Even Better Than The Real Thing

Originally titled “The Real Thing“, it’s fair to say that the final title was an improvement. And with the effective artist statement of “Zoo Station” over and done with, the album can start proper, with a sweeping riff upwards and away, slowly fading out like a siren. But what makes Achtung Baby‘s fourth single (remarkable point – how many fourth singles from albums are this well known?) interesting is the lyrical side of things. Where much of the album is a presumably male protagonist complaining of an irresponsible, out-of-control and/or deceptive woman, here this male voice seems to be setting himself up for a fall. He declares of him and his partner, We’re the real thing, but then corrects himself to say that they are Even better than the real thing, obviously implying that whatever’s going on, it’s not the ‘real thing’; it could be casual sex, it could be adultery, but either way the consequences will be dangerous, something amplified by the protagonist’s brazen misappropriation of the Icarus tale. In addition, Bono’s voice is often multi-tracked during the choruses, stripping away sincerity, upping irony and undermining any proclamation of anything being the real thing.

The song is possibly also noticeable for having the first solo on the album, which is the surefire way to distinguish Achtung Baby from all other U2 albums; in an odd way, Edge suddenly decided to get slightly flashier on this album. Meanwhile the rhythm section locks down, the tom-laden drumming slightly reminiscent of the percussion in “Mysterious Ways”. Overall, the band described it as the closest they’ve come to sounding like the Rolling Stones (surely that was them covering “Paint It Black”, but all the same), and it’s fair to say that U2 manage to grab that slight blues feel and filter it through a kind of German prog vibe (I hesitate to use the term ‘Krautrock’; really, it’s more a sense of motion felt in Kraftwerk and Neu! records), and successfully avoid sounding like the Rolling Stones circa 1991 (which largely sounds like the Rolling Stones circa 1971, but hey, this isn’t about them).

“Even Better Than The Real Thing” also happened to be the inspired slogan for Zoo Cola, a concept explained by Edge as part of a long “line of non-products”, which, like “Zoo Station”, makes this song another kind of explanation for U2’s new purpose and image, making for a two-song manifesto. Yet this isn’t quite as twisted and eccentric as the album opener – it’s an obvious single, for one (#12 in the UK, #32 in the US, a fairly impressive performance), a more obvious single than the three preceding it, in fact, which might suggest that this is the song to prove U2 still had the capability for songsmithery as well as studiocraft. Maybe this needs describing in more abstract terms; to compare to U2’s previous big reinvention album (The Unforgettable Fire), this is the “Pride” that follows “A Sort of Homecoming”. As for whether it’s any good, well here it ranks fourth amongst the Achtung Baby singles, although considering the competition, there’s little shame in that.

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~ by 4trak on September 23, 2008.

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