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Spins: U2 – “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” • Super Deluxe Vinyl Box Set

| November 30, 2020 | 0 Comments

U2

 

U2

All That You Can’t Leave Behind Super Deluxe vinyl box set

(Island/Interscope/UMe)

During the year 2000, U2 was a band on a mission. After the perceived disappointment of 1997’s experimental and techno-friendly Pop (an album that went “merely” platinum in the United States), the Irish quartet were determined to reclaim their signature sound–and with it, retake the title as the world’s biggest rock band. The band reassembled the dream team that attained colossal heights with The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby, reuniting with producers Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno. The band’s tenth studio album produced enduring radio and concert staples “Beautiful Day” and “Elevation,” as well as MTV favorite “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of.” The emotive “Walk On” became an anthem of perseverance and solidarity as the band’s world tour continued following the 9-11 terror attacks.

This Super Deluxe vinyl set celebrates the album with a lavish package of eleven 180-gram vinyl platters, a large double-sided poster, and a hardbound book containing Anton Corbijn’s evocative photography. The photo book is cast as a travelogue with notes by Corbijn, leading the band from Dublin to the South of France. Lighthearted seaside moments in St. Tropez and stops in Nice are included alongside images from the two-hour layover at Paris’ Charles DeGaulle airport that produced the main album artwork. All contents are housed in a heavy prestige-format slipcase.

Home, or the search for it, is a recurring theme of the album. “Hard to know what it is if you’ve never had one,” sings Bono during “Walk On.” The band’s spiritual yearning reaches its apex during the song. “You’re packing a suitcase for a place none of us has ever been,” Bono sings. “A place that has to be believed to be seen.”

U2 nods to the Gospel-pop of acts like The Staple Singers with “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of.” While guitarist The Edge refashions licks from Motown classics, Bono’s emotionally raw lyric is sung as an imagined tough-love confrontation with late friend and INXS frontman Michael Hutchence. The optimistic anthem “Beautiful Day” describes nearly losing everything but being thankful for what’s left.

The Edge’s sonic experimentation crafts guitar heroism from even the simplest parts, as heard in the impossibly catchy two-note riff of “Elevation.” The band toughened up the original album’s radio-friendly arrangement with a thrashing solo break when the song was included on the Tomb Raider soundtrack, and this collection allows fans to have their cake and eat it, too. The updated arrangement is featured during the included U2 Elevation: Live from Boston set.

With a loping guitar riff, Adam Clayton’s bedrock bass, and Bono’s soulful melody, deep cut “In a Little While” could have been a classic Temptations crooner featuring David Ruffin’s rough-hewn voice. The shimmering acoustic strummer “Wild Honey” is blissful folk-pop reminiscent of the Beatles’ “Two of Us,” and unique among the U2 catalog.

Bono adopts Lou Reed’s vocal cadence during the first verse of “New York,” celebrating an inspirational city abroad, the likeliest place to lose it all, and the US power center. “Irishmen been coming here for years,” he sings, in addition to naming all manner of other immigrants. It’s an urbane, 21st-century update to Frank Sinatra’s immortal tribute “(Theme From) New York, New York,” unfolding at the frenetic pace of life in The City.

“Grace” drifts woozily with the type of moon-stoned mood that Eno and Lanois crafted in 1983 for Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks’ “Deep Blue Day.” The song originally played as a lullaby to close the album. Now, however, the main album is freshly remastered (following a 2017 standalone reissue) and is augmented by the swooning but unsettled “The Ground Beneath Her Feet” with lyrics by Salman Rushdie. The song was originally recorded for All That You Can’t Leave Behindbut was instead placed onto the soundtrack for singer Bono’s film project The Million Dollar Hotel. There’s no mistaking it; the song is at home on ATYCLB. Arguments can be made that it should have originally slotted into the space of “When I Look at the World.”  With its darker soundscape, however, “The Ground Beneath Her Feet” would have made a better fit if it had preceded “Grace,” allowing the album’s perfect conclusion to remain in place.

Splitting All That You Can’t Leave Behind onto two LP platters for this set allows the album to be remastered with enhanced gain and clarity compared to the 2017 single-disc reissue. Details of Adam Clayton’s growling bass during “Walk On” become more audible at moderate volumes, rather than simply being felt in the low end.

Spread across three platters, the vinyl port of the U2 ElevationLive concert DVD’s audio is bristling and vibrant. Recorded in Boston on June 6, 2001, The Edge roars out of the gate with “Elevation.” Adam Clayton’s deep bass locks into Larry Mullen Jr.’s martial drum beat during War’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” “Judas, this is Jesus,” says Bono by way of introducing the Boston audience to a slashing version of Achtung Babydeep cut “Until the End of the World.” The singer announces that he has only just recovered his voice after a rough gig in Albany a few nights earlier, and that he’s thankful to his generous audience and supportive bandmates for lifting him up. Bono dedicates “In a Little While” to Joey Ramone, marveling that it was the last song his hero heard before he passed away. Bono and The Edge offer an understated and expressive duet of Zooropa’s “Stay (Faraway, So Close!”) during a mid-show acoustic set. The Unforgettable Fire track “Bad” is a mesmerizing and communal experience, as the Boston crowd sings along and adds a coda of “40” before the band transitions into “Where the Streets Have No Name.” The band howls through a spine-tingling encore of The Joshua Tree’s “Bullet the Blue Sky” and a razor-sharp version of Achtung Baby’s Eurocentric “The Fly.” The show concludes with a haunting “Wake Up Dead Man” (describing the “f—ed up world”) and the encouraging “Walk On.” Like “Walk On,” “Wake Up Dead Man” also took on new meaning at shows following the 9-11 attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center.

An album called B-sides, Outtakes and Alternatives puts the main album in further context. “Always” is a song in search of inspiration that ultimately evolved into the cathartic “Beautiful Day.” The moody electro-pop combined with Lanois’ textural pedal steel during “Stateless” represent another sonic highlight from The Million Dollar Hotel. The set also includes a winsome acoustic version of “Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of.” Bono’s gliding melody makes “Levitate” a compelling extra, especially when the song’s synthetic pulse gives way to Mullen’s feral drumming. The low funk of “Big Girls are Best” connects to the Pop sound as well as the tautX-era dance-pop of INXS. Edge has described the psych-pop of “Love You Like Mad” as a song that got lost in the crush and the swinging acoustic “Flower Child” as one that was abandoned before being properly finished.

Five additional 12” platters pull the ATYCLB songs apart and reassemble them in remixes by artists including Paul Van Dyk and Wyclef Jean.

All in, this Super Deluxe box set offers an immersive experience with another high-water mark by U2 and a peak that the band has continued to chase in the 20 years since its release.

– Jeff Elbel

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