U2 THE GOLDEN YEARS...

THEATER

THE BEST OF 1980-1990

U2

Island Records

The concept of a "greatest hits album" is relative in the saturated music industry of today. As long as they still have a pulse, a band/singer can churn out a greatest hits CD, regardless of how many major hits they've had. Case in point: Snow. We all remember his infectious little ditty "Informer" from back in the early 1990s. A masterpice! We couldn't understand what he was saying, but it didn't matter because the song was just so damn catchy! However, only a few more will remember his follow-up single "Girl I've Been Hurt," which rode on the coattails of "Informer" for a time and then faded into obscurity. Two little known albums and four years later, and all of a sudden The Greatest Hits of Snow is released.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but singers need more than one "hit" to justify a CD called "the greatest hits," with emphasis on the plurality in the word "hits." Albums like these lose their luster when one or two hit singles are surrounded by dance remixes and drivel from albums that weren't very good to begin with. A true "greatest hits" CD is a rare gem indeed these days.

A jewel of an album does come along every so often, though. The latest one is, not surprisingly, from one band that has done more than their fair share to warrant a greatest hits CD: U2. Twenty-two years in the making, The Best Of 1980-1990 is a tour de force that briefly touches on U2's humble beginnings before hurtling straight into every song from the 1980s that catapulted them into the pop music stratosphere.

The glory and passion that defined U2 in the 1980s is here in full force. Starting with the anthemic "Pride (In The Name Of Love)," their memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr., the album is an emotional ride wrought with equal amounts of politicized calls for action and elegant longings for love. For those people less than enamored with U2's dabbling into electronica, this collection is like coming home to a time when Bono's long hair and earnestness were a comforting alternative to the cold, mechanical music of the 1980s.

Indeed, the greatest strength of this album is the timelessness of the songs. Older songs such as War's "New Year's Day" and "Sunday Bloody Sunday" still pack as much emotional punch now as they did in 1983. The plaintive melodies and soaring guitar lines which characterized 1987's masterful blockbuster "The Joshua Tree" still sound like nothing else ever committed to tape. "With Or Without You" is heart wrenching in its aching for love, and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" is as close to capturing tangibly the search for meaning and love as any other song ever recorded.

Though always driven by Edge's unique guitar lines and the instinctive synchronization between Larry Mullen on drums and Adam Clayton on bass, U2 has never been afraid to evolve and explore new territories. In fact, their songs only gained new facets and complexities while retaining their heart and emotion. The latest compositions, which are culled from 1989's Rattle and Hum, still have that distinctive U2 sound, despite broadened instrumentation. "When Love Comes To Town" features B.B. King on vocals and guitar, and "Angel of Harlem" features a horn section.

If there is a complaint to be made, it would be that only two songs from their first two albums are included, "I Will Follow" from their debut album Boy, and the hidden track, "October," from the album of that same name. Though their earlier songs lack the maturity and musical depth of their later work, the emotional undercurrent is still present. The omission of the classic October track "Gloria" is also puzzling.

However, any omissions are excused by the final two tracks. The fragile "All I Want Is You" stretches on for over six minutes, prolonging the anguish set forth by Bono's mournful yet strong vocals and Edge's subtle guitar playing. The song crescendos to a wailing, yearning climax and then fades away gradually. There is silence for a few minutes, and then the brittle piano chords of "October" start. Sparse and lonely, like a barren tree in winter, "October" is U2 at its finest, displaying some of the strongest emotions on the album with the simplest, minimalist music.

As an added bonus, for one week only, a CD with U2's B-sides is included with the greatest hits CD. Though other bands have throwaways as B-sides, any songs on this album could have been included on a regular U2 album (in fact, one, "Silver and Gold," was on Rattle and Hum). Worth the extra money alone are U2's haunting, dark version of Patti Smith's "Dancing Barefoot" and the U2 originals "Spanish Eyes" and "Luminous Times (Hold On To Love)." Other songs are brooding ("Love Comes Tumbling," "Endless Deep") or simply happy ("Hallelujah Here She Comes"). Only the covers are overly weak; their version of "Everlasting Love" seems a bit too close to Gloria Estefan's jolly remake, and on "Unchained Melody," Bono strains his voice to hit the high notes, which lessens the beauty of the song. Probably for only those diehard U2 fans, the B-sides CD is nevertheless an excellent addition to any record collection.

It's telling that U2's B-sides are almost as good as their originals. Few bands can proudly say that their B-sides could comprise another greatest hits CD in their own right. With the release of The Best Of 1980-1990, U2 has only cemented its place as one of the best rock and roll bands of all time.