Wednesday, March 18, 2009

No Line on the Horizon by U2

"Choose your enemies carefully cos they will define you
Make them interesting cos in some ways they will mind you
They're not there in the beginning but when your story ends
Gonna last with you longer than your friends.

After listening to the newest offering from Uberband U2 for like, the 100th time, I felt like it was finally time to talk about it

and what exactly is.. it?

I initially found the album unsettling and not accessible. What was weird about the experience is that it made me feel exactly the same way Achtung Baby did 15 years ago. I was not really sure about what I was hearing. Having been at least a middling fan since the War record, I feel like I've got some U2 street cred. I was a fan before they were massive, and only became more enamored as the years went on. I even liked Pop. (it's a severely underrated album. deal with it.)

As for this smattering of emotion. this shotgun blast of song and technical studio craft. I can only say one thing:

it's pretty amazing.

I mean - this isn't a band that started 5 years ago and is just hitting their peak - this is a band that has been together for nearly 30 years and is hitting it's stride for.. a third.. possibly fourth time..? Is that even possible?

The Beatles invented it. U2 perfected it.

I do stand up and say that there are 2 songs I wish they would have left on the cutting room floor though. "..go crazy.." and "stand up". No matter how self effacing, tongue in cheek and smarmy Bono and the boys intend to be, there is no excuse for some of the lyrics and vocals on these two tracks. Sorry guys. All respect given but....

The rest of the album, however, is absolutely amazing. I liked the cut of the almost surely Lanois influenced "Moment of Surrender" (listen to that chorus - that is a Lanois melody if I ever heard one), the sure to be a classic "Magnificent", and the unspeakably well written "Cedars of Lebanon".

U2, and indeed popular music in the 21st century, simply do not get better, more serious, more thoughtful or more real than this. Was it the touted re-invention? Not really. Does it fall short lyrically at times? Yeah, it does. I can cop to that. But the beauty is that I think they know it. They are willing to fall down in front of all of us and enjoy the trip on the way down. At this point, they can do what they want. I'm inclined to let them do it.

If I can make one suggestion though - I think they should ditch the studio wizardry and do a record that sounds like it was barely done in a basement. Allow the songs to stand on their own without the technology. Maybe the Lilywhite and Rubin sessions will see the light of day someday. Lilywhite, while a ham fisted pop radio guy, does have a gift for finding the core of things and evoking that classic U2 thing. Rubin has a gift for finding near perfect songs. I say lets get these guys together, ditch the egos and watch the fur fly. It would be a helluva album, that's for sure. (Although let me say for the record that I'm a huge Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois fan.)

It took awhile to grow on me. Now I listen to it once a day and probably will for some time until it's worn it's path trough my soul much like The Joshua Tree or Achtung Baby.

I'm not making this up. It's that good.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

who watches the watchmen?

Of course, that is the question we should all contemplate.

I went to see the iconic comic book movie Watchmen last week with a couple of friends, and I have some mixed feelings about it. I ran across a blog that rates the general morality of films, and ended up responding to the post. While I agree with the general sentiment - this film is definitely not for kids - I had to disagree with some of the points in the article. You can see it here

I liked my response to his article, so I truncated part of it and post it here. I would love to get some response from people on this subject. Also, let's get this out of the way - I do consider myself a person of faith and I take that faith seriously. That is the prism through which my response to the blog (and this posting) is filtered through. I find it difficult to discuss things that involve morality outside of the context of an established moral fabric. That is to say, if you are not a person of faith in any way, then these discussions have no merit or value to you because you have nothing to base your morality on besides what 'society as a whole' agrees with. If that is your viewpoint, then this will be a fruitless read.

First, let me lay out the situation - The Watchmen is a comic book series done in the mid to late 80's by a guy named Alan Moore. He has not approved of the movie version, despite the fact that the movie is incredibly faithful to the comic. As for me, I liked the animated version of the film better (the acting is actually better believe it or not)and it covers the comic's story a lot better. In case you've been hiding under a rock, the movie version was just released. It contains some of the most realistic on screen violence I have ever seen, and it also has a gratuitous amount of general nudity and sex. It is rated R. (in the business what we call a "hard R") the film also takes the Lord's name in vain like a million times. (the word g-d damn) While I am not a stuck up moralist, I have to admit that these things ground into me a bit and I had to think hard about the subject. Just how far is too far in Hollywood? Having worked and lived in Hollywood (and quoting from a band I once knew) "too much is not enough", apparently.

