Review Summary: U2 creates a new sound for Achtung Baby that is original but is just as beautiful as any other U2 album.
U2’s overrated. Bono’s a butthole. Every album sounds the same. U2 shouldn’t be considered one of the best bands ever. The Edge has a made-up name. Blah blah blah.
As you can tell I’m sick and tired of the constant U2 criticism. No, I’m not saying they don’t get a lot of praise, but they get plenty of crap too, and no one can deny that. U2 has been around for 25+ years, and unlike other long-lasting bands (Rolling Stones, Bon Jovi, Aerosmith), they still make great music. They have a sound that is distinctly their own, yet they constantly alter their sound to make new music that is original but still U2. A perfect example of this is their 1991 (a great year in music) release, Achtung Baby.
U2 became perhaps the biggest band in the world after their 1987 release, The Joshua Tree. The album’s soaring atmospheric guitars, accessible and unforgettable melodies, and passionate lyrics made for a huge hit, and is considered by many to be the best album of the last 20 years. Two years later they released Rattle and Hum, a combination of new, studio songs and live songs. U2 was then faced with what many bands have to face, whether or not to recycle the formula of their smash hit album and cash in, or take a risk and change their sound. There are few bands who choose the latter (Radiohead and The Beatles come to mind), and luckily U2 did too. Achtung Baby is much rawer and fuzzy than their earlier releases, but is just as beautiful and has the same ethereal U2 sound that I love.
“Zoo Station” starts the album with distorted guitars, and already you can tell that this album is not The Joshua Tree Part 2. On top of a beat that reminds me of industrial beats from bands like Nine Inch Nails, Bono’s voice soars and snyth shimmers, making one of my favorite U2 songs ever. “Even Better Than the Real Thing” follows the same vibe as the previous song, except that The Edge’s guitars are the focus while Bono sings “Give me one more chance, and you’ll be satisfied”, which means that it’s important to give others another chance, or… yeah maybe not. Next is “One”, which is considered to be one of the best rock songs EVER, along with Stairway to Heaven, Satisfaction, and Bohemian Rhapsody. I had no idea how highly regarded this song is, and the first time I heard this album I forgot about it quickly. After many listens, I’m starting to understand it. Quiet, mellow instrumentals allow Bono to sing beautiful lyrics about having charity (charity=godly love) for others. Whether you think Bono is a phony or not, this is a wonderful song. “Until the End of the World” starts with an upbeat feeling, with light guitars and a fun drum beat. Bono sings the title of the song at the end of each verse, but each with a different context. All in all, with The Edge’s atmospheric and gorgeous riffs, this is my favorite song on the album.
Bono steals the show on “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” with more uplifting yet melancholy lyrics. A pretty piano line anchors “So Cruel” while The Edge’s guitars glimmer and Bono sings about love again. U2 seems to be one of the best bands I know of at making music about love. Also a nice string accompaniment uhh…accompanies this song. Next is another favorite of mine. “The Fly” has extremely fuzzy and distorted guitars that really rock. There are also parts in the song that sounds like it was taken straight from My Bloody Valentine’s album, Loveless. If you’re unfamiliar with Loveless, the frizzy guitars have an intensely disoriented and shifting sound that is very trippy and very cool. Also in this song Bono sings the famous line “Every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief”. Next is probably the well-known and the oft-played-the-radio, “Mysterious Ways”. The Edge really shows off in this song, with crunchy Hendrix-esque riffs. Add catchy lyrics like “It’s alright, it’s alright, alright, she moves, in mysterious ways”, and it’s easy to see why this song is so popular.
The final stretch starts with “Tryin’ To Throw Your Arms Around the World”. What’s up with these rather lengthy song titles? Oh well. The song follows the same pattern as “Wild Horses”, with a mellow feeling and nice lyrics. One of the more boring songs. Things pick up though, with “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)”. The riffs for this song have an elevating, easy going feeling and the lyrics are driving and purposeful. This song is a great example of what’s great about U2. “Acrobat” is different because of its shadowy instruments. This song is much more negative then the usual uplifting songs, and Bono voices his distaste for hypocrites: “And I must be an acrobat, to talk like this, and act like that.” Last is “Love is Blindness”, which is an extremely bleak, synth-laden track. It’s a very depressing way to end the album, but a great way.
Achtung Baby is an incredible album that shows why U2 is and has been one of the greatest bands of the last 25 years. Usually bands hit their prime a few years into their career and then recede into obsoleteness. Achtung Baby was released over 11 years after U2 was formed, and could arguably be called their best album. On the top of my head, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and most other bands were either broken up or irrevelent 11 years after forming. Wonderful album.
Highlights: Zoo Station, One, Until the End of the World, The Fly, Mysterious Ways