Songs from The Joshua Tree became even grander in a stadium setting.
Dennis O'Dell 2009
Following the release of The Joshua Tree, U2's first truly huge album in global terms, the USA lay supine before them. Deciding to embrace the cultural heritage as well as the dollars, the band aimed to document the tour and pay homage to their perceived roots. For this, they agreed, they needed an American producer. So along to Memphis came Jimmy Iovine - producer on the transitional live document - Under A Blood Red Sky. The results were a double album of live and studio work and a film that met with decidedly mixed reactions.
In truth there's nothing wrong with Rattle And Hum other than the fact that, unlike some other bands, U2 didn't necessarily mix so well with other artists or genres. For instance, When Loves Comes To Town (with BB King) is raucous but hardly classic. The same applies to cover versions. The live attempt at All Along The Watchtower needed more than grainy black and white footage and cowboy hats to set it up there with Dylan and Hendrix.
More impressive were the live cuts and other hits culled from shows in Denver and Tempe where it became obvious that the songs from The Joshua Tree became even grander in a stadium setting. The band's hearts were in the right place (Silver And Gold, as Bono rather obviously points out, is about apartheid). The real problem lay in the grandiloquent context the film provided.
While the band subsequently claimed that things had run away with them, turning a modest tour diary into a Hollywood event, the critical reaction registered quickly enough. The only way to overcome an image of po-faced self regard and epic gestures was to become more epic but also throw in a vast dollop of irony. Achtung Baby to the rescue, then...