Irish rock group, U2 were in New Zealand last week with their Joshua Tree tour – celebrating the album of the same name released in 1987. To Kiwis it’s one of their more fondly held albums, mainly because of the song, “One Tree Hill”, that serves as a commemoration for their New Zealand roadie, Greg Carroll, who was killed while working for the band.
U2 are not to everyone’s taste, and while I was a substantial fan in my teenage years, and saw the band live in Christchurch in 1984, lead singer, Bono’s histrionics and posturing grew a little tiresome over the years. Even still, I am never disappointed when I put my well-worn copy of The Joshua Tree on the turntable.
While tens of thousands of concertgoers got to experience the full majesty of a U2 concert in two sell-out performances at Auckland’s Mount Smart stadium, the story that caught my attention concerned a less than flattering review of The Joshua Tree by a local music critic, and Bono’s terribly belated response to it.
Negative musical reviews are an everyday occurrence. We all have different tastes and while something may move us and resonate with us, it will have the opposite effect on others.
David Cohen penned a review of the U2 album in question after it was released, which he said was, “one of the most sexually frustrated recordings ever made”. It made such an impression on Bono that he read out parts of the review with his own commentary at the band’s gig in Wellington in 1989. The strange thing is that in my opinion, Cohen was right. It only takes a casual stroll though the album’s song titles to see he was on to something, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, “Where the Streets Have No Name,”Running To Stand Still,” “With or Without You”. And, to be fair, sexual frustration has been a constantly recurring theme ever since anyone decided to sing a song to someone else.
Bono took the opportunity to write a semi-conciliatory email to Cohen, while in New Zealand last week, to try and settle the dust. “It was a long time ago… 30 years… but you wrote a disparaging review of The Joshua Tree that I then used as a prop in our Love Town tour… I can’t remember what I said… I’m sure it was meant to be funny, but wasn’t… apologies. Unlike your review, which was meant to be serious – and it was, even if snotty and youthful in its own way. If you’re around 30 years later to witness that crap album… you will be very welcome tonight. And you don’t have to like it this time around either for all its gospel brightness, it’s a black beauty.” (Source: “Bono writes letter of apology to Kiwi U2 gig reviewer David Cohen from 30 years ago”).
Nice one Bono, it’s not a bad response to a negative review, even if it contains the odd badly veiled barb or two. Cohen was reported as saying he was grateful for the email but still held to his original criticism of the album, of which he said: “It still sounds meandering, over-long, and pretty humourless and ill-focused . . . I thought it was very classy of him and my estimation of him has gone up. Shirley Bassey in Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend says we all lose our charm in the end. I think that’s true, but sometimes we can acquire a little dignity in our behaviour as we get older too.” (Source: “Bono writes letter of apology to Kiwi U2 gig reviewer David Cohen from 30 years ago”).
This all goes to prove that it’s always a great idea to respond to a less than flattering review. Feedback is, after all a mainly subjective reflection of an experience or event and we will never all agree, on anything.
In the meantime, I still rate “One Tree Hill” and I can’t think of a better song written about New Zealand by visitors to our shores.