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  In the Name of Love
Artist: United Artists For Africa 
Label: Sparrow

I did many a radio interview when my U2 book (Walk On; The Spiritual Journey of U2) was first hitting the shelves. What amazed me and appalled me was that the vast majority of Christian stations were not allowed to play U2 between questions. Even worse and more incomprehensible was that instead they played kosher “Christian” bands covering U2 songs! No! Honestly! Really and truly! Same words, same chords somehow made more “Christian” because the singer had never been photographed with a cigar in hand or sworn while receiving an award at the Golden Globe Awards! It defies logic or any kind of theological intelligence but it was a fact. So what we have now is an album that gives Christian radio stations thirteen U2 songs that an incredibly crooked orthodoxy will now be allowed to play! 

To be fair, and less cynical, even though the above can leave you nothing but a whole lot cynical and dismayed, there are a plethora of reasons why this project might have come about. I imagine that most of these artists have been in some ways influenced by the sound or spirit of U2. Christians growing up and becoming musicians in the Dublin band’s twenty year reign would have had to have been shaped by their songs. That they would eventually cover these songs whose theology they could embrace seems obvious. That they should do it now when Bono has been meeting in underground catacombs with the movers and shakers of the contemporary Christian music industry seems again to be obvious. Bono’s call was that they do something about Fair Trade, Debt and HIV/AIDS and here is a tangible response as the most of the profits will go to the Bono endorsed DATA organization (www.data.org). 

This album therefore becomes another fascinating episode in the reconciliation between U2 and the established Church. After twenty years of ploughing their own Christian furrow a couple of fields down from the buildings and institutions of Christendom, Bono has been reaching out in recent months encouraging and challenging the Church and artists within its culture to respond to DATA’s objectives. At the same time the Church has been reassessing the soundness of U2’s faith and tentatively, as conservatives are not renowned for their acceleration, sprinkling a little more grace and affirmation than the judgement and damnation of the past. 

Even if in the torrent of tribute albums this is one that makes sense in a variety of ways, there are so many possible pitfalls to make undoing the cellophane a very scary prospect. The truth is that what this album reveals most is just how untouchable U2 are as a band. When you hear what are good acts trying to emulate but not even coming near the originals you suddenly think how did Larry and Adam make that sound so rocking. Just how does Edge add that…er…edge! You think isn’t Bono an incredible vocalist to create such passion and compassion. What is that X factor that is missing from all the vain attempts to get close to their bootlaces; U2 have something mysterious and ambiguous but absolutely real.

Having said that, this is a more than worthwhile compilation. Listening to tribute albums always leaves you with two hypocritical criticisms. Why do they not try to add an original twist to the song or why did they have to go and ruin the song with an original twist! There are a few here like Pillar’s "Sunday Bloody Sunday," Delirious’s "Pride In the Name of Love," and Chris Tomlin’s "Where the Streets Have No Name" where you are almost fooled into thinking that it is U2 and then some guitar line and more consistently the vocal leaves you feeling a little short changed particularly in the latter when Tomlin’s just tries too hard and fails miserably to copy Bono’s performance. 

On the other side, you are a good bit into Grits’ "With Or Without You" before you catch on and even then it is so radically different it leaves you a little uncomfortable. The same can be said about Jars Of Clay’s "All I Want Is You" and Tait’s "One" but the these two benefit from the reinterpretation once you give them a couple more listens. 

The real winners are Sixpence None the Richer with their version of "Love Is Blindness" and Nichole Nordeman who makes "Grace" into the most obvious of gospel songs. Here the advantage is blatant; female vocalists change the dynamic from the off and nothing particularly clever is needed. Interesting too that both are produced by Steve Hindalong who is maybe the most courageous and imaginative producer in the bunch.

When you stop the nit picking to look at the album in its own right, there are so many positives. Many of these artists have never had such good songs or great lyrics or depth of content to tackle before and they make the most if it. Only two fail beyond redemption; Starfield’s "40" which is too nice, clean and clinical and Todd Agnew’s "When Love Comes To Town" which realizes that that if Bono is hard to replicate then BB King is impossible. The blues and soul of the original simply are nowhere in sight (or earshot!). On the positives, Martin Smith from Delirious? revels being his hero for a day and shows what a good rock voice he has. Audio Adrenaline rock harder than the October version of "Gloria" and prove that their recent Grammy was well deserved. Sanctus Real make a fresh rock bluster out of "Beautiful Day" and Pillar’s choosing of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" makes sense; loud and righteous anger. 

All in all this is more than a charitable purchase. U2 fans who buy a lot of contemporary Christian music will love it and those who might not be U2 fans but buy their music in Christian Bookshops will want their favorite band’s rare track. These songs add a well worthwhile extra track to any artist’s canon. 
  
Steve Stockman  2/29/2004
 

Steve Stockman is the Presbyterian Chaplain at Queens University, Belfast, Ireland, where he lives in community with 88 students. He has just finished a book on U2 - Walk On; The Spiritual Journey of U2, is the poetic half of Stevenson and Samuel who have just released their debut album Gracenotes and he has a weekly radio show on BBC Radio Ulster (listen anytime of day or night @ www.bbc.co.uk/ni/religion/rhythmandsoul ). He has his own web page - Rhythms of Redemption at http://stocki.ni.org. He also tries to spend some time with his wife Janice and daughters Caitlin and Jasmine 

 
 
 
 
 
   
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