Elvis Presley and America

Whilst it’s fair to say that, in some respects, Bono is Europe’s equivalent to Michael Stipe of R.E.M., it’s also fair to say that Bono has always lacked Stipe’s ability for, well, any kind of real introversion. Stipe’s early years consisted of him hiding his face behind his hair, flailing around on stage, at some points having his back totally turned away from the audience, and all the while mumbling indecipherably. Bono, on the other hand, was typified by his thunderous vocal delivery, impassioned performance, and often downright insane crowd interaction (most visibly, his Live Aid performance; most psychotically, one show around 1982 in which he leapt off a 20ft high balcony).

So it all stands as a mystery as to why Bono adopted a Stipe-esque mumbling for this track. It’s not that the performance is bad (although the lyrics are far, far away from career best) – in some respects there’s a novelty in hearing a radically differing vocal style – but at over six minutes, and with nearly all of it occupied by vocal, the song has a tendency to become grating and wearing. Apparently the (totally improvised) lyrics were kept by request of Brian Eno, which doesn’t seem too wise, and perhaps too reminiscent of both Eno’s stranger conceptual projects and the fears of the time, by Island’s A&R, that he’d smear the band in avantgarde weirdness and excess.

Musically, the song is actually a slowed-down version of The Unforgettable Fire‘s opening track, “A Sort of Homecoming”, essentially an already impressionist, hazy track made even more impressionist and hazy. Overall, then, “Elvis Presley and America” is possibly the one track where the ethereal atmospherics went a bit too far, although I can’t really scorn the band for trying – certainly U2’s younger pretenders (Coldplay, Snow Patrol et. al) probably wouldn’t try this sort of thing nowadays.


~ by 4trak on April 14, 2008.

3 Responses to “Elvis Presley and America”

  1. […] particularly in the way that another “king” associated with Memphis gets a tribute in the song before. Lyrically the song is, perhaps, more powerful given events in 2008, with Bono’s statement of […]

  2. […] more successful than “Elvis Presley And America“, however; where that song wasn’t lyrically strong, tending to be repetitive and […]

  3. I never understood for a second why this song is so maligned. I think Brian Eno and Bono were right on the money with “Elvis and America.” The song floats gracefully, even in its plodding, to an inevitable outcome worthy of its title. I listened to this song recently at 4:30am, drunk as a skunk, and it drifted over my aching body and mind, reminding me exactly what our lives amount to… success, fame or none.

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