Friday, April 18, 2008

Various Artists - In the Name of Love: Africa Celebrates U2

Label: Shout! Factory

Released: April 1, 2008

While covers are a common thing, they are also tricky. Most artists end up falling into one of two traps: They either cover the best known rendition of the song rather than just the song itself or they lose all real sense of the song's true nature. It's a tough game making the song your own while keeping what's really essential. One thing that's really great about In the Name of Love is that most of the artists navigate these difficult waters with at least some success.

I'm not suggesting that these are now the definitive versions or even that they all fully succeed, but they are interesting and worth hearing despite not supplanting U2's performances. While none of the versions here are too straightforward, a few lose too much sight of the song. Ba Cissoko's "Sunday Bloody Sunday" gets lost in its world-jazz noodling, losing the song's essence, while Keziah Jones' "One" simply drops the song into a new framework, trying to force it rather than feel its way. Other songs achieve some, but not all, of what they set out to accomplish. Cheikh Lô's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" brings amazing rhythmic variety to the song, but never quite captures the gospel roots that are so essential. While turning "Mysterious Ways" into a lighter pop song, Angelique Kidjo also gives it a more natural feel. The low-key power of "Where the Streets Have No Name" finds new energy through Tony Allen's afro-jazz spin.

While much of the album succeeds, but not fully, there are a few real gems that U2 and world music fans alike should make the effort to hear. Vieux Farka Touré keeps the seething anger of "Bullet the Blue Sky" despite departing from much of the original's structure. The percussive nature of "Seconds" naturally lent itself to Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars African rhythms even as the guitar parts crossed back over to a Western sound. While the African Underground All-Stars don't really cover "Desire" in full, their use of the song's chorus is brilliant in their hip-hop structure, making it broader and more lyrically direct than the original. The one track that makes In the Name of Love an essential listen though is "Pride (in the Name of Love)." The Soweto Gospel Choir takes the hopeful, edgy protest song and turns it into a celebration and who has greater cause to celebrate the cause of civil rights than the people of South Africa. The album is full of interesting re-interpretations, but "Pride" is the one version that needed to be done. If a song could have more than one definitive version, this would be the other.

Two other things are worth noting. First, the insert includes detail not only about each artist, but also about their country with demographic and humanitarian information. There's some quick good information about that much-neglected part of the world. Additionally, a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the album benefits the Global Fund. The goodness here goes beyond the music.

Rating: 7/10


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Blogger Jeff said...

I would really like to hear "Bullet the Blue Sky", one of the great U2 songs.

3:51 PM  
Blogger Barbara(aka Layla) said...

I still have to buy this, its on my to do list. Good review!!!

Jeff - I should send you an MP3 of my ex bf doing an acoustic version of that song, its so good (or was I just in love?)

6:29 PM  
Blogger The Mad Hatter said...

Ok, not to sound like crass, but -- non-music aside -- I thoroughly despise these musical efforts to promote social order. The fact that everyone gets involved or shows more interest than normal underscores the essential apathy, I think, in our society, or world, for that matter. It's a moot point, but I wish we didn't have to have U2 make us aware and be aware ourselves. And sure, you can argue the CD is more positive than negative; but I disagree: it ignores the inherent flaws in our system and suspends them indefinitely, thereby allowing people to only "tune" in when such a CD comes out, we then buy it because it makes us feel better, and then we drive our SUV to mall so we can replace our Gucci crap with Louis Vuitton crap. Temporary activism isn't the solution; it's a bandaid for gangrene when surgery is required. Sorry for the rant. ;)

7:31 PM  
Blogger bob_vinyl said...

Hatter, I understand what you're saying. There's a lot of truth to that. So much charity today lacks human contact. We give money and think we've done enough and it's not. The one good thing about this album is that it's African artists raising money for Africa. Plus, muscially, it's pretty good.

8:52 PM  
Blogger The Mad Hatter said...


I'm sure it is pretty good. Guess I'm too heavily ponderous of the fact that such albums reinforce our lack of activeness -- people think they have done enough -- or worse, don't know how to do more. To me, it is not enough to give -- responsible philanthropy should be the goal; and while I don't dare say those people don't need the money, it's the institutions, the governments, the systems that are in place there -- those are what never change, and so our money is a damned waste in the end if we don't step it up. There and here in America.

9:47 PM  

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