s cheating a little, being an actual song from the album.)