Oct 252011

The wisdom of The Hall continues to amaze me. For as many knowledgeable individuals who dazzle with their rock knowledge, it is the collective wisdom of our participants that I find most dazzling.

It is in this spirit that I want to allow for further amazement—not only for the people but by the people. Rather than turn this into my own original post, maybe even do a few minutes of research on the Web, I thought better of it. Instead, I’d like to pose a question on behalf of a fellow Townsperson to the collective wisdom of The Orockle.

Townsman trigmogigmo has a question he’d like to pose—and one that he hopes will inspire other questions we’d like to have asked when we had more time to find the answers ourselves. Read on, please.Said trigmogigmo:

I’d like to see a related discussion of U2′s rhythm section. I notice Larry Mullen and Adam Clayton receiving some scorn in the Hall. Larry’s drumming has always seemed OK to me. Adam’s bass seems very basic but I can’t put my finger on what it is that is really bugging people.

Oh, mighty Orockle, please hear trigmo’s plea!


  43 Responses to “Consult the Orockle: What Is It That Is Really Bugging People About U2′s Rhythm Section?”

  1. I’m not a big U2 fan but I think that rhythm section fits the band very well. They support the songs without showboating or overplaying. Whether or not they are actually capable of showboating is beside the point.

    Perhaps Adam Clayton is the target of some folks’ animosity because he is so richly rewarded for doing a job that most of us feel we could easily pull off if we had only been in the right place at the right time. But I would suggest that there are bigger fish to fry in the Luckiest Man In Showbiz Sweepstakes, and I encourage you to redirect your scorn at Ray Cooper, Tambourinist to the Stars.

  2. trigmogigmo

    Thanks, Mr. Mod! Having spent too much recent time being “read-only” in The Hall rather than contributor, I was a little leery of posting a top level thread all of a sudden, but this is more appropriate than diverting the Max Weinberg Appreciation Thread. 🙂

    Here are two Adam Clayton items for me:
    1. I think it was on “Gloria” from October where his bass solo was called “worst bass solo in history” by my awesome bass player.
    2. His part in “New Year’s Day” is basic and repetitive, but I think it’s a key part of the song and the tone is terrific.

  3. No need to feel shy about re-entering your RTH activities with a Main Stage post! E. Pluribus Gergely, for instance, has a knack for taking off the entire school year then reappearing with both guns blazing.

    As cdm points out, I am among the musicians who get a little bugged at how simplistic Clayton’s bass playing has been over the course of 30 years. He’s fine for what he does. His tone is usually helpful in supporting the bed on which Bono does his thing. The entire notion of the 3 musicians as little more than a bed for Bono is one of the things that constantly troubles me about U2. I wish they had more going on, more counterplay. If I listen really hard I can tell that Edge is doing some cool things now and then, but Clayton and Mullen are so stable and nonthreatening that I sometimes wonder why Bono and the Edge don’t save money and let a sequencer play their parts. I’m sure some Townsperson will tell me they are so subtle that I’m too much a caveman to appreciate the subtle interplay that they do, in fact, provide. I don’t doubt that, but man, it’s rare for me to realize when they do anything interesting.

    The funny thing is, the one album on which their playing is most prominent and does actually take some chances is the one I dislike most – not in terms of songs, because they have albums with way more turds, but sound/dynamics: War. I want to like “Sunday, Bloody Sunday,” for instance, but the rhythm section annoys me.

    Finally, what bugs me about their rhythm section is how badly other musicians have done with their style. They’re actually good at that style – really good. Take a song like “One,” I think it’s called. They subtly pound away and really do make their restaint and simplicity work for the song, whether that’s my idea of a good rhythm section or not. But a lot of younger bands that followed in their wake make the mistake of playing that style a little too forthright, verging into bad War territory, and to me, that’s pretty bad.

    Anyhow, I wish Clayton would just play a cool bass part more than once a decade.

  4. cliff sovinsanity

    Larry Mullen’s drum seat with the back rest kind of bugs me. I don’t know why ?


