Just wishing to be blinded – Songs Of Innocence (2014)

No Line On The Horizon was a sales disappointment, but while it’s not a great album I’m not sure its relative failure had much to do with its quality. It’s more likely that in 2009 any album was going to have disappointing sales, even one by U2. This is supported by the tour that followed, U2360, which went on to become the highest-grossing tour of all time. It obviously spooked U2, because they clearly felt that something drastic was necessary to keep them from fading away completely.  Continue reading

I was born to sing for you – No Line On The Horizon (2009)

Like PopNo Line On The Horizon is a difficult album to pin down. Unlike Pop, I’m not sure that’s in its favor. It feels like there are a number of different albums within it, all competing rather than complementing each other. The question is, how much of a liability is such a scattered approach? There are a lot of rock masterpieces that are such precisely because they are all over the place. But the difference between No Line On The Horizon and, say, something like The Beatles’ White Album is one of overall effect. The White Album ends up being more than the sum of its parts. No Line On The Horizon feels like the product of a band that was afraid to commit to its varied nature, instead sounding like a compromise. Continue reading

An intellectual tortoise – How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb (2004)

So once you’ve made your comeback, where do you go from there? U2 responded to the success of All That You Can’t Leave Behind by doubling down on the bet that people wanted more of that “classic” U2 sound. But how to make it sound different from ATYCLB, which was itself a statement that they were returning to a classic sound? The follow-up, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, embraced U2’s roots to an even greater extent. It races even further into the reaches of the past, showing once and for all that U2’s days of weird experiments and electronic dabbling were done for good. Continue reading

The last of the rock stars – All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2000)

All That You Can’t Leave Behind was, like so many U2 albums, a response to a perceived weakness. There seems to have been another simmering identity crisis within U2 in the late 1990s. After their Pop hangover, the band wanted to regroup quickly and get back in the studio, once again with Eno and Lanois. In the manner that all U2 albums are recorded, the four members basically got in a room and noodled around until songs began to emerge. At one point The Edge began to form the base of what would become “Beautiful Day,” and the story goes that Bono initially balked at it for sounding “too U2.” For a band approaching their 40’s this was of course a ridiculous complaint. Every band has worked themselves into a mindset by that point, and these sessions came hot on the heels of the successful Best of 1980-1990 set, which showed that U2’s more traditional anthemic sound still had relevance. Continue reading

The high street never looked so low – Pop (1997)

No one seems to know what to do with Pop, least of all myself. It’s the sort of album I could spend all day discussing without ever really arriving at what does or doesn’t work. Certainly it comes with a lot of baggage, usually regarded as the album that broke U2 and forced them to go back into hiding before regrouping in the new millennium. It has a reputation for being highly experimental, but after the strange detours of Zooropa, Pop feels a lot less outer-spacey. It’s regarded as something of a flop, even though it made it number one in several countries and went platinum a few times over. It feels like every time one tries to nail Pop down, it wriggles away and forces a reassessment. Continue reading

Better by design – Zooropa (1993)

Zooropa is the sort of album that can only be made in a very specific time in a band’s life cycle. Its easily the most experimental U2 album, and part of its power comes from how sharply it contrasts with the rest of U2’s discography. As such it could only be recorded past a certain point in the band’s history, but then if a band gets old enough it hits a comfortable groove where the need to be experimental has largely passed by. U2 would get to that point soon enough, but after the transcendent Achtung Baby they felt like their newfound creative energy needed to be channeled to a new recording.
Continue reading

Ready For The Laughing Gas – Achtung Baby (1991)

The opening bars of “Zoo Station” are among the most jarring in U2’s history. Even after the reinventions of Achtung Baby have been largely backpedaled, that ugly industrial grind still feels bizarre, discomforting, and just a little exhilarating. This was of course intentional. After the bloated Americana of Rattle And Hum, the band rightly sensed that a new approach was necessary. Achtung Baby represented a shift unlike anything else U2 had done to that point, or anything they would do again. In doing so they created a brilliant piece of rock music, proudly standing beside War and The Joshua Tree as masterpieces of not only their own discography but the genre. Continue reading