“U2 From the Sky Down: The Story of the Making of U2’s Achtung Baby” is a film that debuted this Summer at the Toronto Film Festival with much hype. Having returned back to resume their most ambitious tour, perhaps the film got lost in the resuming of the massive tour that was U2360. That is till Showtime appeared to have all of the sudden not only have purchased the rights but were airing it this past Saturday 10/29/11. It appeared to be a well-kept secret. I saw one ad in Rolling Stone and while setting up my DVR to record it only days before it was scheduled to air, my DVR had no information regarding the day and time planned. Showtime.com didn’t provide an additional help as I bailed for U2.com where there were a couple of clips and shorts but also lacked the specifics regarding its airing schedule. So, the information was found and the DVR was set manually.
I was psyched to see how an album whose entire collection of tracks are fantastic. I was finally going to see early demos not just of the Monster Hits, but fan favorites, “Until the End of the World,” “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses,” and “Love is Blindness” to name a few.
Don’t let the deceiving title and the expectations it might give you cause for not giving ‘From the Sky Down’ a good open-minded viewing and chance to be the enlightening vehicle that explains just as much without music as it does with.
I had expected to see how this album came to be not only from early takes of each track but to the trials and tribulations of the band, its uncertainty, to its rebirth. You get all of that except for only a small part of the musical development.
It was much more about undertones of the band itself at the time -one of the most significant and transitional times globally and for the band itself. In a world with growth opportunity and simultaneous uncertainty and trepidation, the band went to the epicenter to record their next album. So as the Berlin Wall fell the band recorded in the famous ballroom studios right in the center of Berlin, a city David Bowie says is best to record in, “because no one knows who you are.”
The fall of the Berlin Wall was creating hope and inspiration, just not for U2’s new album. All four band members appeared to be on different wavelengths, keeping their thoughts which judging by their faces at the time, were filled with pain, negativity, and void of optimism kept to themselves, as neither appeared ready to display great empathy for the other, while quietly suffering themselves.
In the studio, things weren’t working. There was no direction, thematically, musically, or artistically culminating with the widening of the growing divide between the band’s front men, the melody makers, the Celebrities of U2 and the 2 men most out of the spotlight and off the magazine covers, but who were responsible for the consistent rhythm of the band, playing each song with perfection in a rhythmically diverse catalogue. This divide only seemed to grow when to get away from the lack of progress in the studio, Bono and The Edge ran loose in Berlin, embracing the early and quickly developing genres of electronica coming out of Germany and other parts of Europe.
While those two, the celebrities of U2, were off probably rolling on E, disappearing into after-hours lofts and warehouse spaces, pretending U2 was working on something that would bring it to new heights, Adam and Larry were left wondering what the hell was going on here? Did their Singer /Leader and guitarist really hit the clubs of Berlin for inspiration? Simultaneously, how is it possible Edge and Bono would have thought by bringing back a drum machine and some loops would have been well received as the direction the band needed to head in when they’ve been anchored by Larry Mullen, Jr. since forming. Larry Mullenn, Jr., the one bandmate with not only more than one name but one with a suffix as well. A drummer who plays with such reliability, not only has he been their only drummer but one so unique that the expert production team in the film, producers, and engineers are in awe of him for his unique style and ability to write his own signatures. It’s for that reason, the band never sounds off in tempo or pitch. Bono is Bono and for that reason, when he flubs a lyric I give him a pass, although some are not too pretty.
On their recent 2 years, 30 Country tour, Larry got his just praise by opening each show in the massive “Claw” with just his drum kit and two sticks, thousands of people staring at him and him alone while he pounded those skins for just a few perfect moments, whipping full stadiums around the world into a frenzy just in time to be joined by the rest of the band ripping the opening number of the night and the stadium sky wide open.
These couple of departures from a film that wasn’t so much about the making of the album’s music, which I had initially hoped for and anticipated, turned out to work in the film’s context. Individual tracks were hardly acknowledged save that of “Mysterious Ways” and “One”, the latter of which was born out of the former (more on that later). There was a little bit of the rhythmic development of “The Fly” and “Even Better Than the Real Thing” along with snippets of a couple of seconds of another couple of tracks. One of the most personal and very touching moment is where Edge played “Love is Blindness” acoustically, alone in the grand ballroom studio, while over the song he recounts his quiet suffering alone during that time through a brutal divorce. Thinking he let his heart bleed through his solo on that track during its recording, the guitarist returned to the control room to hear a solo that the production staff advised him, ‘missed the mark,’ to which he agreed. Neither insulted nor dejected, for he knew it was wrong for the track, the guitarist knew more was gained than a final take on a guitar solo for a record. For it was during that healing catharsis he found in playing that solo, leaving it all out there, letting his bleeding heart mend, when The Edge turned a corner and became totally present within the band again.
This is a totally different take on the insight to the making of an album. For another band to release such a film might cause outrage, but for U2 it showed it’s devoted fans how in the most compelling part of the film and of the band’s near demise that coming from some incorrect guitar chords played for “Mysterious Ways” came a certain magical melody. One that ignited a fire into the band and producers and with a total collective focus became “One.” “One,” an anthem whose melodies, transitions, lyrics, and wails have been demonstrated time and time again as applicable to and appropriate for raising awareness of human suffering throughout the World’s One Global Population devastated by natural disaster, war, social injustices, political and monetary greed, along with other global problems that are all distinctly human and evoke feelings of connectedness to some of the furthest places away on the planet both geographically and culturally, but bonded as One species on this One planet. This reworked displaying of a lyrically unrelated song, was the sole and truly most profound turning point bringing the band up from the depths of uncertainty and rapidly decreasing cohesion, to a total collaborative effort which reinvigorated these men and provided them the honesty and fearlessness to acknowledge their recent and habitual neglect for one another leaving them one crucial chance. A chance to restore their total faith, trust, and love in one another, lest they become as Bono called it, “another typical cliche of a rock band, broken up, usually because one guy thinks the rest are assholes, and the other guys think he’s an asshole, and they’re all pretty much right.”
That turning point which echoed the changes going on in the world outside of the recording studio, changed the band forever- spiritually, cooperatively, and restored a new level of mutual respect in where all four different parts of the sum are respected by each other for those differences which only makes the work of the sum better and better.