U2
The Unforgettable Fire


3.0
good

Review

by John Cruz USER (88 Reviews)
May 16th, 2006 | 20 replies


Release Date: 1984 | Tracklist


After spending the first half of the '80's releasing three loud, straight forward, guitar driven, and original albums that found U2 on the brink of wide spread success in America and worldwide superstardom through a lot of hard work and a lot of touring, the question for U2 and it's fans was 'what's next'? Having finally busted down the doors of resistance in the States with the explosive War album (which although successful, was at the time a gold record at the most, with 600,000 copies sold) and with the rock world waiting with bated breath to see just what the next release from this new and interesting band would have in store, The Unforgettable Fire, U2's fourth studio release in five years, would not only take it's fans by surprise but also set a trend for the band that exist to this day.

Ditching producer Steve Lillywhite, whom had been credited with much of the bands success and was closely associated with the groups now trademark sound of big drums, thundering bass, and guitarist Edge's harmonic/echo laden guitar style and delivery, the band would do a 180 degree turn and take up with former Roxy Music impresario and legendary record producer Brian Eno and then Eno protge sound engineer Daniel Lanois for this effort. Known for his work with Roxy Music, the Talking Heads, songwriting collaborations with David Bowie on his 'Berlin Trio" of albums Low, Heroes, and Lodger, respectively, Eno was perhaps best known for his avant garde solo work of ambient/electronic music and is considered a groundbreaking and innovative figure in his chosen field of record production. A self declared "non-musician' and with a decidedly unconventional approach to making records that oft times produced unconventional results, this at the time curious choice for production duties on The Unforgettable Fire would gut the sound of the former U2 and replace it with another that would serve the band well throughout their entire career. But this album, U2's first bold step forward in a long line of taking steps forward, would not be born easily. And it's results are a mixed bag of tricks and treats to be sure.

The album kicks off with the spiritual and uplifting track 'A Sort Of Homecoming' and it's fairly obvious from the start this is a departure in sound, if not style, from the bands three previous Steve Lillywhite produced efforts. Gone are the loud, brash guitars and thundering drums that have kicked off U2 albums previous and in their place are what sound like loosely pieced together soundscapes and sonic noodling. With the drums of Larry Mullen Jr. still leading the way and Bono waxing poetic about the great beyond, this is most certainly U2. But with the guitar of Edge being reduced to an atmospheric drone and the bass of Adam Clayton taking on a dense, bottom layer effect, A Sort Of Homecoming signals a breakaway from the past and takes a step toward the future of this band. Retreating a bit from this opener for the next cut, the socially conscious hit single "Pride (In The Name Of Love)" and the band is up to it's old tricks of ringing guitars and bombastic bass and drums once again, with Bono leading the way in this tribute to American civil rights leader the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. It's a spirited and uplifting track of the sort that would mark the entire career of the band in spirit up until even today. And it's perhaps the last time the "old" U2 would make an appearance on this album that finds the saying 'the more things change, the more they stay the same' true in some cases, and completely irrelevant in others.

After finding there way through the funky and slight 'Wire' that finds Edge's guitar reduced to choppy snippets and atmospheric power chording while the bass of Adam Clayton leads the way for Bono's oblique and vague lyrics, the album reaches it's title track and it is perhaps the last time on this record U2 approach anything that can be remotely considered a full fledged, fully realized song. A lush, soft, and decidedly un-rock like song, 'The Unforgettable Fire' marks a clean break for the band away from there former selves and points them in the direction of their future in no uncertain terms. With the keyboard work of Eno leading the track with the band quietly following, once again atmosphere and restraint takes the place of the hard charging rock band U2 had built a reputation on up to this point. And they would spend the rest of this album dismantling and reconfiguring that reputation with some interesting success and frustrating failures.

Continuing on this path of tearing it all down, the next three "songs' on the album are comprised of curiosities and musical oddities at best, and self indulgent extravagant non-songs at worst. After a strong and confident opening to the album that saw the band stretching it's muscles creatively and musically on a foursome of fresh and consistent tracks, however different for the band, the next part of the album unfortunately finds them buried under a sea of sludge and atmosphere that only the mother of Brian Eno could perhaps love. "Promenade" with it's "improvised at the mic' lyrics and gentle guitar doodling would perhaps be a fairly interesting and docile track to close the first half of the album if it weren't for the fact the completely useless ambient instrumental track '4th Of July" was chosen to open the second half. Nothing more then 2:13 of what sounds to be a band warming up and we are then treated to the six minute epic in the making "Bad". One of U2's better known and most loved songs mostly on the strength of it's live performance, on record Bad simply continues the dreary path this album has suddenly taken and goes nowhere fast. Lyrically interesting and dramatic at it's finish, it nonetheless stumbles and plunders toward it's seemingly never arriving close without ever really going anywhere or reaching the grander of the albums title track. And what was meant to be an already longish six minute centerpiece to this album winds up feeling more like a ten minute snooze fest.

Waking up from this three song slumber for the next track and we once again find the band on energetic ground with the spirited but unremarkable "Indian Summer Sky" and while it doesn't really stand up as anything special and pales in comparison with the opening tracks of the album, it's nonetheless a wake up call for the listener with it's thundering bass lines and soaring vocals provided by bassist Clayton and singer Bono, and gives the hope that after the mundane tracks that came before we are headed for a strong finish. Unfortunately that hope is shot down in flames on the very next cut with the meandering, self indulgent, inexplicable inclusion of "Elvis Presley and America". Almost seven minutes long, this musically inept, lyrically useless, and not even interesting by Eno standards track simply takes matters too far and falls off the end of the record to an early death. Utterly un-listenable and a shambles even in the name of experimentation, this is the sort of musical misstep that should never be put on display for the public to hear and left for the scrap heap. Simply dreadful. Closing the album with the almost acapella prayer "MLK" (once again a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King) and the band leaves this record of odds and ends and atmospheric noodling to the listener alone to determine what it is and what it isn't. Which to this very day for many U2 fans is still a question that is up in the air.

