IT'S ALREADY BEEN SAID a thousand times, but once more can't hurt: Fuck Bono. I mean, man, aren't we all just sick of his shit? Okay, so he "means well" and has a "good heart" and "helps people" and all that bullshit. But Jee-zus Christ am I sick of hearing about how he single-handedly cured AIDS and fed five billion Ethiopian geriatrics and hand-stitched shut the hole in the ozone. We fucking get it, dude: You're a better person than all the rest of us put together, and you have killer taste in sunglasses.
U2—pre-ridiculous Tomb Raider music video (the final, incontrovertible harbinger of their cultural obsolescence), and especially in their euphoric heyday, approximately a decade and a half ago—have been built up as a lot of things. And whether they've served as the biggest international music phenomenon since the Beatles or the Stones or have settled for shilling iPods, when a band's grown this big and this ridiculous, it's easy to forget the one thing that made them huge: their music.
I'm not going to harangue you about how good U2 is, because—and just be honest for a sec here—you already know how good they are. The defense offers Exhibit A: U2's 1998 album The Best of 1980-1990. I know, I know: It's verboten to throw up a comp album in defense of a band, but there you have it: Surpassing Joshua Tree, and Achtung Baby, and Rattle and Hum (and certainly besting 1997's ill-advised techno experiment, Pop), 1980-1990 is, weirdly and by far, U2's best offering. That's because it collects the best of what U2 has to offer: Brilliant dashes of hooky, soaring, goofy singles; half-relevant, half-cheesy, wholly enjoyable bits of music that pretty much everyone can get behind.
U2 didn't have it right with Pop, but the album's name at least nailed down their genre. Those who don't know better will insist U2 are rock 'n' roll, but their slick, shiny ebullience is about as far from rock as you can get and still feature some electric guitar. Which is maybe what makes Bono's posturing so ridiculous: When the greatest musical contribution you've made is the hokey "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," do you really deserve to be the world's biggest band, or, for that matter, the world's most sanctimonious rock star? No, but okay, whatever, moving on: Those rat-a-tat-tat drums and guitar-tweaking riffs on "Sunday Bloody Sunday" are a fucking blast, and don't get me started on that driving, staccato intro on "I Will Follow," or the synth-y density of "The Unforgettable Fire," and the loping, lightweight charm of "Sweetest Thing," that tight guitar on "Desire"... I've got that 1980-1990 U2 disc, and I'm not giving it up, no matter how pompous Bono gets or how many more decades these guys play to middle-aged arena crowds. 'Cause when it comes down to it, they're a great band—even if Bono, in his noble efforts to invent a magical flying car that uses only happy thoughts of world peace for fuel, has tried his goddamndest to make everyone forget it. And when it comes to pop music, that's about as good as it gets. I mean, c'mon. They're U2. What do you want them to do? Save the world?