Fistful of Nostalgia

Is U2's latest reissue package worth the cost?

When U2 first came onto the international scene in 1980 with its debut album, Boy, it had yet to grow into the ungainly behemoth that audiences know and love today. Arena-rock ambitions aside, the album captures a more down-to-Earth if painfully earnest band. Luckily, U2 was also able to keep its collective feet more or less on the ground over the course of its second and third efforts, October (1981) and War (1983). All three albums have just been simultaneously reissued in single- and deluxe two-disc versions. Looking back, the move seems appropriate, as these albums have long been considered classics.

Looking more closely, however, the decision to release each album at 35 bucks a pop raises questions about the band's and its label's sense of where they stand in the midst of a music industry that appears to be going through early spasms of financial ruin. As lovably excessive as U2 can be when it isn't keeping its collective feet on the ground, it's a questionable move. The remastering, though supervised by the Edge himself, doesn't really improve upon the original sound quality. And that's because the blunt truth is that these songs come across just as powerfully (if not more so!) on old, beat-up cassettes. There's only so much you can do with them.

Meanwhile, the bonus material should satisfy diehards and collectors but leave other fans wanting more — especially following the deluxe treatment that was given to the band's career-defining Joshua Tree album for its 20th-anniversary edition last year. In that case, one would be hard-pressed to argue against the inclusion of an extra disc. But here? War's extra disc mostly consists of alternate and extended mixes, while Boy and October offer slightly more bang for the buck with singles that predate Boy and a live BBC session. As for packaging, the hardbound, sensibly sized boxes these new editions come in certainly look handsome sitting on a shelf. They also seem to scream, "Christmas stocking stuffer!"

But fans should be aware that, in addition to archival photos, artwork for old singles, and bonus-track explanations from the Edge, each 32-page booklet is anchored by an essay that simply drools praise on the band rather than providing any compelling analysis. Even fans will find it hard to stomach Paul Morley swooning: "They were instantly in the process of finding themselves, busy being born, busy setting out on an adventure that could only have begun this way." U2's followers — even the band itself — deserve better. And it looks like they're going to get it when the less lavish but more substantial CD/DVD reissue of Under a Blood Red Sky/Live at Red Rocks comes out later this year.

 
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