I was asked to edit TJ’s essay, The Fugue Fugue, earlier this year and my initial responses and critiques were the predictable blathering on about technology and distraction...blah, blah, blah. But I think I may have really missed a deeper significance in the piece.
This significance, although tangential, came crashing down on me a while back as I was walking home from having a couple of pints with the old man.
I loaded up Achtung Baby by U2 on the old iPod and turned it up real loud. I was instantly lost in the orchestral bliss that is this album. Through the crashing orchestration came the sweet, sweet seductive call of Clayton’s bass, lingering there right behind it all, softening the blows of screaming guitars, of the smashing cacophonic drums.
The Edge’s guitars overlapping, looping, discussing the future of music and the world, obliterating the old and embracing the new. Bono’s haunting voice delivering lyrics at once reassuring and terrifying, as if he were lamenting the loss of his own innocence as well as his own rebirth. In this album, we find the meeting of two worlds, the nexus of a receding age and the dawn of a new one. The future was over and here comes the future.And it slowly dawned on me that this album is a fugue and it dares you to enter into the conversation that’s taking place. Each song a series of layers, paralleled and complimentary but also disconnected, disorienting, and challenging. There are four conversations going on. Each artist layering his own voice, his own story overtop of the others, each one distinct. Yet together, the four disappear into a perfect whole.
Each song distinct, clashing with the one before, the one upcoming. And yet, each is linked into the last and the next, engaged in a conversation, a series of conversations about where we were, where we are, and more importantly, where we’re going. And these twelve conversations, these dozen fugues disappear into a perfect whole.
On this the twentieth anniversary of its release (yes 20! we're getting older), as the world stands yet again on a threshold were the old no longer works and were the new is unknown and terrifying, it would do us well to return to Achtung Baby and ask what it can still teach us.
Bono described the sound of Achtung Baby as the Joshua Tree being cut down - the sound of the old being replaced by the new. A revolution. Indeed, that is precisely what it is.
And you’ve never heard anything quite so sweet as that tree coming crashing down to the ground.