  5. tonyola

    I worked with a drummer who used a modified office chair as a drum stool. He had some back problems and he was far more comfortable with having a backrest.

  6. They’re in the same category as gloves and those headband microphones, although I suppose back problems justifies them somewhat.

  7. The thing that bugs me the most: They’re always playing U2 songs.

  8. BigSteve

    Yes, it’s exactly like the Max Weinberg situation. Artist is uncool, must hate the drummer (and bassist).

  9. alexmagic

    I would like to point out that I have, at several times here at RTH, advanced a theory that Adam Clayton is actually the secret MVP of U2. I have yet to go back and listen to any songs or look at any performances to come up with any evidence for this theory, but I have gotten plenty of offlist support for it, all the same. So I’m probably right.

  10. I would not want a loose and jammy U2. Larry and Adam do a fine job of serving the song and doing the non-showy heavy lifting of being a rhythm section. songs Like “Zoo Station” and “Some Days Are Better Than Others” they get to stretch out a bit.

    U2 songs are amazingly simple. Try playing one on Acoustic guitar and you will see that there is very little to them. The Edge’s style makes them appear more unusual since he never plays folk chords. There has to be a root though, and Larry is it.

  11. My problem with U2’s rhythm section is that I never notice them.

    Granted, that’s not entirely bad – hey, they can’t be accused of overplaying – but being as I play bass, I listen to rhythm sections quite a bit, and they never seem to do anything that catches my attention.

  12. Funny, I’ve gotten a TON of offlist support for just the opposite point of view – and much torment over the fact that Clayton dated Naomi Campbell and none of us.

  13. I give U2’s rhythm section credit for a groove like “Mysterious Ways.” That alone puts them above Van Halen and Pink Floyd, to name two other big bands with bass players and/or drummers who are a bit, um, lacking.

    I sometimes think there’s a faction at RTH that thinks every band could be improved with an Entwistle/Bruce Thomas figure. I don’t subscribe to this belief.

    Finally, I’m no big U2 fan, but I agree with Big Steve: Even if the rhythm section was more obviously dazzling, plenty of Townspersons would still hate the band.

  14. Hey, I probably like U2 more than most Bad Attitude Club members, but the question was “What bugs people so about that rhythm section?” Why get into griping about the fact that some people would hate the band regardless? And why assume that they would hate the band if the rhythm section added something more than what they add to a song or two per decade (“Mysterious Ways” is one of their shining moments)? Don’t get sucked into the BAC’s bad attitude with a bad attitude of your own toward The Orockle’s question and any answers it’s given to date!

  15. misterioso

    As, I hope, a member in good standing of the BAC as well as a huge fan for nearly 30 years of U2, I would tend to agree with Oats that it isn’t necessarily the rhythm section per se that gets people riled up. Because of the enormous popularity U2 has achieved and because of Bono’s oversize personality and mouth, they are inevitably going to bug a lot of people. Since Bono’s perceived crimes are mostly personality-related rather than musical, and because most people think Edge is fairly cool, and, at any rate, everyone understands that the two of them are the main creative forces in the band, Larry and Adam are bound to get grief for being mediocre hangers-on who happened to luck out. I think it is fair to say that on the early records and live performances Adam Clayton, in particular, was not exactly dazzling. But to my ears he improved and by the time of Achtung Baby, at least, he had become quite solid. I think Mullen has always been solid if unspectacular, but how many bands really need or want a spectacular drummer? In end, most of the carping is just sour Guinness.

  16. Yes, thank you, misterioso for helping flesh out my argument. Sorry, I forget about the BAC’s fragile egos sometimes.

  17. While I’m not a big fan of U2, I’m not going to join in the piling-on here. Is Bono a self-important schmuck? Sure, but so are Sting, Morrisey, Eminem, John Mayer, Scott Stapp, and a whole bunch of other people. As I’ve said before, I give U2 credit for periodically taking risks with their image. Even seeming missteps like Pop are still listenable. As for Mullen and Clayton, they get the job done without calling attention to themselves. While I don’t particularly flash on them, I can’t think of them as being deficient in any way.

