Review of "U2"

published 25/01/2007 | Looby5
Member since : 09/11/2003
Reviews : 56
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About me :
Pro Simply Brilliant!
Cons Tendency towards pretentiousnes on occasion
very helpful

"Dublin's Finest"

I first discovered U2 as a ten year old in 1986. You see my best friends sister was crazy about them, she was 17 and therefore automatically, in our eyes at least, very cool indeed. We hung around while she played Unforgettable Fire ('84) over and over again and although we probably liked it at that time because she liked it something must have stuck because when 1987's Joshua Tree album was released I saved up my pocket money and bought the tape. It was the first album I ever bought and for the next two years it was hardly out of the cassette player. The Joshua Tree was my introduction proper to U2. and I found it (and still do) quite an emotional piece of work and a major departure from all of the bubble gum pop music of the 80's I'd listened to thus far. I was hooked.

To understand how U2 rose to be Time Magazines 'Biggest Band of the 80's' we must go back to Dublin, Ireland circa 1978 when Larry Mullen Jnr placed an add on the notice board of Mount Temple Comprehensive school, a progressive co-ed school that all four of the future members of U2 attended. Larry could play the drums a bit having been a member of the Artane Boys Band earlier in his youth and his add attracted a cluster of boys round at his house all trying out to be part of the band. The group included Bono, the Edge and Adam Clayton but perhaps with the exception of the Edge there wasn't much talent on show. Bono was trying out to be the guitarist but the guys shuddered at his efforts and it's said he's still not much of a guitar player today. The peripheral members of the scene drifted away and the boys began playing pubs and clubs around Ireland. They played other peoples songs so badly they started writing their own.

Produced by Steve Lillywhite1981's 'Boy' album was their first release and reflects their punk influences while giving us a glimpse of the heart felt lyrics and unique guitar sound that they would later become synonymous with. The album has become one of my favourites. Although it sounds a bit naïve now, it's honest and raw. It caused a few murmurs on the music scene in Dublin and in London but it was never really Top of the Pops material. The singles, 'I Will Follow', '11 O'clock Tick Tock' and 'A Day Without Me' are good songs but a long way from being commercial even in the heady days of Punk.

Despite starting off strongly with Boy, 1981's follow up 'October' was rushed out to build on the band's momentum but it's weak in comparison, none of the tracks stood out as obvious singles and the two they did release didn't make a splash. I never play this album these days, It never really made me feel the same way as 'Boy' does although I think the version of October (the title track) on the Under a Blood Red Sky album is superb. Maybe it's a production issue but as this was again produced by Lilywhite that doesn't make much sense.

The War album in 1983 saw the boys hitting their stride and getting back to their best. This was more of a singles album with New Years Day and Sunday Bloody Sunday both being anthems and both are still crowd pleasers to this day twenty three or so years later. Lillywhite was at the console once more and it was a role he seemed to be getting comfortable in. To me this album is the natural progression from Boy, retaining the air of innocence but adding passion and power. This album got the band some more attention from the industry and its relative success brought the US market further into their sights. Their application to 'paying their dues on the road' in the US particularly, laid the foundations for their later success.

1983 also saw the release of the 'Under a Blood Red Sky' live album. The video of this album was the first thing I discovered following my love affair with the 'Joshua Tree' and It's still a prized position. The concert was staged at a natural amphitheatre call Red Rocks, in Denver, Colerado. They played following torrential rain and it looked amazing. They thought they were going to have to abandon the concert at one stage and offered a free indoor concert to people who couldn't bare to stand in the rain. I read recently that the reason the number of wide angle camera shots is so few is that the place was only half full. Regardless, I loved this concert video, and I'd say it's stood the test of time, apart from the dodgy fashions on display during the audience interviews at the beginning. The UBRS album conveys all the energy of the video and is also one I still listen to.

In 1985 there was a definite change in the air. 'The Unforgettable' Fire album is kind of where I came in years before, sitting outside on the landing listening at Tracy's door. When you listen to it with its predecessor in mind it seems like a huge departure. Not necessarily a negative move but totally different. It took me a while to really come to love this album. It was far more electronic for a start, with production handled mostly by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanios, although Steve Lilywhite did have a little involvement. It's quite ambient and the lyrics to me seemed like they made less sense for the most part. Of course the total contradiction to that statement is Pride (in the name of love), a song with a clearer meaning you won't find. Every one on the planet knows it's about Marten Luther King. I guess songs like Bad and A Sort of Homecoming were less clear to me and I came to love them more because of their ambiguity I suppose. I don't even know what the title 'Unforgettable Fire' relates to!

