It would be hard enough to distill 26 years of any band in 80 minutes, and harder still if that band is U2. U218 Singles has the daunting task of doing just that. It tries hard; it really does, but somehow misses the mark. A single disc of U2’s hits could have been gangbusters. It almost worked too, with both previous compilations, each of which was limited to a single decade (1980-1990 and 1990-2000).
This career-spanning anthology makes for a creative listen by running through the tracks non-chronologically, trying to give the impression that U2 have always sounded as good as their Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby heydays. Those days are as different as Christmas and Halloween. So, U218 Singles downplays the latter, virtually skipping 1990s save for two tracks, “One” and “Mysterious Ways” (yes, “Sweetest Thing” was released as a single in 1998, but it was originally a b-side from 1987). Now, the 90s may not have been U2’s best period, but it was certainly their most ambitious, and having that ambition not accurately displayed seems a little unfair. The haphazard order is problematic too, placing “Vertigo” after “With or Without You” is a little jarring, as is hearing “Sunday Bloody Sunday” after the effervescent pop of “Sweetest Thing”.
It wouldn’t be a hits compilation in this day and age if there weren’t a temptation for the die-hard fans. This time around is no different with two new tracks present. “The Saints Are Coming” a cover of The Skids classic with help from Green Day, and “Window in the Skies”, a charming little ditty perfect for your iPod on a winter’s walk.
A flawed effort, U218 Singles, at least, does a decent job at representing the band by way of their most popular tracks from the 80s, with ever present hits like “Pride (In the Name of Love)”, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and the aforementioned “With or Without You”. This compilation does lean a little too heavily on their 2000s era, a weaker single like “Elevation” could have been dropped in place of something more compelling like “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” or “Stay (Faraway, So Close!)” or great but lesser known singles like “Out of Control” or “Please”. Still, it’s a good listen, reminding us once again how great U2 really is.
And a couple of final notes: There is a version of U218 Singles which contains “I Will Follow” as a bonus track, and still curiously the album retains the same title. As well, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was never officially released as a single.