Review Summary: I'm ready for what's next
"I'm ready for what's next," crows Bono on Achtung Baby's opener 'Zoo Station.' And, despite the level of irony that U2 have adopted in their new phase, he means it. After the misguided arrogance of 'Rattle and Hum' and whethering a near break-up in between, U2 had found what they were looking for.
The political seriousness and false gospel-blues had been left behind. Instead of rising above the lavish rock star life, U2 were now diving into it with enthusiasm, and it shows on the German club beats of 'Zoo Station', 'Even Better Than The Real Thing', 'The Fly' and 'Mysterious Ways.' However, Achtung Baby isn't just about a mask of childish viva: the mask comes off and the open hearted honesty of 'Ultra Violet (Light My Way)' and 'Acrobat', as well as the dark break up ballads 'Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses' and 'So Cruel', give us an insight into personal emotion and vulnerability that U2 hadn't shown up to this point. And, of course, there is one of U2's greatest ever works: 'One'. A musical masterpiece of pain, strength and humanity, the "carry each other" chorus line of 'One' isn't merely about a relationship or Bono's father, it's also the way that U2 have managed to stay together for so long.
There are still elements of the old U2 in here: the sore-head-sway of 'Tryin' To Throw Your Arms Around The World' is, lyrically at least, very similar to their early works: wisdom and support imparted to someone trying to get on with life. The anthem of faith 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For' has been replaced by the anthem of belief 'Ultra Violet'. What is new in this regard is the bitterness: That line on 'So Cruel' "I'm only hanging on/To watch you go down", or "You're an accident/Waiting to happen" on 'Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses', or "Don't let the bastards drag you down" on 'Acrobat', is shockingly harsh in comparison to the sympathetic U2 who said "I'm wide awake/I'm not sleeping" on 'Bad' a few short years ago. The hopeless desperation of 'Love Is Blindness' is an insecurity that we didn't know existed in the infamously self-confident lead singer.
What defines Achtung Baby as U2's fourth great album is that they were album to so hugely, and successfully, change their sound and message. They had taken a walk through hell, looked for a long time at their own reflections and then put in the hard yards to make a fresh start. And damn....it has paid off very nicely with 'Achtung Baby', a wonderfully constructed, poetically honest, artistically dark album.