Thursday, January 16, 2014

62. Achtung Baby (1991) U2

1. Zoo Station
2. Even Better Than The Real Thing
3. One
4. Until The End Of The World
5. Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses
6. So Cruel
7. The Fly
8. Mysterious Ways
9. Tryin' To Throw Your Arms Around The World
10. Ultra Violet (Light My Way)
11. Acrobat
12. Love Is Blindness

Recording Achtung Baby nearly broke up U2 and it's interesting to wonder what would have happened if it had. You can imagine Larry Mullen being happy drumming for Zeppelin cover bands in his local pub. Adam Clayton would be content turning away from music altogether and taking up painting, fishing or life modelling. The Edge would probably become an elder statesman of rock and would wander around guesting on people's albums and showing up for jam sessions. Bono would probably have a solo career and be frustrated that his music never captured the heights of his former band.

However they did it, Bono and Band managed to survive the tribulations of the recording process and come away with not just an album but one of the finest of their entire career. It's one of the few instances of a band going back to the drawing board, reinventing themselves and coming away with something that's genuinely worth hearing.

With the exception of the criminally underrated Rattle and Hum (which is their best album and not their worst as many seem to think) Achtung Baby is the only U2 album that I listen to all the way through without reaching for the skip function. Most of their other albums produce a few good songs for compilations but this is consistently good all the way from the opening bass run of Zoo Station to the closing bars of the beautiful Love is Blindness it's just fantastic.

Achtung Baby's big strength is the fact that it really rocks. At the time people said it was "U2 gone techno" which listening to it now makes us realise how narrow our definitions were at the time. This is hardly techno but it's definitely rock and roll. When they took this album out on the road songs like Even Better than the Real Thing, Mysterious Ways, Zoo Station and The Fly proved that this was guitar, bass and drums rock and roll just like they'd been playing for their entire career. They might be wearing flashier clothes but at heart they were still the four guys from Dublin who grew up listening to Led Zeppelin and understood how good rock works.

But Achtung's strength isn't just a reaffirmation of the band's rock credentials. We all knew they could play fast, the real eye opening tracks are the incredibly strong slower songs. Most notable is One, which is still a concert favourite to this day and is simply gorgeous. Bono's voice is perfect on One and as usual The Edge is the under appreciated hero of the group with his hauntingly beautiful guitar introduction. A lot of other bands would have chickened out and done One as an acoustic ballad but U2 backed themselves to record it with some fairly complex arrangement and instrumentation. They could have taken the melody and ruined it but they managed to make it a much stronger song.

One is the best, but far from the only good, ballad on Achtung. Love is Blindness, So Cruel, Acrobat and Whose Gonna Ride your Wild Horses are all great slower songs which prove just how fantastic Bono's voice is. I know it's currently cool to hate Bono and criticise U2 but that doesn't change the fact that his vocal chords are an amazing instrument and when he sings a song like So Cruel there's really nobody else that can touch him.

Looking back on Achtung Baby two decades after its release, it's hard to understand why people saw it as such a massive shift from their earlier work. It doesn't sound like a massive departure from the Joshua Tree and all the elements that made that album great are still there. The Edge's guitar still rocks, Bono's voice is still in fine form and the rhythm section propel the song along like their 60's rock heroes used to. It's U2 as people knew and loved them. They would never release an album half this good ever again but we should be glad that they released this one. It's fantastic.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I leave you with an excellent commentary by the ever wise, George Harrison: "You know what irritates me about modern music, it's all based on ego. Look at a group like U2. BONO and his band are so egocentric... The more you jump around, the bigger your hat is, the more people listen to your music... The only important thing is to sell, and make money. It's nothing to do with talent. Today there are groups who sell a lot of records and then disappear immediately. Will we remember U2 in 30 years? I doubt it.""

-I had to look that up and check that it's true and apparently it is. George really did say that about U2 who he apparently didn't care for much at all. Quite why he thinks the size of a band's hat has anything to do with anything I've got no idea.

So do you approve of U2's new direction or not? Let me know below.

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