U2 - a band that's immune to de-mythologising?

Published January 13, 2012

I've just watched the U2 documentary From The Sky Down, ostensibly telling the story of the creation of their 1991 album Achtung Baby. According to U2 lore, this album was when they broke free from their full-of-themselves arena-rock existence and reinvented themselves as ironic and whatever blah blah blah. And certainly, Achtung Baby does contain some excellent tracks and was a breath of fresh air upon its release (it's the only U2 album I own). But this documentary... I almost laughed out loud. Although we get some insight into the band's creative process, and that's always interesting, I can't see that the film does anything than build on the mythology of the band - and I'm talking about clichéd old arena rock band mythology. The only thing missing was the hand of God reaching down from the sky and touching the shoulders of the four U2 members to guide them on the path leading to their preordained destiny.

I guess there's just something so humour-less and so unambiguous about U2, that if you're a documentary-maker and this band is your subject, this is where you end up. For all the archive shots of the band dressing up in drag - wow, they're so, like, alternative - there were tons more of The Edge in that horrible bandana-and-long-hair look, and Bono in mullets, mullets and more mullets. Even his re-invented 1991-1992 hair-style looked like mullet-lite to me. The presumably unintended message of the documentary seems to be that the reinvention was mainly cosmetic.

Another thought: In Sweden, this was broadcast by our public service company, SVT. The production bears a copyright of Mercury Records, U2's record company. Now, I'm wondering: Where are all those TV reviewers who threw a hissy-fit when Agnetha Fältskog's self-produced and -financed 2004 documentary was aired on SVT, because they felt it was "promotion"? Come to think of it, where have they been when SVT has broadcast other programmes produced and financed by the record companies and/or artists involved? Oh, I forgot. Agnetha's documentary was about a sad old member of that ultra-commercial pop group ABBA ("pop", not "rock"), a member so crassly commercial and self-promoting that she had done everything in her power to stay out of the limelight for 17 years, so of course that had to be pounced upon.

One more thought: The U2 documentary used an interesting device to discuss the dangers of a band falling apart, by showing several examples of other famous bands losing one or more members. It would have been an excellent segment if there hadn't been something seriously lacking in the research department. Guys, it wasn't Carl Wilson who left The Beach Boys - it was his brother Brian, the original driving-force behind the band.