Special On U2 Sets A Record For Gush

April 26, 1997|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

Rock fans have come to expect a certain beating of the drums whenever a big tour gets under way. Inevitably, there are MTV specials, VH1 retrospectives and contests on The Box. Sometimes, you even see paid advertising.

But for sheer hype, the ABC special "U2: A Year in Pop" sets a new high-water mark -- one that makes downtown Grand Forks look drier than Death Valley. Tied to the launch of U2's Pop Mart Tour (which began last night in Las Vegas), the show is an unabashed valentine.

It gushes. It enthuses. It oozes. It has narrator Dennis Hopper giving voice to some of the purplest prose ever applied to rock and roll.

"An unsuspecting world was about to be bombarded with baaaad craziness," goes one bit, as Hopper recounts the launch of U2's last tour. At another point, Hopper says that the success of "The Joshua Tree" saw U2 "elevated to rock gods. The biggest band in the universe. Time magazine handed them Bruce Springsteen's poisoned chalice -- they became `Rock's Hottest Ticket.' "

Bruce Springsteen's poisoned chalice?? It would almost be funny if it weren't so clearly meant in earnest.

"A Year in Pop" plays at being a rockumentary, but it's actually nothing more than the video equivalent of a clip job -- a smattering of talking-head quotes from U2 manager Paul McGuinness and band members Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr., intercut with footage from videos, concert films and other handouts. You'd think with McGuinness listed as the show's executive producer, they would have had better access. Still, there will be footage from last night's concert, though for obvious reasons it wasn't included in review copies of the show.

Even the obligatory bits of band history are questionable. "There's a perception among the cynical that a plan for world domination was already in place," intones Hopper at one point. "But the band remember it somewhat differently." Except they don't -- not only does the quote that follows say nothing about the band's ambition, but Bono told MTV News just this week that he and his band-mates were "megalomaniacs from the start" who always intended to be a big success.

The show does have its entertaining moments, most of which come courtesy of Bono. At one point, apropos of nothing, he quips, "Sometimes, I see these big stars from the '60s who are still in groups, and I just want to say one thing to them: Cut your [bleeping] hair."

But serious content? Forget it. Instead, we get window-dressing, as Roy Lichtenstein is brought in to babble fatuously about the meaning of "Pop" (get it? Pop art?) and the late Allen Ginsberg reads the lyrics to "Miami."

Still, you've got to admire U2's ingenuity. After all, the band has been going on for ages about subverting the marketing process, and here they've conned a major network into producing a free, one-hour TV commercial for them.

Clever lads, don't you think?

`U2: A Year in Pop'

When: 10 tonight

Where: WMAR, Channel 2

Pub Date: 4/26/97

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