'Teeming with wide awake wonder...'

20 Jun 2008
Author and critic Paul Morley, who's followed U2 since their earliest shows in the UK, when he was a writer on the NME, has written the liner notes for the reformatted release of Boy which arrives next month. We got hold of an exclusive advance extract.

'... everything they have gone on to do and be features the afterglow of Boy, an album teeming with wide awake wonder. U2 mixed something passionate, Irish and dashing, something a little starry eyed and roguish, with the austere, blazing British post-punk sound that had emerged in January 1978 once Johnny Rotten had formed Public Image Limited, Howard Devoto had formed Magazine and Warsaw had become Joy Division. U2 may have started out as a hearty mini showband gaily playing Peter Frampton, and then after punk covering the zonked pop maniacs Ramones, but The Edge got the hang of the guitarist he wanted to be by listening to the New York new wave sonic symbolists Television and the savagely articulate simplicity of early Siouxsie and the Banshees.

By 1978, once punk inspired guitarists who couldn't quite play or who could but didn't want to repeat traditional and therefore reactionary, oppressive riffs and licks started to experiment with their tone and sound, a whole different way of playing the guitar emerged. It was less Keith Richards and Pete Townsend and more the Phil Manzanera and Robert Fripp who would play on records featuring and/or starring the sensual theorist Brian Eno as he channelled the Velvet Underground through an Anglosurrealistic fascination with chance, repetition and drone. It was the gaunt, primitive garage guitar of Lenny Kaye accompanying the divine, derelict New York visions of Patti Smith, it was the meticulous cryptic interference that made Can distant avant relations of the Velvets.

The questing, abstract post punk guitarists - Keith Levene of Public Image Limited, Bernard Sumner of Joy Division, John McGeoch of Magazine and Siouxsie and the Banshees, Andy Gill of Gang of Four, Martin Bramah of the Blue Orchids, Alan Rankine of the Associates,Will Sergeant of Echo and the Bunnymen - patched together their idea of a new iconoclastic rock guitar playing by following the route laid down from Can to Television, from the Velvets to the Banshees, from the Eno Roxy to the Eno Bowie. This was the introspective but ebullient, alienated but driving, freedom seeking guitar that The Edge took into U2, and then all over Boy, and then, eventually, around the future of the world, a stinging, crystalline, scenic guitar that came from the blues via LaMonte Young, the Spiders from Mars, New York punk and Krautrock rather than Clapton, Jones and Page.

Because of this guitar, and the way the producer of the Banshees and XTC, and now U2, Steve Lillywhite, put it top of the Boy bill, up above Larry's dancing marching drums and Adam's gripping, adamant bass, even above the grave, categorical arrival of Bono, when the album came out it fitted into the literate post punk scheme of things as defined by Magazine, Joy Division, Public Image, Monochrome Set, the Associates and Gang of Four. U2 may have identified with the armed and pseudo-dangerous Clash, the splenetic and distinctly rebel Irish Stiff Little Fingers, the spectacularly anxious and insidious Joy Division and the naive, impressionable kid punk Skids, and temporarily muzzled in the background there were always the gospels according to Bruce, Bob and Van - but Boy was more than anything sonically and emotionally related to the swashbuckling, edge of reason extravagance of the Associates and their Affectionate Punch album.

Just like the serenely magnificent Scottish Associates, and their lavish, unfettered singer Billy McKenzie, U2 had a soft spot for the epic, and a fondness for the ceremonial brilliance, the posing show business intelligence, of Bowie, and his addiction to fresh ideas, new methods and fresh new starts. There's Bowie in Boy - the way certain sparkling, awestruck songs end with such melodramatic finality, the lurking, deadpan Man Who Sold The World bass, the lusty glam bam drums, the exultant soaring into the skies to make a point, or simply to make a moment, which is sometimes the point - and there's always been Bowie in the way U2 try so much never to be the same thing twice, even if it means dressing up, wearing masks, changing their mind, veering off course, joining the circus, starting again, making enemies, breaking hearts, losing the plot, questioning themselves, and in the end having to do the same thing twice on the way to starting again.'

Taken from Paul Morley's liner notes accompanying the reformatted release of Boy.

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