Henry Rollins was renowned for his no-nonsense approach when it came to dissecting rock bands. From his days with Black Flag, he epitomized authenticity, reshaping the landscape of rock and roll with the raw intensity of hardcore punk. With a keen ear for deception, Rollins didn’t mince words, particularly when critiquing the backbone of any good rock outfit: the rhythm section.
In Rollins’ world, the drummer and bassist were the unsung heroes, anchoring the band with their groove and versatility. From the breakneck speed of Black Flag’s debut Damaged to the ominous depths of My War, Rollins wielded the rhythm section like a sculptor, shaping it to fit the sonic landscape of each song.
In the late 1970s, amidst the punk revolution, another band emerged from Ireland, poised to challenge the status quo. U2, after transitioning from punk to post-punk, carved a niche for themselves as sonic innovators. Their songs became anthems of spiritual exploration, blending rock and roll with transcendent melodies.
Despite their evolution, Rollins remained unimpressed by U2’s rhythm section, consisting of Larry Mullen Jr. and Adam Clayton. To Rollins, they lacked the vigor and dynamism of his favored bands, dismissing them as “the worst rhythm section in rock.” He saw their contributions as pedestrian, likening their records to lackluster efforts saved only by producers like Brian Eno or Daniel Lanois.
While Rollins’ critique may have seemed harsh, he acknowledged that Mullen and Clayton served the purpose of the song, providing a minimalist backdrop for U2’s soaring melodies. Unlike the technical prowess of bands like Black Sabbath, U2’s simplicity elicited stadium-sized reactions, epitomized by the euphoria sparked by tracks like “Where The Streets Have No Name.”
In Rollins’ world, the thunderous beats of Black Sabbath resonated more deeply than the polished soundscapes of U2. Yet, he couldn’t deny the undeniable impact of U2’s music, even if it diverged from his personal preferences. For Rollins, authenticity reigned supreme, but he couldn’t deny the power of a song that could move stadiums, even if it didn’t align with his definition of rock and roll.