U2 - Boy (1980)
I don't profess to be a U2 aficionado but I'm reviewing U2 anyway. Boy
is the début album from one of the biggest bands of the last twenty years, the 1980 release from iconic Irish Rock band U2. I believe that this is somewhere on that infamous & supercilious Rolling Stone list of the perceived 500 greatest albums of all-time (in fact I believe it is number 417 on that list).
The lead single I Will Follow
gave the quartet its first taste of mainstream success, with its release preceding the album and charting well in the US. It is unashamedly the strongest track on the album providing possibly the vocal highlight. The Edge leaves his mark all over this record and he sets out his stall right from the get go, with his captivating and harmonious blend foremost on the album opener. The enigmatic percussion sounds and the dance-like beat provide the perfect base for Bono's engaging spiel of unwavering devotion, introspection and affirmation. The result is one of U2's best songs from the '80s and perhaps one of the best début-album openings ever. The strong opening is continued through onto the anxious and mysterious Twilight
. Edge's guitar work is again prominent, a style which would be mimicked by a multitude of guitarists in the ensuing era, with The Living End
's Chris Cheney coming to mind. The powerful feeling of Twilight
gives the album some real bite and it is one of the most authoritative tracks on the album - most evident in the commanding post-chorus lick. It is truly a great opening eight minutes.
By the fourth track, the energetic yet tender Out Of Control
let the fans of the day in on a secret: U2 were no one-hit-wonder - they were on to something good. Not quite an epic Rock ballad - the likes of which were to come thick and fast in the following years - this track shows the potential of these new kids on the 1980 block. The Edge's beguiling and sharp guitar hooks coalesce expertly with the solid rhythm section provided by Adam and Larry. At the core of the U2 sound is the “tightness” of the band, showcased skilfully even at such an early stage of their careers. Bono's attractive voice is supported by The Edge's remarkable ability to write complementary riffs (as opposed to pilfering the spotlight when unnecessary). The exuberance of the band - and Bono in particular - is tangible on this track and Bono's charisma is manifest.
It is this undeniable potential that is one of the most alluring elements of this album. The emotive and powerful harmonies of Stories For Boys
highlight the band's undoubted song-writing capacity, while this track shapes for greater things to come. Having said that, this is a stand-out track in its own right. The boyish charm of the captivating vocal lines and the featured bass line make for one of the album highlights in a track reminiscent of Midnight Oil
and even Crowded House
(even though this preceded both*).
At times Boy
suffers from its epoch. It is very "'80s", the cagey, dance/pop remnants of the hangover from disco raising their ugly heads on A Day Without Me
. One better left back in 1980 I feel. A track that would easily fit on War
or a number of later U2 releases, the rolling beat of Another Time, Another Place
shows you why some more cultured music fans are justified when they say “It's all been done before” when they hear the latest Franz Ferdinand
. Like much of the album, this track lacks the cutting edge so unmistakable on much of more recent U2. While a solid song with some intricate guitar work and notable band interaction, it would struggle to find a place on any greatest hits album. That is one of the predicaments of reviewing this album: when compared with later U2 this is clearly no Joshua Tree
, but when taken in context as a début album, it is exemplary. Bono's enthusiasm is palpable and the band's potential is obvious, yet they clearly - and without fault - haven't quite fulfilled it on Boy
. At times this is certainly a messy and confused offering. In sections, some of the best moments of the album, the eight minutes of An Cat Dubh
just drags on too long for its own good. At the other end of the spectrum, the 97 seconds of The Ocean
is a misfit of experimentation and oddity that is, again, better left alone.
The penultimate track - The Electric Co.
- is yet another track which had the potential to be spectacular but failed to live up to its billing. Edge is yet again pre-eminent and the driving instrumental force. I feel that the 'break-down' or bridge of this song takes it in completely the wrong direction. Where it should be building to a powerful and heavy final chorus, it slows the tempo and takes away any feeling, leaving it flat and struggling to recapture the sentiment of the first two minutes. This track - and the album - could have really benefited from an immense and dominant climax but The Electric Co.
never delivers on its promise. The renowned U2/Bono melody which brought the band such success during the '80s and '90s makes a cameo appearance in the confused Shadows And Tall Trees
, but fails to override the chaos which is this disappointingly uninspiring and bland album closer.
Despite having its weak moments and some understandable hiccups, Boy
is an undeniably impressive début. U2 had yet to find their direction - and perhaps niche - in 1980 but that cannot detract from some sparkling moments here. I Will Follow
merited a spot on the first edition of the band's “Best of”, and rightly so. While undoubtedly swamped by many of U2's later works, Boy
was where it all started, and set the wheels in motion. While the band developed and matured following this (to record some of the best music of their generation), Boy
is as solid a base as could be hoped for.
On face value it is an interesting, at times outstanding Rock album. I feel obliged to give this a higher rating because it is U2
, but maintaining some level of objectivity I still give this four. Although the weak moments drag it down, I feel that the exceptional moments far outweigh them and ultimately make for an undeniably successful Rock album.
* Although the 'Oils were around in 1980, their success (and moreover, the songs which remind me of Stories For Boys
) came after Boy