Wednesday, July 15, 2009

U2 - The Wanderer

U2 - "The Wanderer"

I have no strong opinions about this band, who've written a few songs I've enjoyed at one point or another. I have no memories of how big they were at the peak of their popularity, or any real attachment to any of their albums. I get the impression that a lot of fans felt confused by the turns they took on Zooropa and utterly betrayed by the electronic sounds of Pop. As these were the first two (and as it would turn out, the only) U2 albums that I would encounter, interact with, and enjoy in any kind of non-nostalgic way, my chances of agreeing with the "real" U2 fans over just about anything are about as likely as Bono joining Dave Grohl on a charity album for AIDS denialists.

I'd like to think that even the most traditional fans -- the ones who remember all the words from The Joshua Tree and fondly remember the first time they saw "New Year's Day" or "Where the Streets Have No Name" on MTV -- didn't take "The Wanderer" for granted. The final song on Zooropa, it features no shimmery guitars, no vocals from Bono, none of the epic trademarks of the band's sound. Of course, it does have Johnny Cash on vocals, years before he'd assume his place as an honorary alt. rock hero. That's how we remember him now, thanks to the albums he recorded with Rick Rubin and released between 1994 and 2002. But before his rejuvenation and subsequent generational rediscovery, there was this song, giving the man a chance to lay it all down over the kind of refreshingly bare arrangement that the Nashville hitmakers wanted nothing to do with.

If you still buy CDs but hate U2, you can also get the song on The Essential Johnny Cash, where I heard it for the first time shortly after his death in 2003. A sad day for everyone, that was, losing a figure that everyone in music -- country, gospel, punk, probably even hip-hop -- respected, looked to for inspiration, and wanted to claim as their own. But at least he didn't live to hear this, right?

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