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The Million Dollar Hotel
original soundtrack album
Artist: U2 and various artists
Label: Interscope
Length: 16 tracks

Falling At Your Feet - Bono And Daniel Lanois

Director Wim Wenders has long been a favorite of the members of U2.  They contributed the title tracks to his films Faraway, So Close, and Until the End of the World.  Now they are responsible for a great deal of the soundtrack for Wenders' new work The Million Dollar Hotel.  The result is an eerie mix of elements that echoes their 1997 album Pop and the Twin Peaks music of Angelo Badalemetti.  Granted, there are only three official U2 songs here, and only two of them new, but those tracks are like a promise to U2 fans that the band is not burning out. 

"The Ground Beneath Her Feet," a track with lyrics by Salman Rushdie  (from his novel of the same name) is a powerful pop anthem that brings the band a step further from their techno-happy albums of the 90s and back toward the simpler sound of an unenhanced band.  Daniel Lanois contributes shimmering slide guitar to this musical interpretation of the story of Orpheus, and Bono brings out the desperation and longing of the singer as he calls out to his love who has been carried away to some dark and imprisoning place.  This falls in with a long tradition of U2 songs in which the theme of  lovers' separation takes on all kinds of metaphoric significance, so that it is also a prayer in the vein of "With or Without You."

"Stateless," the other new U2 song, is a moodier piece that recalls their torch song "One" from 1992's Achtung Baby with its gentle guitar loop, Larry Mullen Jr.'s intricate rhythms, and a choral backdrop.  This might be the same story from the other side, the voice of a homeless wanderer who senses a pursuit, a "weight" pressing down.

There are other references to the prodigal wanderer throughout.  "The First Time," which held a quiet place in the middle of 1994's Zooropa, seems to be a centerpiece for this soundtrack, bringing up again the story of the son who was promised a great inheritance but who admits to his reckless ways, reflecting that he "went out by the back door, and I threw away the key." 

This melody becomes the motif of a later instrumental track, a pattern that is also repeated by the Lou Reed song "Satellite of Love," which has been a favorite cover for U2 in the past. Here, "Satellite" is performed by Milla Jovovich, the film's lead actress and a formidable singer in her own right.  (Jovovich's fascinating and poetic solo album The Divine Comedy was criminally overlooked in the early 90's.)  Her interpretation of the song takes great liberties, swaying between silky-sweetness and a twisted growl.  She is backed by a group called The Million Dollar Hotel Band--Daniel Lanois and Bill Frisell on guitars, Larry Mullen Jr. on drums.

This combo also brings a sultry jazzy sound to "Never Let Me Down," sung by Bono, which brings us back to the prodigal theme.  It's impressive how a different backup group frees Bono to break new ground vocally.  Here he croons with a nod to Sinatra.  He has rarely sounded better, delivering an impassioned but delicate vocal that I hope carries over to the next U2 album.

The standout track on the album, in this listener's opinion, is something of a dream come true.  Daniel Lanois has been responsible for shaping much of U2's signature sound, and in his solo work he's shown remarkable craftsmanship as well.  To hear him sing a duet with Bono is quite a thrill.  The result is a light but powerful song that will stick in your head, and, not unsurprisingly, it's steeped in Biblical sentiments.  It may even show up in some contemporary church services.  "Falling at Your Feet" is, quite simply, a praise song, playing off of the scriptural promise that "every knee shall bow and every tongue confess...."

The rest of the album is made up of various brooding instrumental pieces, strange excerpts of dialogue from the film (one of which, an intimate exchange between lovers, seems quite out of place for this recording.)  In fact, as U2 fades from the scene, the album becomes less and less interesting, culminating in a disappointing finale called "Anarchy in the U.S.A."  It will be interesting to see if the film lives up to the promise of this album's better moments.  Frankly, though, it has served to make me crave a new album from U2 more than it has made me anticipate the film.

Jeffrey Overstreet 3/19/2000


Jeffrey Overstreet writes regular reviews, news, and essays on the arts and Christian perspectives at the Green Lake Reflections web page and in The Crossing, a magazine for Christian artists.  He has been published in Christianity and the Arts Magazine, The New Christian Herald, and AngliCan Arts Magazine, and he is a founding member of Promontory Artists Association.  You can contact Jeffrey at Promontory@aol.com


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