Is Achtung Baby the defining album of our lifetime?

The 20-year legacy of U2’s second masterpiece and the awesome tour it spawned
Like a fly from a wall

Like a fly from a wall

It’s cliché to say you hate U2 these days, and despite being a lifelong fan, I can see the reasons why. For starters, Bono has turned from a rocker with a conscience to some guy in shades who tries to save African kids from poverty while carrying Louis Vuitton luggage. Most importantly, however, their last album sucked despite the rave reviews which made me wonder whether the critics received a different album than the one I heard. That said, from the lukewarm response to the new songs during their last tour, I’m confident I’m among the grand majority who thought it was bland and uninspiring. But despite the band’s recent inability to make great music, it’s only appropriate that we remember a time when they did, and there was no better time than in late November 1991 when the masterpiece known as Achtung Baby came out.

Achtung Baby was gifted to me by a close friend on my 14th birthday back in 1993. Up to that time, I must confess that I was not exactly a fan of U2 although I had heard most of their major hits on the radio (including some of Achtung‘s hits). And even though it did not win me over immediately, over time I became irrevocably hooked, to the point that I was eventually convinced that it was the best album I had ever heard in my young life. Who would have thought that, nearly two decades later, I would still think so? But more than that, Achtung Baby promptly triggered an almost pathological need to get my hands of every U2 album made until then and a near-religious devotion to Ireland’s most famous sons since. I have all their albums (except the last one which royally sucked). I have most of their videos on VHS or DVD. I’ve seen them live four times and one of those, their 1997 showing in Mexico City which was later immortalized in a DVD, is also to this day the best concert I’ve ever been to (I unfortunately missed the Zoo TV Tour). I even read a really great book about them, set during their Achtung Baby/Zooropa days and which I strongly recommend to any U2 fan. No group, with the exception of The Clash or The Cure, comes even remotely close to the impact that U2 has had in my life. Continue reading

There goes the neighborhood

Actually, it never existed except on a map and on a planner’s desk
If Canada Water really looked like this, I'd have stayed

If Canada Water really looked like this, I’d have stayed

A society can be judged by many things but few are as insightful and immediate as the physical spaces where we live. Be it the houses and apartments that house us, the public areas where we engage as a community, or the transportation networks that take us to where we need to go, the image of the city is a window to a society’s soul. Not all would agree, though. For Margaret Thatcher and the conservative revolution which she spawned, there was no such thing as society in the first place. But in Britain, the ritualistic destruction of society through bad urban design began well before the “Iron Lady” spoke that infamous line. This destruction, of course, was not limited to Britain: it was through the noxious spread of Le Corbusier modernism which blighted urban landscapes across the world with monolithic and brutalist obscenities whose only saving grace was that it they were one small step ahead of the slums which they replaced. But I’m not here to rant about the failure of social housing (I recently read the wonderful “Estates: An Intimate History” by Lynsey Hansey, and I doubt one can find a better left-wing critique out there), I’m here to rant about the failure of the private housing which replaced it in the 80s. And there’s no better place to start, than the little corner of London where I lived for three of my four years in Britain: Canada Water. Continue reading

The euro: a union too far?

Why a bright future for Europe did not depend on a common currency

When the Euro was launched in 1999, I was but a wee lad, barely over one year into an undergraduate degree in the dismal science. The common currency was something of a curiosity at the time as its ambition was unprecedented even for our globalized age. After all, it certainly seemed to be one giant step ahead of my country’s own feeble attempt (in comparison) at economic union: NAFTA, which had barely half a decade of existence at the time. For those who were worried about US hegemony, the launch of the Euro was a subtle reminder that a new and powerful economic force was being born, one which would hopefully shape the global economy into the more socially progressive image of Europe, rather than the rapacious gung-ho capitalism which Washington and Wall Street had shoved down our throats. More symbolically, it represented – at least in my eyes – a watershed event in history, whereby for the first time Europe was united not by Napoleon’s guns, or Hitler’s panzers, but by a common and voluntary belief that the path to future prosperity was one that no European country should have to travel alone.

It's time to question its existence

It’s time to question its existence

How the times have changed. I’m not going to dwell on the implications or even the possibility of a Euro breakdown (there’s plenty of that around), but it has come to a point where a economists we should really question whether the Euro was that great leap forward promised a decade ago by Europe’s leaders, or a colossal mistake whose benefits were overhyped and its potential drawbacks blissfully (or conveniently) ignored. For this I found a nice little PDF from the European Commission, probably written around 2007, right before the financial crisis exploded in everyone’s faces. With the benefits of hindsight let’s see whether the Euro has lived up to its lofty promises. Continue reading