Let’s be honest: many of us purchased our U2.com membership with a singular purpose-priority access to the presale code required to get tickets for the band’s 2009 world tour. While the double album of rough drafts called Medium, Rare, and Remastered provides a critical ingredient to any completist cornucopia, for others, the plastic prize (recent released exclusively to fan club members) might serve as a mere memento to comfort and console those hardcores suffering with consumer guilt and additional debt after splurging on seats (or GA access) to multiple shows.
As other fans have already noted, these twenty tracks are hardly rare, since many have circulated on the Interwebs for years. More a random audio collage than a coherent album, it’s challenging to digest it in the way we might devour the band’s studio records. Still, there’s something enduring and endearing about this back catalog of alternate versions that connects with U2’s ultimate vision “to be a band” in the grandest sense of collective greatness, etching its illuminated audio files into the earbuds of popular consciousness.
Folks fond of hindsight might enjoy a game of “what if” when examining the jewels “Always” and “Native Son.” To be forever treasured and debated by the nerdy scholars of Dublin’s most esteemed artistic export, the latter drafts of these sketches ended up as massive hits and stadium anthems. Lyrically, “Beautiful Day” boasts better poetry than the unformed yet uniquely attractive “Always.” Even still and thanks to the Edge, the epic outtake evokes the same shimmering glory of its elder brother.
With “Native Son,” however, the more poignant and passionate words were relegated to the vault while the ferocious frivolity of “Vertigo” found its home on the FM airwaves. When Bono sears our ears with the scorching statements that “my enemy became my country” or that “it’s so hard for a native son to be free,” he returns us to the more defiantly politicized phases of his vocal proclamations found on War, Unforgettable Fire, and Joshua Tree. As a hit single, “Vertigo” better fits the fortysomething Bono and his dangerously delicate blend of corporate realpolitik and compassionate campaigns; yet again, those of us also in middle age and reared on the white-flag brandishing Bono can identify with acute longing with the singer of “Native Son.” In a similar vein dating all the way back to the beginning, “Saturday Night” (which opens the second disc) is a different version of “Fire” from October.