Functioning as both the soundtrack to the group's disastrous feature-film documentary and as a tentative follow-up to their career-making blockbuster, Rattle and Hum is all over the place. The live cuts lack the revelatory power of Under a Blood Red Sky and are undercut by heavy-handed performances and Bono's embarrassing stage patter; prefacing a leaden cover of "Helter Skelter" with "This is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles, and now we're stealing it back" is bad enough, but it pales next to Bono's exhortation "OK, Edge, play the blues!" on the worthy, decidedly unbluesy "Silver and Gold." Both comments reveal more than they intend -- throughout the album, U2 sound paralyzed by their new status as "rock's most important band." They react by attempting to boost their classic rock credibility. They embrace American roots rock, something they ignored before. Occasionally, these experiments work: "Desire" has an intoxicating Bo Diddley beat, "Angel of Harlem" is a punchy, sunny Stax-soul tribute, "When Loves Come to Town" is an endearingly awkward blues duet with B.B. King, and the Dylan collaboration "Love Rescue Me" is an overlooked minor bluesy gem. However, these get swallowed up in the bluster of the live tracks, the misguided gospel interpretation of "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and the shameful answer to John Lennon's searing confession "God," "God, Pt. 2." A couple of affecting laments -- the cascading "All I Want Is You" and "Heartland," which sounds like a Joshua Tree outtake -- do slip out underneath the posturing, but Rattle and Hum is by far the least-focused record U2 ever made, and it's little wonder that they retreated for three years after its release to rethink their whole approach.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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