10/28/2000

~Mail Follows Today’s Post~

Microsoft hacked! In case you haven’t heard, some hackers in St. Petersburg, Russia, had access to Windows source code for three months and the intrusion was only discovered this week. This could end up being a very good thing for you and me, believe it or not. (And this is even assuming the hackers didn’t fix any of the bugs they found.) As security consultant Andrew Antipass told Wired magazine, “It is interesting in a kind of cruel way that Microsoft has been eaten by the monsters it created.”

Microsoft has always been oblivious to security in their products. The only way they were going to learn was to be bitten, and hard. Now something has happened that calls their network infrastructure into question, the security of their products (which they’ve tried to present as more secure than Unix) into question, and even the integrity of the code they’ve produced in the last three months into question–Microsoft can say what they want about it being impossible to change the code. Of course they’re going to say that. Will the public believe it? Some will believe anything Microsoft says. Others wisely will believe exactly the opposite of anything Microsoft says. Still others (like me) will believe the worst no matter what Microsoft says.

If this incident doesn’t force Microsoft to start taking security seriously, nothing will.

The downside, however, is that if the hackers did indeed get Windows and/or Office source code, vulnerabilities become potentially easier to spot (not that access to Linux source code has significantly increased the number of vulnerabilities–remember, most hackers are script kiddies at best, writing in batch languages, and aren’t any more proficient in C++ than you or me).

All of this overshadowed Microsoft’s Internic entry being hacked (Apple’s entry got hacked too, though less creatively), which you can read about in The Register.

Enough of this computer junk. Let’s talk about music.

Review of U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind. If U2 were to call it quits right now and we had to pick out U2’s defining album, this would be it. That’s not to say it’s their best album–it’s awfully difficult to match the raw energy and wonder of Boy, the raw power of Achtung Baby, and if this one sells like The Joshua Tree, it’ll only be because there are so many fewer bands making good music in 2000 than there were in 1987.

That said, U2 seems to have finally answered the quintessential question of how to sound like U2 without sounding like selling out. For the past 13 years, every time U2 released an album, people expressed disappointment that it didn’t sound like Joshua Tree. But others would point to the inevitable single track on each album that did sound like Joshua Tree, then wave it in the band’s face: Can’t you do anything original?

You can divide U2’s music into roughly three phases: 1979-1983 (Boy through War), 1984-1989 (Unforgettable Fire through Rattle and Hum), and 1991-1997 (Achtung Baby through Pop). Although the band has reinvented itself with every album — sometimes for the better and sometimes not — they tend to hold on to their sound for a couple of albums at a time before they make major changes.

But the album title might as well be referring to those sonic changes: This album manages to incorporate all of those previous sounds while not sounding too much like any of the previous albums. You could take the defining song off any previous U2 album, drop it randomly into this album’s mix, and it would manage to fit.

The Edge’s jangly guitar? It’s there. Larry Mullen’s precise, militaristic drumming? It’s there. Adam Clayton’s low, thumping bass? It’s there. And of course, there’s also Bono’s wailing vocals. The experimentation? That’s there too, and that’s the bit that always scares people.

Make no bones about it: U2 is a rock band, and this is a rock record. But listen closely, and the experimental elements are still there. The synths are there. The sequencers are there. So is the drum machine. In fact, they lead off the album. But whereas in the past they have sometimes been the focus, now they complement the band’s sound rather than defining it.

They pull out a unexpected tricks as well. Listening to “When I Look At the World” for the first time, I half expected to hear Frankie Vallie filling in on lead vocals. Bono’s soaring falsetto doesn’t reach as high anymore as Vallie did in his prime, but the crafty veteran vocalist makes what he has left work. Meanwhile, in the tracks “New York” and “Grace,” Bono manages to out-Lou Reed the real article, though as a closer “Grace” is just not up there with U2’s great closing tracks of the past (War’s “40,” Achtung Baby’s “Love is Blindness,” Pop’s “Wake Up Dead Man,” or Joshua Tree’s “Mothers of the Disappeared”).

The biggest surprise is track 8. In that track, titled “In A Little While,” U2 finally succeeds in sounding soulful. So much of Rattle and Hum was contrived, a bunch of Irish guys in their late 20s trying to sound like B.B. King or Bob Dylan, and they clearly hadn’t lived long enough yet to pull it off. Now in their early 40s, they nail it.

The opening track and first single, “Beautiful Day,” is a good introduction to the album. That song’s sonic elements are for the most part present throughout. Like most U2 songs, to the casual listener it sounds good immediately. As one who picks apart lyrics, I initially didn’t like the song because it seemed too superficial. So what if it’s a beautiful day? Even a no-talent Kurt Cobain wannabe like Gavin Rossdale can say that! Only upon closer listening does the real meaning surface: the story of someone who has lost everything, yet never felt better. That sounds a lot like me. It probably sounds like you too, or someone you know.

So, how’s it stack up? Most people rank War and The Joshua Tree as U2’s finest albums. I buck convention and place Achtung Baby (their amazing 1991 comeback) and Boy (their 1980 international debut) ahead of those two. At the bottom, I’d rank October, Rattle and Hum, Zooropa, The Unforgettable Fire, and Pop. All That You Can’t Leave Behind definitely blows away the lesser five albums.

However, the album falls a bit flat after the first four delightful tracks. It picks it back up again for a track or two here and there, but the immediate greatness that grabbed you when you first heard The Joshua Tree or Achtung Baby just isn’t there throughout. And the superstrong emotions that drove and held together those great albums aren’t here.

This is probably the album of the year, and many bands go their entire careers without recording anything as good as U2’s worst. This effort borders on greatness, but just doesn’t quite manage to cross over.

Strong points: The first four tracks.
Weak points: “Peace on Earth;” “Wild Honey;” “In a Little While,” though good, doesn’t seem to fit (seems to be there only to settle a bet from 1989); “Grace” is a good track but ill-suited to end a U2 album.

And a survey. I’m considering a one-day-per-page format, like Frank McPherson and Chris Ward-Johnson use. When marking up by hand, a weekly format is much easier. When using Manilla, it really makes no difference.

If you don’t want to join the site in order to vote, feel free to just e-mail me. Members can vote here. (I do wish there was an option to open discussions and voting to non-members. I can see why some people would want to require membership, but that should be optional. So it goes.)

~~~~~~~~~~

From: “Dan Bowman” < DanBowman@att.net >
To: <dfarq@swbell.net>
Sent: Saturday, October 28, 2000 11:03 AM
Subject: Music reviews

Now I’m really glad I spent my discretionary funds yesterday! After reading your review (the class is watching a movie while I make copies),
I’m real tempted to pick up the album.
Then again, I have a Costco run set for after class…

Have a great weekend,

dan

~~~~~~~~~~

Don’t look too hard; it’s not available until Tuesday. I got a chance to hear it a few times and I got sick of seeing reviews from people who just listened to the 15-second clips available on the music store sites and said, “This is the best U2 album ever!” based on that, so I wrote it up. Good practice anyway. I think it’s been 3 1/2 years since I’ve written a music review of any significant length.

I wanted to strike a balance between “this may be the year’s best album” and “this is the best album ever!” because it’s not (it’s not even U2’s best).  Hopefully I did that. But I remember when I wrote up a review of Pearl Jam’s No Code in 1996, people said I was too harsh and shouldn’t have compared it to the past (though looking at that album’s longevity or lack thereof, I’m inclined to think I was right).

Reviews are tricky business but I want to stay in practice, so I may start doing a review a week just to get and stay sharp.

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