AHK-toong BAY-bi: A dangerous idea that almost makes sense

October 11, 2011 |  by  |  Achtung Baby, Cover Songs

Q magazine announced this week that to mark Achtung Baby’s 20th anniversary (Nov. 19), the next issue will feature a cd of the entire album reworked by a range of notable artists. Here’s the AHK-toong BAY-bi Covered track listing:

  • Zoo Station – Nine Inch Nails
  • Even Better Than The Real Thing – U2 (Jacques Lu Cont Mix)
  • One – Damien Rice
  • Until The End Of The World – Patti Smith
  • Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses – Garbage
  • So Cruel – Depeche Mode
  • Mysterious Ways – Snow Patrol
  • Trying To Throw Your Arms Around The World – The Fray
  • The Fly – Gavin Friday
  • Ultraviolet (Light My Way) – The Killers
  • Acrobat – Glasvegas
  • Love Is Blindness – Jack White

(I’ve heard a dirty little rumor that issues of the magazine shipped to the U.S. will not contain the CD, rendering it absolutely useless to me. Investigating this further.)

Jack White’s cover of Love Is Blindness was the first to light up the innernets this week (hear it here). Initial reactions (including my own) were pretty caustic. I believe my exact words were: “Jack White’s Love is Blindness is a mall Santa Claus; a flimsy imitation that lacks the magic of the original and frightens me a little.” But, we’re a tough crowd. This is a U2 masterpiece, firmly set in most U2 fans’ hearts. We’ve memorized the photo squares on the album cover, we’ve memorized the lyrics, the sounds, the gaps of silence in between tracks. For me, the unfamiliarity of White’s version was jarring. It’s almost unrecognizable at the beginning. This doesn’t sound like Love Is Blindness. This is uptempo, for f*ck’s sake. (If Edge can say it, I can say it.)

Love is Blindness is not a happy ending to Achtung Baby. It’s a slow, steady, tormented, drawn-out death. It’s self-inflicted and self-indulgent. It’s about being in the darkness and wanting to stay in the darkness. At its best and its worst, love is the exhilarating, terrifying vulnerability of giving yourself to someone else. If Window In The Skies (U218 Singles, 2006) is a love song to love at its best, Love Is Blindness is the love song to love at its worst. The song starts off with the sound of an organ that signifies we’re at a funeral, and is carried by a dull, throbbing drum beat and bass line. As Love Is Blindness fades out, the album slowly, quietly takes its last breaths.

Bono’s voice, Larry’s drums and Adam’s bass are understated. The only outburst of emotion comes from the guitar. Yes, this is an Edge song. The lyrics were influenced by the break-up of his first marriage, and the guitar solo is his mournful soliloquy. In fact, Bono said it was “a more eloquent prayer than anything I could write.”

After my initial recoil (and running to Achtung Baby and comforting myself with a few listens to the original) I gave White’s version another try. I focused on it as a cover — not meant to be a replication but the artist’s own reinvigoration. It’s a synonym, similar to the original song, but with its own meaning. I gave it a fair few listens and revised my opinion: It’s a good cover. Jack White can’t ever cover the turmoil that produced that song, but he offers us a new interpretation. You still hear pain and agony, but they’re at the surface and they’re loud, different from the deeply sad, immensely quiet expressions of the original. White’s version is petulant, it’s sung by a slighted lover, it’s a racing heart, it’s impassioned … it’s probably drunk. It convulses. It’s full of sensation, where the original is a processional from anguish into numbness, nothingness, darkness. White’s Blindness courses with frenetic, angry energy.

Let me not mince words, though: Nobody puts ‘Baby’ in a corner. It is perfection. It is the standard. It is authentic. I’m excited about this spin-off culture, and think there are going to be some great covers, but can promise you there will be no ‘I think I like Snow Patrol’s Mysterious Ways better.’

I was surprised that Jack White, a guitar legend who shared the screen with Edge in “It Might Get Loud,” seemed to cut short the guitar solo. I was underwhelmed. It showcases his signature, homemade, garage rock sound, but it feels shortchanged. And he strums the song to a soft close, totally neglecting Edge’s outro. But then, he’s bringing dynamics of vocals and the guitar to this version and merging them as a solo artist. He’s not necessarily playing the parts of both Bono and Edge. He’s doing what Jack White does, which is be a little angsty and quirky and different.

Also, it sounds a little like The Doors.

So, aside from the shared lyrics, White has totally reinvented the song. In fact, he’s resurrected the song from its quiet death at the end of Achtung Baby. And it does exactly what a cover should — pay tribute to the original artist in the style of the new artist. And I’m going to go ahead and say I think it’s outstanding. Let me not mince words, though: Nobody puts “Baby” in a corner. It is perfection. It is the standard. It is authentic. I’m excited about this spin-off culture, and think there are going to be some great covers, but can promise you there will be no “I think I like Snow Patrol’s Mysterious Ways better.” But, it’s a celebration of U2’s (arguably) greatest album, and will expose their music to new audiences.

There are Elvis fans, Beatles fans, Hendrix and Dylan fans, Stones fans, Ramones fans (the list goes on) out there who are probably appalled by U2’s interpretations of their classics. And then there are people like me, who would never know of some of those originals without U2 introducing me to them. But, my opinion on covers is probably pretty invalid based on the following: My first exposure to The Beatles’ Yesterday was on a duet album by Placido Domingo and John Denver in my mom’s record collection. It would be a good decade or so before I ever heard the Fab Four sing it. I still like the other one better.


  1. You’re definitely more gentle with it than I was…and I am generally really harsh on all U2 covers. I love what you said at the end- there are many songs that I would never have known either had it not been for U2 covering or snippeting them. And I almost always like their versions better *hopeless*

  2. I couldn’t have said it better myself. I think I went through the same stages when I listened to it yesterday. I had to convince myself, yes, it’s a cover, it’s not supposed to sound liked the original. It wasn’t bad though. But it wasn’t great. I do want the CD though and have been trying to figure out who I can mail it to in the UK to get my hands on it. Will any of the covers replace the originals? Of course not but it’s definitely worth giving a listen to. Actually going to go listen to it now…

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