"A gung-ho Candide with a taste for places it is wiser to avoid. . . the reports collected in 'I Wouldn't Start From Here' are graphic, comic, bemused and properly contemptuous of faith and ideology."
- Jonathan Meades, Books of the Year, Evening Standard
"An utterly sui generis report from the world's plague-spots."
- Michael Bywater, Books of the Year, New Statesman
"I can think of no more entertaining companion on a perilous journey than the ever hopeful, wildly optimistic yet clear-thinking Andrew Mueller."
- Rory MacLean, The Guardian
"A tour-de-force of hilarious, harrowing and ultimately enlightening reportage that will remind readers of the work of P.J. O'Rourke, Jon Ronson and David Foster Wallace."
- The Washington Times
"Unafraid to portray the world's warring people not just as victims and sufferers of legitimate grievances, but also as bloody-minded bastards and ill-informed fools."
- The Kathmandu Post
"A mix of dark humour and incisive political discourse."
- CNN Go
"His sardonic, self-deprecating perspective makes for unstuffy company."
- The Los Angeles Times
"Peppered with trenchant observations that reflect a nimble, cut-to-the-chase practicality, Mueller's interviews with everyone from terrorist warlords to international peacemakers are refreshingly irreverent yet astute."
"Travel writing in the danger zone that maintains its hipness and humanity."
- George Dunford, Books of the Year, Readings Monthly
"An addition to the genre founded by P.J. O'Rourke's 'Holidays In Hell', but it is one that pushes the boundaries."
- The Australian
"Mueller is the embodiment of what can happen with a fire in the belly and a desire to write out loud."
- Australian Book Review
"Mueller's travel writing is as incisive and entertaining as anything he's ever written about music."
- Financial Times
- The New Statesman
"Alternately chilling, funny and surprising, there's some great reportage here as Mueller struggles to reach an understanding of the world, quizzing the highest minister and the lowliest peasant."
- The Glasgow Herald
"His acerbic wit is matched by true empathy. . . we need this kind of gonzo journalism more than ever."
"Mueller spins what could have been the grimmest geopolitics into the finest black comedy. Like a print version of 'The Daily Show'."
"Lively reporting from a gently humorous narrator."
- Chris Ayres, The Times
"Touching, often blackly comic reportage."
"Brilliantly observed, articulate, often funny and immensely readable."
- The List
"Snappy, self-deprecating and sometimes outright hilarious."
- The Age
"Indelibly humorous and heartfelt."
- Sydney Sunday Telegraph
"An instructive ricochet between cities and continents and war zones."
- Time Out
"He brings to his material the mixture of rage and earthy irony that is the mark of a great satirist
. . . rewarding, thought-provoking and ludicrously funny."
"Mueller's book is an excellent example of why today's brave, lucid hacks are forced to admit fear and confusion."
- South China Morning Post
"His reporting is sharp, his experiences terrifying and funny."
- Melbourne Herald-Sun
"If you enjoy your international affairs and politics with a good dose of cynicism and black humour, then this book is one to read."
- Brisbane Courier-Mail
"Often laugh-out-loud funny, the writing is utterly engaging."
- Launceston Sunday Examiner
"Mueller's irreverent reportage from abroad is fundamentally a clever cover for the author's ruminations on race, religion, revolution, rock'n'roll and other important issues since September 11, 2001."
- The West Australian
"As hilarious and sardonic a host as this ridiculous world of ours demands."
"Mueller busies himself with finding the odd, the surreal and the laughable as much as the shocking and upsetting."
- New Zealand Herald
"A real eye for surreal moments of black humour. . . Mueller's work here digs much deeper than the standard newspaper travel essay."
- Sydney Sun-Herald
"His best story, about his brief, bizarre jailing in Cameroon, reads like a 21st century 'Goon Show' script."
- Good Reading
"A rollicking ride through some of the world's scariest scenarios."
- Kalgoorlie Miner
"A strikingly funny book about some seriously unfunny places."
- Perth Sunday Times
"Not bad for a guy from Wagga Wagga."
- The Wagga Wagga Advertiser
"Andrew Mueller's piece about my band's tour with The Hold Steady is my favourite thing ever written about us. The fact that he is a war correspondent (though he claims otherwise) and music journalist and
approaches both with a similar slant makes him one of the most interesting
writers out there to me."
- Patterson Hood, Drive-By Truckers
"The most important critical anthology on popular music from a single author in a long time, its humour and insight equal with collections by Nick Tosches or Robert Palmer."
- KEXP Seattle
"The most enjoyable travel book of 2010."
- Sydney Morning Herald
"Take one part P.J. O'Rourke, a healthy dose of Lester Bangs and a dash of Hunter S. Thompson, and you've got Andrew Mueller."
"This is a wonderful, exuberant and eccentric collection of articles."
- The Sydney Morning Herald
"Sharply observed and wittily constructed."
- Honolulu Star-Advertiser
"Andrew Mueller plays the hapless hack brilliantly, with lashings of irreverence and self-deprecating humour."
- The Age
"New edition of the rock classic."
- NY Press
"Mueller's humour makes for some enlightening reading."
- Biloxi-Gulfport Sun-Herald
"Sharp, witty and sarcastic."
- Chicago Tribune
"Equally hilarious and insightful music journalism and foreign correspondence."
- The Vine
"Gonzo journalism at its finest."
"Really rather good, in a barnstorming, country-punk sort of way. . . a highly capable ensemble."
- The Quietus
"Guaranteed to raise a chuckle, if not a tear."
