A mutual admiration society for rockers
For the Off the Record debut, Eurythmic-turned-talk show host Dave Stewart (right) interviews U2s the Edge and Bono. (Kevin Mazur/ HBO)
HBO's "Off the Record" is a new late-night interview show that gives musical artists more than 4 minutes to talk. It's hosted by Eurythmics alum Dave Stewart, who is not bent on spit-balling one-liners to keep his audience perky and awake. And the artists -- beginning, tonight at 11, with Bono and the Edge from U2 -- are allowed to speak in their native tongue, that being Expletivish. When Bono utters the same curse that he used on the 2003 Golden Globes, and that invoked the ire of the FCC, no one blinks.
So it's hard to quibble with this latest addition to America's nonstop talk-a-thon, which moves from "Today" through "Ellen" and "Oprah" to "Entertainment Tonight" and "Nightline" and "The Tonight Show." "On the Record" allows Bono and the Edge to ramble on about their group creative process, their history as lads in Ireland, and their influences (Patti Smith, the Clash, and the Ramones, who Bono labels "the reason we exist"). And they are not interrupted by commercial breaks, which is always a plus.
But praising a show for what it doesn't do doesn't mean it's good. The first episode of "On the Record"-- it's actually a preview, since the series doesn't begin in earnest until next year -- comes too close to looking like a mutual admiration society. The conversational pattern goes like this: Bono says something modest about his talents, the Edge disagrees with him and praises him, the audience applauds. Then the Edge puts himself down, Bono builds him up, the audience applauds. It all starts to seem like a hokey way to buff each other's egos, with Stewart on hand to keep the gushing going.
Clearly, Stewart is not aiming to be the next Dick Cavett or Charlie Rose. He's not interested in the cultural significance of U2 and political rock 'n' roll so much as in running back over the more inspiring moments of the band's career, including recording "Achtung Baby" in Germany, singing "One" as a song about the band itself, and how Bono's experiences in El Salvador led to "Bullet the Blue Sky." Stewart positions himself as a rock version of James Lipton of "Inside the Actors Studio," running over stories already familiar to fans while hoping for some fresh repartee along the way. When Bono says about the Beatles, "Deep down, I think we have them on the run," Stewart doesn't pursue the potentially rich vein.
While the Edge is not prone to vagaries, Bono and Stewart become a little too esoteric and ethereal at times -- to the point where you're not sure exactly what, if anything, is being said. But the three of them make an affable trio, even if they don't really take the dialogue as far as they could given the freedom they have. They banter and tease one another, and the hour passes effortlessly with a mild rattle and a dull hum.