Finally, a Best Of collection worth raving about

Review by Jack Foley

REVIEWING a 'Best Of' collection can be a pretty thankless task. In most cases, you know the material and nothing anyone writes is going to stop you rushing out and buying it (usually as a Christmas stocking filler!).

Thank heavens, then, for U2, who have put together one of the easier collections to review, with The Best of 1990-2000. Chronicling a period which found the band at their most experimental, and featuring a must-have second CD of remixes and B-sides, this is the type of musical tour-de-force reserved for only the greatest bands.

Described by some as their 'difficult period', the last decade saw Bono, The Edge and co move away from the trademark sound of albums such as Rattle and Hum and The Joshua Tree, to a more dance-orientated, though still guitar-driven, style of song-writing.

It began with the sublime Achtung Baby, which delivered classic tracks such as Mysterious Ways, The Fly and One (all present and correct on CD1), as well as the equally brilliant likes of Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses and So Cruel (absent). The gig which followed, at London's Earls Court, still remains one of my all-time favourite experiences.

The likes of the Brian Eno-inspired Passengers and Zooropa followed, which spawned tracks such as the Pavarotti collaboration, Miss Sarajevo (Passengers) and Numb (represented by the Mike Hedges new mix). Yet while some described this period as their least accessible, there was still plenty to admire, not least the desire to always remain contemporary, which has kept them at the cutting edge of the mainstream whenever they release new material.

The under-rated Pop, for instance, is another terrific album, giving way to singles such as the dancefloor-orientated Discotheque and the terrifically moody Staring At The Sun, both of which have been updated on the Best Of CD. Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me, taken from the Batman Forever soundtrack, was simply a cracking, feelgood pop/rock crossover, which simply sounded like the band having fun. Its energy, needless to say, was infectious, even though the track was ultimately quite throwaway.

A measure of U2's durability, however, is that unlike many of their contemporaries, most of their music sounds as fresh today as it did when you first heard it. Tracks such as One and Mysterious Ways have aged gracefully and still stand the test of time. Even earlier work, from The Joshua Tree days, sounds as inspiring now as it did back then.

Coming up to date, The Best Of contains material from the band's highly-acclaimed 'return to form', All That You Can't Leave Behind, which contained the old-school likes of Beautiful Day and Stuck In A Moment You Can't Get Out Of.

New tracks, Electrical Storm (mixed by William Orbit) and the piano-based, spine-tingling The Hands That Built America (the theme from Martin Scorsese's upcoming Gangs of New York), serve to show that the band has lost none of its edge or creative flair - and merely whet the appetite for the next decade of greatest hits contenders.

And while there is not a bad track on CD1, CD2 is no less formidable, featuring a no-less essential collection of remixes and B-sides designed to showcase just how talented the band has become, offering value for money at every turn.

Beginning with the extended dance mix of the extremely catchy Lady With The Spinning Head, the CD proceeds to move through tracks such as Dirty Day, the Perfecto Mix of Even Better Than The Real Thing, the Big Yam mix of If God Will Send His Angels (taken from the City of Angels soundtrack), the Hexidecimal Mix of Discotheque and the Give Me Some More Dignity Mix of Numb.

Even the lesser-known B-sides sound great, from the lowkey strains of North and South of the River, to the melancholic, but hauntingly beautiful sound of Your Blue Room (taken from Passengers). Summer Rain and Salome are equally brilliant, nicely counter-balancing the more dance-friendly moments, best exemplified by the pumped-up Jeep Mix of Lemon.

It's not often that you can sit though 31 tracks of the same band and not find them a little bit repetitive, but The Best of 1990-2000 impresses with its diversity and astounds with its quality. Worth owning even if you do possess all of the albums (like me!).

Track listings:

1. Even Better Than The Real Thing
2. Mysterious Ways
3. Beautiful Day
4. Electrical Storm (William Orbit Mix - NEW TRACK)
5. One
6. Miss Sarajevo (Single Radio Edit)
7. Stay (Faraway, So Close!)
8. Stuck In A Moment You Can't Get Out Of
9. Gone (Mike Hedges Mix - NEW MIX)
10. Until The End Of The World
11. The Hands That Built America (Theme From Gangs Of New York) (NEW TRACK)
12. Discotheque (Mike Hedges Mix - NEW MIX)
13. Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me
14. Staring At The Sun (Mike Hedges Mix - NEW MIX)
15. Numb (Mike Hedges Mix - NEW MIX)
16. The First Time
17. The Fly (UK BONUS TRACK)

Disc: 2
1. Lady With The Spinning Head (Extended Dance Mix)
2. Dirty Day (Junk Day Mix)
3. Electrical Storm
4. Summer Rain
5. North and South Of The River
6. Your Blue Room
7. Happiness Is A Warm Gun (The Gun Mix)
8. Salome (Zooromancer Mix)
9. Even Better Than The Real Thing (Perfecto Mix)
10. Numb (Give Me Some More Dignity Mix)
11. Mysterious Ways (Solar Blexus Club Mix)
12. If God Will Send His Angels (Big Yam Mix)
13. Lemon (Jeep Mix)
14. Discotheque (Hexidecimal Mix)

Disc: 3
1. History Mix (Video)
2. Best Of DVD Promo
3. Video - 'Please' (Mural Cut) (Bonus Video)
4. Video - 'Beautiful Day' (Eze Version) (Bonus Video)