Ultimately, The Unforgettable Fire would play out as a transitional record for this band, and over time would become regarded as the album that had to come before the success the band would enjoy with their next album, the instant classic "The Joshua Tree". It would also serve as a measuring stick of just how far this band could go and give them something to build back on for the future. How important an album is to a band creatively and for growth however is a far cry from what an album actually is. And for as good as some of these tracks are and as important as others are to the band and Eno so far as finding common ground for their future more successful collaborations, taken on it's own terms The Unforgettable Fire is a wildly uneven and frustrating work that finds a band being born and dying all at the same time. Sometimes the better for it and sometimes the worse, it would mark the beginning of a rich and storied history for U2 of boldly reinventing themselves even while remaining fundamentally the same, and almost completely wipe from memory the little band from Ireland that came before. Worldwide dominance was just around the corner, although from this effort you would never guess it. But with 20/20 hindsight now in our favor, it's clear that for richer or for poorer, concerning The Unforgettable Fire, it couldn't of been any other way.



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user ratings (432)
Chart.
3.8
excellent
other reviews of this album
Attention Whore (4)
A truly excellent transition record that shows the band in-between two major phases in their career,...


Comments:Add a Comment 
JohnXDoesn't
May 16th 2006


1282 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Hope you enjoyed the review. Still dotting my i's and crossing my t's, so please bear with me....

The Jungler
May 16th 2006


4827 Comments


Great review JXD, I love all the songs I've heard off this, older U2 is so good.
Diggin' the members also liked section, Van Halen is badical!

tom79
May 16th 2006


3372 Comments


yeah great review. I don't mind some old U2 once in a while. I remembered this higher than a three, but its been a while.

Digging: Business Models - Room

Zebra
Moderator
May 16th 2006


2647 Comments


[quote=tommy]yeah great review. I don't mind some old U2 once in a while. I remembered this higher than a three, but its been a while.[/quote] Took the words right out of my mouth.

JohnXDoesn't
May 16th 2006


1282 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Yeah, had to give this a 3 star rating. Although interesting and at times engaging, it doesn't really reach the status of a "great" album that a higher rating would afford it. And there are also the problems of a couple of failed musical experiments on the album. Certainly a bold and commercially risky step forward for the band, IMO it simply doesn't always connect as a full and satisfying work. Although one of my personal favorites from the band for some vague reason....This Message Edited On 05.16.06

zabbit82
May 16th 2006


62 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Great review JXD. U2 is good every once and a while, and it's been a while since I've heard this album. 4th of July is pretty cool for what it is, and Bad is just sweet. Pretty good album.

pattern_recognition
May 17th 2006


950 Comments


When it's great, it's great, but this is a rather patchy album.

Med57
Moderator
May 17th 2006


1001 Comments


Another good review. I don't like this as much as some other U2 albums (along with most of you, it seems), but it's OK for a listen every now and again.

Iai
Emeritus
May 22nd 2006


3553 Comments


Never heard this, since I've always viewed U2 as a singles band. But still, "Pride" is one of the best songs ever, and their best song not called "One".

Patrick
May 29th 2006


1891 Comments


Definitely at least 3.5 but nice review anyway, except that Bad is not boring at all!!

Two-Headed Boy
July 13th 2006


4527 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I'll take this and War over The Joshua Tree and POP :shudder:

Patrick
July 13th 2006


1891 Comments


how could you like this more than the Joshua Tree????

grungeguy88
February 11th 2007


788 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Great CD. U2 is a great band. They change their sound remarkably well.

JohnXDoesn't
February 11th 2007


1282 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

thanks for commenting on my review, grungeguy. its one i would take back if i could. i wrote it when i first started reviewing more in earnest last May and i'm not sure i did a right job with it. i'm just a better reviewer now. i would have approached the album a little differently and certainly shortened the review length. I don't think i could give it a higher rating, though. i just don't think it reaches a level of "great".This Message Edited On 02.11.07

grungeguy88
February 11th 2007


788 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Its a fine review. Your mediocre reviews are better than most peoples best. It is pretty long though.

FriendofTheDevil70
June 30th 2007


384 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Great stuff here. Seems to be the most underrated U2 album, when some of their best tracks are on this.

analoguecrazy4
September 23rd 2010


13 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I really love this album, for me it is one of U2's finest albums (alongside Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby). I think as a whole the album is outstanding but far less impressive when listened to not in its entirety. Near classic in my opinion.

kangaroopoo
September 23rd 2010


3175 Comments


I loved U2's whole War to Achtung Baby era. This album has great ambience and I enjoyed each song, especially the title track.

Irving
Staff Reviewer
August 6th 2011


7294 Comments

Album Rating: 3.8

I'M ON DOPE I GIVE YOU HOPE

Digging: U2 - Songs of Innocence

sinsexsodomy
April 8th 2013


221 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

wow only a 3, god lol. this is one of their best albums. If any album of their early-mid 80's material
deserves a 3 its October, not this.



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