The Joshua Tree came next (1987) and even though it was my first real independent U2 experience it's easier to see where it's come from when you know it followed 'Unforgettable Fire'. I listen to this album now and it's not the singles I enjoy the most although they are undoubtedly great songs. It's actually 'Trip Through Your Wires', 'Bullet the Blue Sky' and 'Running to Stand Still' that still make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. The album was said to be inspired by the time the band spent touring in the US and a Joshua Tree is actually a desert plant they saw from a bus window. It's become a bit fashionable to knock the 'Joshua Tree' of late I've noticed. I was watching 'Australias100 greatest albums' on TV the other day and while the Joshua Tree made it in to the top ten (voted by the public) the panel (so called celebs) really bagged it and said the singles were great and basically the rest was crap. Show's how ignorant they are!

'Rattle and Hum' was released in October 1988 (I stayed off school to go to HMV and buy) and marked the beginning of a slippery slope for U2. It was a part studio, part live album and it could have been great. But sadly it was only ok. The accompanying film was also only ok and certainly gave me a side of U2 I hadn't seen before. All the singing with gospel singers and poncing around in Los Vegas with guitars made me cringe a bit. It was the beginning of the label pretentious being applied to the band and in particular to Bono. Stand out new tracks were 'Silver and Gold' about Apartheid and 'All I want is you'. I enjoyed this album when it cam out but I don't really listen to it now, it hasn't stood the test of time all that well.

'Atchung Baby' came out in 1991 and once again I struggled to get into it at first. The band was really getting the hang of the electronic thing now and I personally was getting more into rock music so I felt a bit of a parting of the ways. Interestingly, the times I listen to this now I remark to myself how good these songs are, 'The Fly' and 'Nothing better than the real thing' are great songs just not for me at that time.

The albums 'Zooropa' and 'Pop' 1993 and 1997 respectively, are wilderness albums for me. I didn't buy 'Zoorpoa' and although I have 'Pop' I think I've listened to it once. They move to far away from what U2 were all about for me personally. They were busy trying to be a dance band or something. The singles from that period didn't do a lot for me either, 'Lemon' for example, a sour experience. 'Hold Me, Kiss, Me'… Hmmm I'd rather not thanks! I can't even remember what 'Last Night on Earth' sounds like. I simple wasn't interested which actually bothered me immensely as I'd grown up with this band and really wanted to like them. I'd await the singles nervously hoping for a move back to what I knew and loved.

In 2000 when I'd just about given up the idea of ever hearing a decent U2 record along came 'All That you Can't Leave Behind', they went and surprised me with a move back to basics, back to the U2 sound of old. They'd moved on, developed but with a nod to where they'd come from. The singles even exited me. 'Elevation' was and is a great song, 'Beautiful day' and the wonderful 'Kite' which Bono penned for his terminally ill father. For the first time in almost ten years my enthusiasm for the band came back. In August 2001 I was lucky enough to see them live at the NEC in Birmingham. They were absolutely fantastic and played a good cross section of their music, a best of if you like with a few more of the new songs thrown in. I'll never forget it.

October 2004 brought their latest offering, 'How to Dismantle the Atomic Bomb' with Steve Lilywhite once more at the mixing desk. Its release was delayed as the band wanted to take their time over it. I was nervous about it. Was it going to be another Turkey? I didn't want to build my hopes up. The album kicks off with the rousing 'Vertigo', and is another step in the right direction in my view. Another strong album with each song bar none entitled to take its place on there. Standout songs include 'Vertigo', Sometimes you Can't Make it on Your Own', Man and a Woman and 'Crumbs From Your Table' Again I was lucky enough to see them live at the gigantic 80,000 seater Telstra Stadium in Sydney. They'd had to cancel the Australian leg of the tour in April 06 as one of Edge's children was ill. They eventually got here in November and if anything they were better than the last time. They played for almost three hours and I sang and sang until I was horse.

U2 have grown far beyond the band they were in the 80's at the time of the Joshua Tree. Despite a few years where they became a bit experimental and lost the essence of who they are, there are few other bands who've lasted this length of time with such a massive fan base all over the world. Bono is respected by Pope's and Presidents and somewhere along the line he became a lot more than just a singer in a rock band. He has Nobel nominations along side his Grammy nominations and an honorary Knighthood from the Queen, not many Rock Stars can say that. For all of that I wouldn't like them or their music if the quality of the content wasn't there, you can't listen to the Nobel peace prize on your Ipod now can you?

Thank you for reading

Looby5 ©2007

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Comments on this review

  • ew499 published 12/05/2007
    very good review, great detail
  • ew499 published 12/05/2007
    very good review, great detail
  • iamasadlittleboy published 01/03/2007
    brilliant review, just how band reviews are meant to be done
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