I ❤️ U2
Irish U2 (which comes from the phrase I love you too) came to prominence in the early 80s and experienced their glory days during the late 80s and early 90s.
Unfortunately for them, they have since the late 90s become the uncool band to like, but let’s not worry about that, let’s focus on what’s great about them instead, and let’s start from the beginning.
In 1976 they formed under the name Feedback, then changed it to The Hype before settling on U2. The first album came in 1980 and had one tune that lasted named I Will Follow. Overall, the debut was more a sign of what was to come than a great statement.
1981 and the follow-up, October, had Gloria on it, again, it’s more of a sign of what is about to happen than a classic.
The third album, War, was the first real statement from the band. On this record, we got the classic Sunday Bloody Sunday and New Year’s Day, both tunes that focused on the situation in Northern Ireland.
This political angle is something the band would come back to, and also be criticized for in the future. Fans felt they did milk the “donate now to save the world” angle on every gig.
Liverpudlian John Bishop has a great joke about this where he goes to a U2 gig, they ask to donate and he goes: I thought we saved the world last time?
Anyway, 1984 and the first collaboration with Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno appear on The Unforgettable Fire. This is where the band starts to really find their feet sonically as well as with their songwriting. One of their first proper tunes is found here in Pride (In The Name Of Love).
What U2 achieves with Pride is that they’ve written an undeniable hit song that sounds like only they could have written it. It is unmistakably a U2 tune. This is the highest goal a band can set. Next, they would create an entire album in this way.
In 1987, according to many U2 fans, the band’s greatest album arrives in The Joshua Tree. Here we find Where The Streets Have No Name, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, and With Or Without You.
Again, it’s Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois helping out, and by now, U2 is one of the biggest bands in the world.
The follow-up, Rattle And Hum, is a live album that does have three quality tunes on it. Angel Of Harlem, a tune about Billie Holiday, Desire, and When Love Comes To Town featuring B.B. King are all genuinely great U2 tunes. Perhaps being live recordings somewhat diminished their impact.
In 1991, U2 peaked (in my opinion) with the immense Achtung Baby. Here we get Mysterious Ways, One, Even Better Than The Real Thing, and one of my favorites which was never released as a single, Acrobat.
To follow up Achtung Baby was almost impossible but I applaud the effort made with Zooropa. There was clearly confidence here in tunes like Numb, and the highlight of the album Stay (Far Away So Close), but clearly, U2 had peaked.
On Zooropa, we also had Lemon and Daddy’s Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car which is cool, but hardly up there with the band’s best work. Daniel Lanois didn’t participate in this release but Brian Eno was still there, now joined by Flood.
To follow up Zooropa we get some live albums that act as greatest hits before their next serious studio album release arrives in Pop (1997).
A remarkable 6 singles were released from the album, none were proper tunes. This is then followed by another live and greatest hits album where we get another great tune from the band, Sweetest Thing (1998).
They did have one more studio album up their sleeve with a few great tunes. All That You Can’t Leave Behind did, to be fair to the boys, have Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of, Beautiful Day, and Elevation. Perhaps this was down to the two producers, Brian and Daniel being back!
I can’t say that these tunes are up there with their best work but still, most bands would be more than happy with that level of quality.
The next U2 studio albums, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb (2004), No Line On The Horizon (2009), Songs Of Innocence (2014), and Songs Of Experience (2017), don’t have any tunes on them of the same quality we have gotten used to.
Their latest release, Songs Of Surrender (2023) was produced by The Edge, here previous masterpieces have been “reimagined”. Some of the attempts are more successful than others, that’s for sure! Ironically, the best one is Bad, an early tune from the same album that had Pride on it.
If it’s not to your taste, don’t allow U2’s later stage of their career to taint when they were great. The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby really are two of the best albums around.
I personally know many artists active today that grew up with U2 and try to keep them as a secret guilty pleasure. Just listen to Paolo Nutini’s Rewind, the outro has U2 written all over it!
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