Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 24, 2007)
18 Videos, 16 songs: that’s the case with U2’s new DVD product. It presents music videos for 16 of their best-known tunes, though it omits some memorable numbers along the way and doubles up on two tracks; we find two clips each for “Stuck In a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” and “Walk On”. (And that’s before we get to the extras, where more repetition occurs.”
In any case, I’ll run through the 18 videos and offer my reactions and ratings for each in the order they appear. Here goes!
Beautiful Day provided the debut single and video from 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind, but it didn’t give us the best from that album. Fairly simple, the video combines lip-synching within an airport environment. Toward the end, this becomes cool as we see U2 perform on a runway as jets scream over their heads, but otherwise the video comes across as average. A fairly good song, “Day” also isn’t among the best from Behind. 6 out of 10.
The second single off of 1987’s breakout hit The Joshua Tree, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For provides a simpler video. Shot in Vegas, U2 wander Glitter Gulch while they lip-synch and interact with the folks. This is pretty typical mid-80s video fare, and perfectly watchable within those constraints. There’s not much to it beyond the sly conceit of staging a video for such a spiritual song in one of the world’s most decadent spots, but it’s entertaining. 6 out of 10.
Going back a few years, we come to 1984’s Pride (In the Name of Love), the band’s ode to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and this DVD’s sole representative from The Unforgettable Fire. Even more basic than “Found”, this one concentrates mostly on a lip-synched rehearsal of the tune. However, it adds some symbolism via a ghostly audience and the Irish setting along with Bono in full rock god mode before he actually had quite earned it. Despite – or perhaps because of – the simplicity, it works. 7 out of 10.
The Joshua Tree reasserts itself with the album’s leadoff hit, With or Without You. Another low-key video, this one goes for moodiness and atmosphere. It focuses on a lip-synch performance but intersperses dramatic lighting and imagery. Those elements help make it evocative and fulfilling, even if Larry looks like he doesn’t want to be there. (Then again, Larry always looks like he hates being at these video shoots.) 8 out of 10.
Another first single shows up next, as Vertigo represented the launch from 2004’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. This one’s all about movement – or the impression of such, given that the band never goes anywhere. Visual effects create the feeling of speed and swirling, elements that make sense for the tune. I think it should’ve been more colorful; the stark, sandy setting doesn’t work for me. Still, it’s a good video that suits the material. 7 out of 10.
One of the DVD’s earliest tracks comes from 1983’s New Year’s Day. All about obvious symbolism, this one mixes an icy lip-synch session with war imagery. Not exactly subtle, the video’s most interesting for historical value. Heck, Bono didn’t even have the rock god chops he showed in “Pride” – or maybe he was just too cold to emote well. 5 out of 10.
I’ve always loved Mysterious Ways as a song. Unfortunately, that video seems decent at best. The second release from Achtung, it features U2 in Morocco and also depicts locals and belly dancers. Bono lip-synchs and we see some funhouse mirror distortions of him. The song still works great, but the video seems ordinary and lacks anything to make it particularly winning. 5 out of 10.
From mediocre to great, we move to Stuck In a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of (US Version), the second video from All You Can’t Leave Behind. Like “One”, this song enjoys more than one version, but this one seems like the best of the pair. Set at a football game, it includes a cameo from John Madden and packs scads of U2 inside jokes; for example, they play at the “Unforgettable Firedome”. Fun and amusing, it even offers Larry as a rabid fan. That’s worth the price of admission alone. 9 out of 10.
Apparently the first video created for Stuck In a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of, the Kevin Godley-directed “International Version” aired mainly in Europe, while Americans got the football one. Basically it shows Bono as he repeatedly gets tossed from a moving van. I much prefer the American edition, but this one seems decent. 6 out of 10.
Our final Joshua Tree track, Where the Streets Have No Name shows U2 in Beatle mode as they stage a rooftop shoot in LA. If anyone wants to argue that U2 bought into the concept of the band as egotistical self-styled rock rebels, this video is Exhibit “A”. If it just showed the lip-synch performance, that’d be fine. However, if comes with many shots of adoring fans, glowering cops who want to shut down the proceedings, and puffy narration from deejays. This is less a video and more a self-aggrandizing piece of propaganda. 2 out of 10.
An odd bird, The Sweetest Thing first came to life as a Joshua Tree-era “B”-side. However, it finally became a single in its own right as part of the promotion behind 1998’s first greatest hits compilation, and that’s the period in which this video was made. It follows Bono – who looks spookily like Elvis Costello here - on a carriage ride with his sweetie as he uses a series of absurd and ever-escalating tactics to apologize to her. Quick, clever, colorful and creative, it’s a blast from start to finish. 10 out of 10.
For the second of the two War tracks, we go to Sunday Bloody Sunday. Unlike “New Year’s Day”, this isn’t an actual video. Instead, it’s just the band’s famous Red Rocks performance of the tune. It’s nice to have this on DVD – still waiting for the full Red Rocks release! – but it’s not exactly a scintillating clip. 5 out of 10.
As I’ll mention when I get to the supplements, Achtung’s One went through a complicated production history and three different videos exist for it. This one is the best, as it offers a simple, elegant and moody exploration of the song’s themes. Great song, fine video - 8 out of 10.
1988’s Rattle and Hum provides the next tune: Desire. More of a multi-media explosion than earlier U2 videos, this one mixes jerky lip-synch shots with video footage of cops, seedy LA street sights and other distractions. I’m not sure what point it wants to make, but it acts as a decent support for the tune. 6 out of 10.
For the final All That You Can’t Leave Behind single, Walk On (International Version) comes from Brazil. We see lip-synch band shots interspersed with their daily business and shots of the area. It’s pretty pedestrian and forgettable. 4 out of 10.
Inevitably, we also get Walk On (US Version). Ironically shot in London, this one shows a band performance mixed with the guys and others who morph into each other and deal with various travails. I suppose there’s a “we’re all the same” message in there somewhere, but it doesn’t go much of anywhere. At least this one’s more ambitious than the international “Walk”.
Elevation finishes the All That You Can’t Leave Behind numbers. Created to promote the Tomb Raider movie, this one puts the Edge in the flick’s action but mostly stands on its own with fresh shots. It turns into a fun, inventive piece that’s miles ahead of most music videos for soundtrack tunes. 9 out of 10.
Another Atomic Bomb track, Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own starts well but soon becomes conventional. During the clip’s first few moments, Bono strolls the streets of Dublin and croons the tune live and a capella. Unfortunately, it then merges into the studio version of the song and comes with predictable visuals. If the video stayed with the initial concept, it would’ve been moving and memorable, even if it did rip-off Bruce’s “Streets of Philadelphia”. As it stands, the clip doesn’t stands out from the crowd. 6 out of 10.
18 Videos concludes with the package’s sole new number: a remake of the Skids’ The Saints Are Coming done with Green Day. Performed live at the Superdome to welcome home the New Orleans Saints, this shows the gameday blast. That makes it a nice historical piece and an interesting bit of music. 7 out of 10.
By the way, if you’re adding at home, you’ll notice that “Saints” acts as the 19th video on 18 Videos. I guess they agreed with me when I said it wasn’t a real video. Why not just include it in the extras, though? And why not put the two alternate versions of videos in the extras as well and use the main program for clips that don’t appear here at all?
Maybe someday U2 fans will have a complete catalog of their music videos, and if you combine 18 Videos with Best of 1990-2000, we’re pretty close. Some clips still remain absent, but we’re getting there. 18 Videos doesn’t substitute for a full package of promos, but it offers a lot of good stuff.