On the Culture page, I’ll be reviewing the local culture I’ve been exposed to, be it books, film, media, papers, online, gigs or theatre. Feel free to let me know if you agree, disagree, or what’s switching you on at the moment.

The Sunshine Underground – Live at MOHO LIVE, Tib Street, Manchester – 16/5/09

The Sunshine Underground

The Sunshine Underground

It’s been two years since The Sunshine Underground last toured the UK, and a lot of things have changed in that time; from financial crises to the shape of the High Street. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the power and relevance of this band’s music. 2007’s ‘Commercial Breakdown’ becomes particularly apt in the current economic situation. TSU’s new work, including ‘Your Friends’ and ”Coming to Save You’ is just as entertaining if not quite as original as the old work, and there is another thing that hasn’t changed about this band – they kick royal arse live.

So it was that I was relatively enthusiastic about taking up my position front and centre in the closeted dungeon that is MOHO LIVE. Manchester’s sceniest and grungiest basement is gaining quite a reputation as the hot spot for new gigs, and with deserved reason – it’s a great, intimate venue, which provides a close atmosphere even to those at the back and allows a good mosh for those at the front. TSU were playing quite early, indeed it was still relatively light outside when the gig ended. This did provide a bit of a damper on the atmosphere as there was quite a strong air of brevity and ‘let’s get it over with’ about the gig, although this was more than compensated for by the strong playing by the four lads.

With an excellent rhythm section, a driving guitair, and intelligent lyrics, seeing The Sunshine Underground in a grotty underground lair is something I’d recommend you do while you still have a chance. This is a band on the way up, make no mistake, and whilst you may find yourself at points wondering at how quickly the gig goes, highlights such as ‘Put You In Your Place’ and ‘Borders’ make it worth the elbow-shoving necessary to get to the front.

U2 – No Line on the Horizon

The Biggest Band in the World

The Biggest Band in the World

U2, one of the biggest bands in the world, perhaps in history, are daring to push boundaries once again as they unleash their spectral No Line on the Horizon. But is it a bold leap forward or a mumbling shuffle backward?

“We’re going to go away and dream it all up again.” That’s what Bono said on January 1, 1990. At the time, although The Joshua Tree had propelled U2 to worldwide fame, two grammys, and critical acclaim, its follow up, Rattle and Hum, was widely seen as a generic follow-up, and the movie accompanying the album was seen as arrogant at best. So U2 went off and promptly changed everything – their sound, their message and the ways in which they communicated that message. In their next album,  Achtung Baby, U2 completely redefined themselves through some of the most sonic and innovative they’ve ever written. The rest of the nineties saw them releasing some of their most experimental music, through albums Zooropa and Pop.

With 2000’s back-to-basics All That You Can’t Leave Behind and the similar-in-tone How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, U2 returned to their traditional style and re-established themselves as, in Bono’s words, “The world’s biggest rock band.” With smash hits such as Elevation, Vertigo, Beautiful Day and City of Blinding Light, the Irish Quarter returned to what they knew with breathtaking form.

No Line on the Horizon

No Line on the Horizon

Enter the new experiment. No Line on the Horizon, five years in the making, was recorded in locations such as Fez, Morocco, London, and Dublin. Whilst inital recording sessions with would-be producer Rick Rubin failed to yield results, Bono, Edge, and the boys returned to their long-trusted hands at the helm, Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. But have they pulled it off? Can the worlds biggest band still reinvent themselves?

On first listen, No Line is a wonderful sonic crash of barely discernible songs. It’s much more melded than previous U2 albums, with songs such as Moment of Surrender, Unknown Caller and I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight segueing into each other with ease. But it’s not an instant smack-in-the-face hits record like Joshua Tree or How to Dismantle. It’s a grower. Less defined and clinical than other U2 albums have been, No Line is a messy record. It’s a hotch-potch of charachters, synthesisers, gentle cello, hard rock and moroccan birds. To truly appreciate this album, it takes a good month of listening.

There’s some interesting themes as well. Bono’s back writing in the third person – creating charachters, which he hasn’t done for some years. From the frustrated traffic cop depicted in No Line on the Horizon, (the song), to the down-and-our addict seeking redemption in Moment of Surrender through to the broken war correspondent of Cedars of Lebanon. These are also thrown in with pure Bono-dom in heart-poured songs such as Magnificent and White As Snow. It’s an interesting contrast, and the incongruity of it works well with the mish-mesh feel of the album.

Overall, No Line on the Horizon isn’t perfect. It hasn’t got the smack-in-the-gob instant hit feel of U2 classics such as Joshua Tree or All That You Can’t Leave Behind, nor does it have the sonic dyspraxia of Achtung Baby. But it’s an intriguing and challenging journey through addiction, faith, pain, death, jubilance, and war. It explores these themes in some highly intriguing ways, and sounds most importantly like the type of music U2 like to make. They sound like they’re enjoying themselves, which, after 34 years, is quite an achievement for the world’s biggest band.


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