I also need to tell you an unintended consequence. As a present, I bought tickets for my friends. They both happen to deal very directly with sexual addiction issues in their lives. I heard tell afterward that there was fallout from seeing the imagery in the film. I can believe it. It was extremely graphic. I have apologized for not doing more research to my friends, and I meant it. I take their sobriety in this area seriously.

I will always defend the folks in Hollywood - I am one of them. I genuinely understand the pathos, the drive and the desire to do something big. I will not, however, defend their consistent and flagrant misuse of the power to influence they wield. You can be sure that behind locked doors, there were conversations about what to include in the film and what not to include. I can virtually guarantee that there was conversation about the possibility of putting the R rated stuff into a DVD version of the film and releasing a strong PG-13 version to the theaters. You can clearly see what happened. I can tell you exactly why filmmakers in this position make the decisions they do:

1. money
2. publicity for the film
3. demographic studies (how many 40 year old church ladies do you know that read comics?)
4. to piss off people that they feel are oppressive moralists (generally speaking, Christians)

That's the truth folks. It has nothing to do with what is it right and wrong. It has everything to do with the bottom line. When you spend upwards (and over) $100 million making a film and marketing it, you want to make damn sure you're making the studios money back or you won't be working next year. When you remove morality from the situation, then it is easy to see why these things happen. The directors cut wasn't good enough for these guys - they wanted the publicity it would create. Did it create waves? Ironically, not as much as you would think. I believe we are entering a different phase of our society here in America, but that's a different article. What's telling is that the film did just fine without the pissed off Christians - who I think have finally generally figured out not to boycott things. If you boycott it, you'll make it three times larger than it would have been without the boycott. It's a fact.

On the subject of the film itself (and it's content) I can say these things: Having read the comic, I can say that the source material also included the nudity and the abbreviated rape scene. I would disagree with people who would say that these two are unnecessary to tell the story. While rape is bloody, uncomfortable and a purely evil act, it happens all too frequently in our world and too often we would turn a blind eye to that fact. Perhaps we might (very uncomfortably) find something of ourselves in the characters involved and that forces us to ponder not only the evil at hand, but our own morality. Remember that Christ said "even if you look on a woman to lust after, you have committed adultery in your heart" (my paraphrase) As for Dr. Manhattans nudity, it made me uncomfortable for sure, but then I realized why - do you recall how God called out for Adam in the garden and Adam said "I Hid and was ashamed because I was naked" and what was God's response? He said: "who told you you were naked?" Think about this. The character in the movie is supposed to be basically omniscient. Why would he care if he wore anything? that is not his natural state. Remember - we are talking about people telling a story here - filmmakers and producers who are not Christians and probably have very little moral fabric in general but they do posses a tremendous sense of how to tell a story and present it artistically.

I will, however, agree with one point than many have been making. The three minute sex scene in the middle of the film was in the comic but completely unnecessary for the film. They could have easily shoehorned this unabashedly soft porn material into a directors cut. Which brings me to my point - They could have easily done the film as a PG 13 and gained a much wider audience. Although they were faithful to the comic book, they could have saved all the sexual grittiness for an expanded directors cut and given general movie going fans (among them the tens of thousands of kids and teenagers who will obviously end up seeing this) a chance to enjoy the story such as it is without having to worry about getting bombarded by messages they don't want to/need to/shouldn't see. Of course, these are gray lines and maybe one of these producers would argue that I am censoring art. On the contrary I would say - I am allowing art to be seen by a great many more people. Although who am I kidding? sex sells. We all know this. It's just a shame. It would be nice if a few more people in Hollywood had a moral bone in their body.

My take: its an amazing movie in some ways. I love the character Rorschach. He is the one most Christians would ultimately relate to. He cares about morality at all costs. Unfortunately, life is not that simple.

At least not since the garden.