"A more than capable debut - allusive country-tough songs."
"The Blazing Zoos are undoubtedly fun, but they also have depth. . .
everything from Mueller's extensive use of brackets to the band's loving
recreation of classic country riffs bespeaks sincerity."
- Americana UK
U2's "Pop" reconsidered
Uncut Legends, May 2004
IF it were possible for an album to answer a question, and if “Pop” was asked the question posed by the title of its own second track, “Do You Feel Loved”, its answer could only be an aggrieved, sullen “No”. Released in 1997, “Pop” was cast almost instantly as the red-haired stepchild of the triumphant reinvention that U2 had begun in 1991 with “Achtung Baby”, and followed with “Zooropa”. The reviews were largely indifferent, the initial sales, by U2’s superlative standards, disappointing. Eventually, not even the forlorn artefact’s own creators would put up much of a fight on its behalf. “The material on that record is up there with our best,” said Bono in 2001, “it’s just that we didn’t finish it.” In 2002, when U2 released their “The Best Of, 1990-2000” compilation, just three tracks from “Pop” made the cut – as against six from “Achtung Baby” – and all of them were new mixes. It didn’t help that “Pop” provided the bulk of the soundtrack for U2’s most ambitious, spectacular live show to date, “PopMart”, which featured the biggest television screen ever built, a towering swizzle stick toting a vast neon olive, and a mobile lemon large enough to contain all four members of U2 and a modest cocktail cabinet. Against that kind of competition, the songs on “Pop” were always going to struggle to be heard.
They deserve to be, though. Like REM’s “Monster”, “Pop” is an album whose gloomy and enthralling depths were missed by those who closed their eyes against the glitz and dazzle slathered liberally on the surface. It may be that “Pop” would be more appreciated on its own merits if the cover had been painted in gloomy shades of grey rather than silver, tangerine, lime and raspberry, if the video for the first single and opening track, “Discotheque”, hadn’t featured U2 dressed up as what looked, and danced, like a Village People tribute act from Bucharest, and if, for the “PopMart” concerts, U2 had ditched the Warhol, Haring and Lichtenstein motifs in favour of a backdrop consisting of a single sepia reproduction of Munch’s “The Scream”. “‘Pop’,” Bono has also said, “is so fucking black. I can’t think of a more un-pop record. I remember Larry saying after the sessions that maybe next time we should make an actual pop record.” Rarely has any album been quite so ill-served by its title. “Pop” should really have been called “Blues”.
If there’s one thing that could be said to characterise U2’s canon as a whole, it’s a fervent belief in redemption, in the hope of good coming from the worst. On “Pop”, this inexhaustible – and, even U2’s most adamantine fans would have to concede, occasionally insufferable – optimism is conspicuous by its absence. Lyrically, the songs on “Pop” are an increasingly frantic Bono making a series of pleas for succour from the supporters who’ve brought him this far, and finding nobody willing to return his calls. “God has got his phone off the hook, babe,” he sings in the lovely “If God Will Send His Angels”, “would he even pick up if he could?” If it’s not grim enough that the Almighty has discontinued correspondence, Bono also sounds like the job that has earnt him his own devoted congregation isn’t as satisfying as it once was. On “Gone”, he sings of a driven, hyperactive figure, who sounds very like him (“You change a name but that’s okay/It’s necessary”), but who doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing anymore, or why (“You wanted to get somewhere so badly/You had to lose yourself along the way”). Back in the real world, the political looks as bleak as the personal. Both “Please” and “Staring At The Sun” are oblique reflections on Northern Ireland, and reflect an innate faith in a better tomorrow finally ground down by the dimwitted obduracy of the parties to the conflict. By the last track, “Wake Up Dead Man”, Bono is all but asking his old mate Jesus if he fancies taking matters outside.
The emotion that dominates “Pop” is guilt. U2 had been here before, once or twice – the seeds of their rebirth in the 90s might have been sown with one throwaway line on “Rattle & Hum” (“I don’t believe in riches/But you should see where I live”, from “God Part II”) – but on “Pop”, guilt is allowed to dwarf everything else. The first lines of “Gone”, the album’s clear highlight, are what might be expected of any reasonably sensitive person who finds himself buried by avalanches of money for no greater deed than playing music with his friends (“You get to feel so guilty, got so much for so little/Then you find that feeling just won’t go away”); not much further explanation is required for Bono’s frequent extra-curricular forays on behalf of the world’s wretched. He goes still further on “Mofo”, daring to wonder aloud if he owes it all to the early death of his mother (“Mother, you left and made me someone/Now I’m still a child but no one tells me no”). “Pop” refuses to provide any answers, though. The “God-shaped hole” Bono sings of remains utterly, forbiddingly, unfilled.
The musical setting for this existential garment-rending was, perhaps, contrived to throw listeners off the scent – the juddering techno rhythms of “Mofo” and “Do You Feel Loved”, the funky wah-wah guitars of “Last Night On Earth”, the spaceport depature lounge muzak of “Miami”, the almost constant trebly sheen of background keyboards conjured by producers Flood, Steve Osborne and Howie B.
“Pop” is, musically as well as lyrically, the U2 album that sounds least like U2 – a point emphasised by U2’s return to their old school values of jangling guitar and thrilling blind faith for their next album, 2000’s “All That You Can’t Leave Behind”. As such, it’s the U2 album that most U2 fans don’t listen to all that often. But they should. “Pop” is a ferocious and fearless record, a journey into a tunnel with no light winking at the end of it.
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