no-cover

U2 – [Album]

Like
202
0
Monday, 21 November 2011

It's the twentieth anniversary of the release of Achtung Baby, which provides the excuse for this expanded reissue. The reissue also gives critics a chance to, again, assert that this album was a drastic break from U2's past. Well, I disagree.

In my opinion, Achtung Baby is actually a return to U2's strengths. To me, the touchstones of the band's career are Boy and War; they're the tightly wound guitar rock staples. Further (and I know I'm mostly alone in this opinion), I consider The Joshua Tree to be the low point of their catalogue; I find it to be too self-indulgent and, at times, flat out boring. That said, when Achtung Baby came out, I found it a welcome development away from that brand of self-indulgence.

Listening to Achtung Baby now only reinforces my opinion that the band had reclaimed something they'd lost along the way on previous albums. I consider it their best album, by far. It brings all their strengths together; here, there is hard rocking ("Zoo Station," "The Fly") yet sensitive ("So Cruel" and "Trying to Throw Your Arms Around the World"), earnest (the last three songs are as earnest as anything on Joshua Tree, yet remain under control) but sarcastic ("Waiting Until the End of the World"). It is their most multidimensional album. Edge's guitar is working overtime here in both riffs and echoes, as are Bono's lyrics – which present their full spectrum of sensations here, rather than simply focusing on a limited cross section. Two songs stand out as absolute highlights not only of this album but their entire career: "Acrobat" manages to combine the earnest and the sarcastic, while "One" is simply the best love song they ever wrote, encompassing both personal and universal love.

The bonus cuts appended to the twentieth anniversary reissue help put the album in context, providing links to both their previous and their subsequent albums. The cover songs hearken back to Rattle and Hum – there, it was the Beatles and Bob Dylan, here the Stones ("Paint It Black") and CCR ("Fortunate Son") – which helps reveal Rattle and Hum as the necessary transition from Joshua Tree to Achtung Baby. Rattle and Hum is now seen as an attempt to exorcise the excesses of Joshua Tree, both by exaggerating them (the gospel choir) and by returning to basics of rock n' roll through the cover songs and the tributes to their musical heroes (Lennon, Billy Holiday, Hendrix, BB King). It all helped them tighten up their act to produce Achtung Baby.

At the same time, the more experimental of the bonus cuts ("Lady With the Spinning Head," "The Lounge Fly Mix" and "Alex Descends Into Hell..") point ahead to Zooropa, where U2 loosened up again and let their experimental side take over. I have mixed feelings about Zooropa, but I can't help see it as the start of a downward slide in their career, leading to the mess of Pop and then the complacency of everything which came after. All of those twists and turns since further support my assertion that Achtung Baby is the apex of their career; with this album, they proved just what they were capable of. After this, there was nothing left but repetition.

Artist:

www.u2.com/
www.myspace.com/u2
www.facebook.com/u2
www.twitter.com/u2band_

Album:

The twentieth anniversary reissue of Achtung Baby is out now in several formats. Buy it here on Amazon .

no-cover

U2 – [Album]

Like
0
0
Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Sometimes the most gratifying and exciting creative turns a band can make are not the big ones. Sometimes it is the tiny tweaks that crop up along the way – rather than the grandiose departures in form or style – that re-ignite the fire and end up rejuvenating a band because they offer a different angle for listeners to approach the group that not even their most rabid supporters had considered before. Those celebrations of the small – more than the collections of the colossal – can mark the beginning of a whole new period of artistic growth that will attract new ears because there's an honesty and uncertainty about it but will also assuage long-time fans because it is proof that the band in question is still willing to take a risk. Elvis Costello, for example, pulled off such a renewed interest in 2002 when he re-examined (but did not simply re-create) his Armed Forces roots with When I Was Cruel, and now U2 has done something similar with No Line On The Horizon.

In many ways, all that U2 has done for their first album in five years is turn the proverbial lights down on their sound to indulge in some intimate remembrances as they look back on the pursuits of the divine that they embarked upon in their early career but, after getting so impossibly huge and bombastic in the late Nineties (beginning with Pop, but reaching a pinnacle on All That You Can't Leave Behind and How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb), such a return is made all the more salubrious because it proves that U2's powers to affect people on an individual level have not diminished. Opening meekly with familiar (but long absent) bracing guitar textures that bring both a sensation of warmth and one of comfort, Edge helps to set the tone in “No Line Of The Horizon” but the real surprise comes from Bono who, with remarkable ease, expresses more love and hope with that vaunted Irish tenor than he has done in almost two decades. Your jaw will drop as the renewed spiritual beauty overtakes you (and anyone else that's listening) because it's just that powerful, earnest and potent. No matter how cynical you are, you'll be made a believer out of you that U2 has come home.

From there, the band glances at their old haunts with new eyes as they rediscover the simple pleasures including love on a personal – rather than populace – level most notedly, as Bono begins singing to and about particular individuals including himself in “I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight” and “Unknown Caller” among others and the catharsis for the “unfortunate,” “unsung” and “unenlightened” people walking the Earth. These are honestly magic moments – as if all four band members experienced either an epiphany or the great popping noise at the same time – and listeners are engaged to feel the joy, misgiving, love and camaraderie in real-time as the band members rediscover them.

There are breaks in that vibe here though; "On Your Boots” forces the same sounds that won audiences over at other points on the record into overdrive, borrows the melody from the verses of Costello's “Pump It Up” and feels tacked on, as do “Stand Up Comedy” and the half-assed sound collage “FEZ – Being Born”) but those feel almost obligatory when compared with the very personal explosions of feeling that dominate the rest of the record. It's ironic, in some way, that those songs also happen to be the most up-tempo as well as the most disposable.

Such contrivances aside, the rest of the record is the most fascinating part because it returns to a thematic place and emotional center that everyone thought U2 had abandoned for the sunnier, people-pleasing climes of superstardom. There's no doubt that U2 know their star status is safe and cemented, but No Line On The Horizon is a tantalizing listen because it shows that the more things may have changed, the more they've stayed the same and, as the facade falls away, U2 shows that, while they may have yet to find that state of grace they're looking for, that doesn't mean they're too proud to re-cover some ground to discover a few missed gems.

Artist:

U2 Official web site

U2 myspace

Album:
No Line On The Horizon is available now. Buy it on Amazon .

Leave a Reply

Be the First to Comment!

Notify of
avatar
wpDiscuz