  18. I’m still a bit miffed that my actual critique/soul search over the rhythm section has been ignored by those of you who attribute this beef solely to Bono’s oversized personality. All anyone has said in favor of rhythm section is that they are “solid if unspectacular” and “why should we expect a rhythm section to be anything but ‘solid if unspectacular?'” Clearly some of us DO expect the rhythm section to add something extra to a band’s sound, especially a rock band’s sound. I would get so much more pleasure out of U2 (and again, I like them just fine – I’ve been living through a personal U2 renaissance the last couple of years) if the rhythm section gave me an occasional jolt of something/anything. It pisses me off a bit that Oats jumps to the “Oh, they’re expecting all bands to have an Entwistle/Bruce Thomas” thing. If I wanted to say that I would have. Sure, I wish Bruce Thomas played on every record ever made, but that’s not my beef with U2. My beef is that Mullen and Clayton give me less to dig into than rhythm sections for plenty of bands I don’t like half as much as U2, like their once-contemporaries Echo & the Bunnymen. Hell, has anyone on the planet griped more than I have about the influence of Joy Division’s/New Order’s rhythm section? I bet not! That said, I get WAY more pleasure out of Peter Hook and that copy machine tech who occasionally plays snare and hi-hat along with his sequencer. Those guys give me what they’ve got. I think I know what Mullen’s got – he pretty much exhausted his arsenal on “Pride in the Name of Love.” He’s OK. Clayton, though, what the fuck has he got to give? Why discount that serious beef when the question is raised regarding anyone’s beef with their rhythm section? It’s rock ‘n roll, there should be an element of wanting to dance when I hear it. Adam Clayton doesn’t make me want to move that often. It’s weird, man, and it has NOTHING to do with Bono in a vest without a shirt while wearing his hair in a pontyail with a cowboy hat topping it all off. Bono MAKES that band. My Mom was spot on when she said that to me after their Super Bowl appearance. I now kind of love Bono.

  19. See, clearly you’re just hatin’ on Bono.

  20. misterioso

    What is it about Bono that makes you so angry and hateful?

  21. 2000 Man

    I turned him down. I like girls.

  22. mockcarr

    I don’t know a lot of U2 songs, since I really don’t like Bono’s voice or the way he sings most of the time. I would imagine that other bands could cover their good songs and add their own flavor easily because of the rhythmic limitations. But I don’t doubt that stuff is hard to sing, even so, he still seems to screetch a lot. The drums and bass don’t bother me much, but I think there are missed opportunities in those songs for them to do something interesting. Maybe they are just really unambitious, but it passes from “setting a groove” or “serving the song” to unimaginative. Those guys take care of the songs like I mow the lawn; I pay enough attention to cut everything so it’s even, and don’t let it get out of control, but if you look closer, a lot of the space is dirt, crabgrass, weeds, or clover. Good enough for the bugs and bees, and somewhat natural, but it’s really not much of a lawn.I don’t add seed, fertilizer, or water it to help it along any. It’s not embarrassing, but you can tell I don’t really care either. Can you really take pride in playing the root note all the time?

    Even Roger Waters has that Money bassline going for him.

  23. misterioso

    No, but seriously: I am just not hearing the problem, I guess. Sorry.

  24. BigSteve

    U2’s sound is a group sound, a ‘whole is greater than the sum of the parts’ sound. Even Edge’s 128 tracks of guitar effects don’t draw attention to his guitaristic abilities. Their sound is about rhythm and texture, and its nature is impressionistic. Individual parts jumping out at you would be contrary to its nature.

  25. mockcarr

    Bono’s singing jumps out at me in a bad way.

  26. Mockcarr, that is figging genius.

  27. That’s cool. You know I think you, Oats, and BigSteve are A-1 Steak Sauce. I was just pissed at you for a half hour.

  28. Fair enough, and this is the kind of answer I thought someone would step up and give. I know, whenever I think about my beefs with their rhythm section for too long I am reminded that it’s probably not a coincidence the Mr. Ambient, Brian Eno, would have put them over the edge as a producer. Their rhythm section, as you so well describe it, fits right into his “neither foreground nor background” aesthetic.

