In the Name of Love: Africa Celebrates U2
Douglas Heselgrave's #19 album for 2008
First Appeared in The Music Box, May 2008, Volume 15, #5
Written by Douglas Heselgrave
Sun May 4, 2008, 06:30 AM CDT
First and foremost, I must confess to not being a big fan of U2. While I’ve always admired the band’s political stance, and although I’m glad that the group provides something of substance amongst all the crap on the airwaves, I have to admit that U2’s music largely leaves me cold. The outfit undoubtedly has written some classic pop songs: No matter how many times I hear One, the passion of Bono’s vocal performance still rouses something inside of me. Overall, though, I find U2 to be overrated and not that interesting as a musical force.
I don’t deny Bono’s sincerity toward his many causes. Yet, his theatrics and love of the spotlight make it difficult to take him seriously. In addition, The Edge’s guitar work, despite its hypnotic power, has relied on the same pulsing, rhythmic structures since the mid-1980s. Personally, I have always found the most interesting component of U2’s music to be the rhythm section. Larry Mullen and Adam Clayton’s intricate bass and drum work continually insinuate backbeats over the dominant rhythm to create a percussive bottom-end that is second-to-none. With these biases in mind, the songs that are the most successful on the new tribute album In the Name of Love: Africa Celebrates U2 are those that not only pick up on the rhythms suggested by Mullen and Clayton but also expand upon the atmospheric grooves that producers Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno embedded as textures into some of the ensemble’s albums.
Thankfully, there are no real blunders on In the Name of Love: Africa Celebrates U2. All of the African musicians who were asked to contribute their versions of classic U2 songs to the collection rose to the occasion and used the originals as a blueprint for showcasing their individual styles. Some of the artists — such as Benin’s Angelique Kidjo, whose rendition of Mysterious Ways opens the album — chose to sing in their own language. When this occurs, it has the effect of recasting the tunes in a different and more exotic light, though it also inadvertently may reduce the effort’s overall commercial appeal.
Nigerian drummer and Fela Kuti alumnus Tony Allen’s Where the Streets Have No Name and the Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars’ Seconds are the songs on this collection that sound the most like the original versions. This works to their advantage as their adherence to U2’s structure gives the listener a foundation from which to appreciate Allen’s complex percussions as well as the Refugee All Stars’ gorgeous vocal and guitar arrangements.
Still, the most successful interpretations on In the Name of Love: Africa Celebrates U2 are the ones that take risks by using the subtle aspects of U2’s sound to build new songs from the incidental textures. Vieux Farka Toure’s version of Bullet the Blue Sky, for example, is absolutely breathtaking. He cops the blues structure from the original tune and creates a swirling incandescent riff on his guitar that builds in intensity as a calabash locks into step with the rhythm. He spits out the chorus in English before angrily rapping an approximation of the original lyric in French.
Guinea’s Ba Cissoko’s almost unrecognizable version of Sunday Bloody Sunday is equally fascinating and powerful. It is sung in a variety of languages, and I wasn’t sure what the song was until the band played The Edge’s melody on the kora. In a stunning turnaround, one of Lanois’ original guitar textures is teased by the kora as it rises out of the backbeat. It then morphs into the lead melody of the song before the number comes to a crashing, hypnotic finale. These 30 seconds of musical perfection, where Western rock not only meets but also is transformed by African pop, are worth the price of the endeavor.
At the best of times, tribute albums are mixed bags, and In the Name of Love: Africa Celebrates U2 is, in many ways, no different. Undoubtedly, anyone who listens to the outing will like some of the versions better than others. The best thing about this release is that it tries something different. Instead of cover songs by Elton John and Sting — is there a tribute album other than this one that doesn’t have these two, old hacks playing on it? — the producers took a risk by showcasing the work of prominent African stars. The logic to this choice is obvious given U2’s well-publicized championing of African causes, and the tribute stands as an apt gesture of thanks. The booklet that accompanies In the Name of Love: Africa Celebrates U2 provides some interesting information about the singers and their home countries — most of which have been ravaged by war and/or AIDS. In addition, a portion of the proceeds from the sales of the effort will be donated to the Global Fund, which is dedicated to treating AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.
However noble the causes, the most important thing for most people will be the music, and everything that is collected on In the Name of Love: Africa Celebrates U2 is worth hearing. Some of it is even superb. Hopefully, many U2 fans will use the album as a springboard for learning more about African music. As anyone who has done so could attest, spending time with the other recordings that have been made by the artists featured here is a rewarding experience. ½
Of Further Interest...
In the Name of Love: Africa Celebrates U2 is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box