It has now been 20 years since the release of u2’s seminal (and best) album Achtung Baby. Alas, I was 11 years old at the time, so I have no real memory of it in those days. My own discovery of Bono and boys didn’t happen until somewhere around the year 2000 with All That You Can’t Leave Behind. Caught up in the reemergence of U2 in the brand new millennium, I delved deeply into their catalogue and came to love the group. Though I feel they’ve staggered a bit over the past decade, I’m still a fan.
Eric Hynes of Slate.com recently wrote “The U2 Paradox“, noting his preference for the atmospheric sound of the band at its best, and I like where he is going:
From The Unforgettable Fire forward, U2 has been at its best when Eno, along with studio protégés Daniel Lanois and Flood, have had a strong influence over the recording process—which is not to say that the studio team is responsible for U2’s best work. Eno is a genius at creating and opening sonic spaces, at challenging the listener to hear the familiar differently—thus his soft spot for perverting pop music—which actually suits rather than subverts U2’s strengths.
In a separate article, he rates the band’s albums, with Joshua Tree, The Unforgettable Fire and Achtung Baby taking the top spots and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb and All That You Can’t Leave Behind on the bottom. I disagree with him on the order of things, though admittedly I don’t have as a complex or integrated a theory of U2’s sound as he does. In the spirit of things, I thought I’d give my list:
1. Achtung Baby: Clearly the best and most complete of any U2 album. It marked a turning point in their careers even as it did a turning point in world history. Favorite lyric: “Your love was a light bulb/Hanging over my bed.”
2. Pop: A surprising choice. Most people dislike the album, feel that it is incomplete and messy. But with the exception of “Miami” and perhaps “If You Wear That Velvet Dress,” I think it there’s a lot to love there. If you don’t believe me, listen to it again and get your hands on their Mexico City Popmart concert.
3. Rattle and Hum: All the benefits of Joshua Tree with none of the drawbacks. A bluesy Irish-American travelogue. Plus, the movie’s great.
4. Zooropa: Achtung Baby, Par II. Really a fun album, if we can forget the bizarre Johnny Cash cameo. Lemon? Love it. Numb? Terrific. Vorsprung durch Technik.
5. The Unforgettable Fire: All that stuff about atmospheric music? Yep, its in here.
6. Joshua Tree: Worth a higher spot for the Holy Trinity of U2 songs alone: “Where the Streets Have No Name,” “With or Without You,” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” But the album trails near the end, so much so that I never listen to the second half that much.
7. All That You Can’t Leave Behind: Formulaic and calculated? Yes. But a good effort that I look to fondly as the album that brought me on board. Watching U2 play a mashup of “Wake Up Dead Man,” “Walk On,” and singing hallelujah via satellite feed in the days after 9/11 was enough to win me over….forever.
8. How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb: Some great songs including “Miracle Drug,” “Crumbs From Your Table,” and the powerful “Yahweh.” Bono’s Africa album, I think.
9. War: Horribly stuck in the 80s in many ways. But driving to high school with “Sunday Bloody Sunday” blaring on the radio made me love this stage of the band’s life. And “40” is, of course, a gem.
10. No Line on the Horizon: A nice effort, but I feel as if there isn’t a lot there. What are they trying to say, and why do I care about “Sexy Boots?” Most telling: I don’t really listen to the album.
11. Boy: As a child of the 1990s, the sound is in some ways too dated and raw for me. I understand that without this, there’d be nothing else…but I’ll just listen to “I Will Follow” and leave it at that.
12. October: Like Boy, not an album I’ve listened to in a long time. In some ways, the Christian elements present here actually detract from the normally more mysterious lyrical elements of Bono’s writing. Like Boy, too far away from my musical preferences and framework to be worth much time.
So, what do you think?