  29. trigmogigmo

    I like U2 a lot, but mainly their earlier output, the first 4 or 5 records. Didn’t follow them as closely after that, though I just picked up Achtung Baby because Mr. Mod labeled it his favorite of theirs. I don’t (yet) agree with that assessment.

    Anyway, I guess I’ve always actually *liked* Larry’s Mullen’s drumming. It’s also a well-produced sound. But I like what he does with them. How can you not love the pounding groove, even the slightly robotic snare fill that finishes it, of the intro to “Bullet the Blue Sky” — awesome. I think there are numerous examples of his drumming standing a bit in the foreground, in a good way.

    I do think Adam Clayton’s bass parts, at least through the early stuff I know the best, were very basic. But inasmuch as they don’t stand out, they do not bug me at all. They support the songs, beneath the two main guys putting on the big show.

  30. trigmo wrote:

    I just picked up Achtung Baby because Mr. Mod labeled it his favorite of theirs. I don’t (yet) agree with that assessment.

    Shoot, what do I owe you? 🙂

  31. I listened to segments of U2 songs I have on the iPod (mostly Achtung and after) and Mullen almost never does the tap the hi-hat on the beat, accent with the snare thing. He seems to come up with some strike pattern and he follows it adding the necessary fills and crashes when needed. It says something that he doesn’t approach his instrument in the commonly accepted way.

    Adam Clayton must be a great guy to hang out with. He’s got nothin’.

    Next: Why Geddy and Neil SO RULE!

  32. One of the reasons I like Glengarry Glen Ross is because it has six?, seven? really good actors all at the top of their game. I never think that anyone shining in it means they must be overshadowing one of the other guys. They can all be GREAT simultaneously. No reason to think I would enjoy it more if Ted McGinley took one of the roles, and therefore “serves” the movie better by being average. Clayton is the Ted McGinley of the band. Replace him with someone better, and the whole would be much better regardless of his brilliance in “serving” the song.

    I have to go to the old saw, “if less is more, think how much more ‘more’ would be.”

  33. Clayton is the rebel in the band.

    He’s the only Protestant in a band of Catholics from a place and time when it mattered.

    He also once missed a gig because he was too drunk to play.

    Clayton is to U2 as Sid is to the Sex Pistols.

  34. trigmogigmo

    Let’s see, I paid you $0 for the recommendation….

    But I am enjoying it, however it isn’t likely to topple Boy or War from my U2 faves list.

    My other recent RTH-influenced purchases (some new, some to fill in gaps, others to replace lost items) include “American Slang” (The Gaslight Anthem), “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”, “Pretenders II”, “Something for Everybody” (new Devo, thumbs mostly down), “Tusk”, and the first two X albums. I think Big Steve’s comments led to a couple of those “sight unseen” because he seems to share some of my key likes.

  35. BigSteve

    Isn’t watching movies for the acting like listening to music for the tasty licks?

  36. jeangray

    I re-purchased “Pretenders II” also. Good choice.

  37. jeangray


  38. jeangray

    Dudes! Go watch some concert videos. Clayton literally only plays the E string. I can’t get with that.

    I once read an interview with the band where they claimed that when they are prepping new material, they record hours of jamming (imagine Clayton & Mullins jamming!) and then just hand it over to Eno & Lanois to arrange into songs for them. And they seemed proud of this fact!

    Classic case of Emperor’s New Clothes.

  39. jeangray

    No suprise that misterioso is a hugh fan.


  40. jeangray


  41. hrrundivbakshi

    “I once read an interview with the band where they claimed that when they are prepping new material, they record hours of jamming (imagine Clayton & Mullins jamming!) and then just hand it over to Eno & Lanois to arrange into songs for them. And they seemed proud of this fact!”

    See: the “writing” process that precedes virtually every Stones album.

  42. jeangray

    Really??? Next you’re gonna tell me that this is a regular process amongst many major label artists.

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