Review Summary: The music is good. The experimentation is obvious. Unfortunately, the lyrics and sentiment are overbearing and exceedingly impassioned. Nevertheless October is still a rockin' album.October
is the second studio album from U2, the follow-up to their impressive debut Boy
. I think it’s fair to say that the Irish quartet didn’t really follow through on the promise of Boy
until 1983’s War
is generally seen as the least-popular of the 11 studio albums from the band. This is not to say that there aren’t some inspiring and attractive moments here, but it doesn’t hold a candle to their albums of the following decade.
U2 have always - at the very least - made likeable Rock music. Some of their best work is some of the most acclaimed music of modern times. But enough about U2’s other work, why is October
rarely spoken about and widely seen as one of the band’s worst albums? Well it never seems to find its niche. The experimentation is tangible, but the results are varied. Where Boy
was a coherent and fitting debut, October
is all over the shop. There’s no reason why “all over the shop” can’t work though, but on October
there is little fluency. The word ‘filler’ is thrown around a lot, but it really does describe most of this album: ‘Filler’ in the sense that most of the songs are “good”, but far from memorable. Unfortunately for October
, the great moments don’t come often enough and are ultimately overshadowed by too many pedestrian tracks.
Having your second album centred around faith and “God” is pretty ambitious, but then again U2 have always had ambition. It’s been one of their defining characteristics for near-on 30 years. And it’s great to have such ambition. It undeniably helps October
, giving it some vitality and enthusiasm. The problem is that only a few songs really stick out as anything more than average. Songs like I Fall Down
benefit from a typically-U2 hook and use the interplay between instruments effectively, but fail to really set the album alight. To the album’s credit, there are few awkward moments and no unpleasant tracks here. October
doesn’t have any ‘bad’ songs, but the problem is that it is full of these ‘not bad’ songs, rather than ‘great’ songs. There certainly isn’t a “One
”, “Where The Streets Have No Name
” or “Sunday Bloody Sunday
” on here. Gloria
is probably as close as the album comes to offering up a classic U2 track, with it’s sharp guitar lead and pumping drum beat. It draws upon the musical sentiment of Boy
, but the lyrics are all October
. The lead line of “Gloria, In te domine
” - which translates to “Glory to God in the highest
” - is almost a statement about the theme of the album. It’s certainly a strong opener and one of the highlights of the album.
While the negative aspects of October
seem to be so easy to talk about, it is often forgotten that above all else it is still a solid Rock album from an epoch more suited to disco and synthesisers. It underlines U2’s quality - one of their weakest albums is still pretty good. The frustrating thing about October
is that it could have been so much better. Boy
was a great debut and the band had shown it had the ability to pen truly memorable songs, yet October
didn’t fully deliver. The album never ‘falls away’ or anything like that, but looking back over a 30-year career this album doesn’t stand out.
The sedate and brooding Tomorrow
draws on traditional Irish influences in an obvious example of the band’s extended experimentation. The vocal line is at times reminiscent of Ugly Kid Joe
’s Cats In The Cradle
and the sound builds impressively towards the rolling final choruses. This experimental, heavily-instrumental section of the album continues with the piano-driven title-track, October
. While it is refreshing to see the band try something completely foreign to them at that stage of their careers, the track fails to make any significant impact, particularly as it struggles to break past two minutes in length. To emphasise what I mean about most of the album being solid if unspectacular, on iTunes I’ve rated nine of the 11 tracks 3/5. If nothing else it shows that the album is at least consistent, if not brilliant.
has proved to be one of the enduring tracks from the album, still a favourite among fans and occasionally played live - and rightly so. The Edge’s guitar work is as sharp and beguiling as ever with his crisp and lingering chords providing Bono with the perfect platform to wax lyrical about personal and communal suffering and development. The line “I can’t change the world, But I can change the world in me
” is one of the best from the album and essentially sums up the feeling of faith and spirituality seen throughout. The thumping drums and driving bass make this one of the most full-blooded Rock songs in the U2 catalogue. It really drags the album up by its boot laces and caps off a strong first 15 minutes. While Gloria
might lay claims to being the closest thing to a classic U2 track from the album, Rejoice
is the best song on here. Not to mention the guitar intro is as catchy a riff as you'll hear. The fast, powerful Rock feeling of Rejoice
is carried throughout the album making October
one of the most ‘Rock’ albums of U2’s career.
Looking back at the U2 discography, this is probably as an important album as any of the early 80s, if for no other reason than it helped set the framework for their phenomenal success of the immediate years to follow. The band was still trying to find its feet, and while the formula hadn’t been mastered yet back in ’81, October
was an important part of the learning curve for the Irish foursome. While there are several pretty good songs on here, they haven’t managed to form the legacy for this album - as the opening tracks of The Joshua Tree
did for that album. Nonetheless this album is probably rated too harshly as it is often compared with the band’s other work (as I have done throughout this review). But standing alone it is a decent album, and certainly not the failure many others - and 26 years of hindsight - would have you believe.