Monday, April 23, 2012

U is for U2

A lot of people tend to be dismissive about U2. Perhaps it's because the band became too successful to be cutting edge or because they have been around for so long.

But it's impossible to leave out these mega stars from Dublin from the musical odyssey of the last three decades even if they have been through a bewildering number of changes in styles.

The band's first album was Boy in 1981 and it wasn't a bad debut. It spawned the single I Will Follow that gave U2 their first hit in the United States.




The video is notable for not very much apart from The Edge's attempt to look like a somewhat unpretty version of a member of Duran Duran and lead singer Bono's leather trousers.


U2's next album October has a rough and ready style and a spiritual theme. About this time The Edge and Bono almost left the band due to a spiritual crisis.  Bono, The Edge, and Larry Mullen had joined a Christian group in Dublin called the "Shalom Fellowship", which led them to question the relationship between the Christian faith and the rock and roll lifestyle.

Tomorrow remains my favorite track from this album. It's a haunting song that encapsulates all of the sad uncertainty of Ulster for me, although I still don't know if it was about Northern Ireland at all.





War followed in 1983, a powerful album that made peace a crusade. U2 certainly knew how to churn out albums. It was around this time that everybody seemed to wake up to U2 as a force. The album included two mega hits - Sunday Bloody Sunday, describing the British massacre of Catholics in Derry's Bogside and New Year's Day. I can't find the official video so this is something to do with the Battle of the Bulge.




Then in 1984 U2 abruptly changed course in a move that left many of my high school friends shaking their heads in disbelief. Under the influence of producer Brian Eno, The Unforgettable Fire was dreamy and ambient. It's biggest hit was Pride, devoted to MLK. It's title track was more intriguing.




The 1986 album The Joshua Tree marked another change in style, as the influence of artists such as Bob Dylan and the wide open spaces of America were brought to bear. Bono travelled to places such as El Salvador to see first hand how a ruthless US backed regime was treating the population in a dirty little war. Yet while the track Bullet the Blue Sky is a scathing attack on America The Joshua Tree also illustrates U2's fascination with its wide open spaces. Red Hill Mining Town is one of the most underrated tracks.




The Joshua Tree was a hard act to follow. The live album Rattle and Hum had mixed reviews. In 1991 U2 turned in a different direction to Germany where the Berlin Wall had recently come crashing down. They embraced a European industrial sound in Achtung Baby which contained hits such as One and The Fly.

So Cruel is one of the album's more obscure tracks but one of the most powerful, in its own way. Apologies for the Spanish subtitles but I liked this footage of intense looking folks wearing woolly hats.




And then after the highs of Achtung Baby and The Joshua Tree, U2 seemed to lose some of their direction and became more pop-like as Bono became increasingly sanctimonious (that may have happened earlier actually).

After a couple of disappointing albums U2 appeared to be close to their best with All That You Can't Leave Behind, a 2000 album that featured the single Beautiful Day. There's not been a lot worth a mention since.
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Rolling Stone ranked U2 at number 22 in its list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time.

Curious fact about U2 - The Band was originally called Feedback and then The Hype. The band decided on U2 because it was the least objectionable of a the names on a shortlist.













14 comments:

  1. Paul just gets better and better with age. ♥ him!!!

    I've loved them since "Boy" and "War"

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  2. I continue to have a love/hate relationship w/ U2. I love the first album, "Boy" and mine is a first pressing with a teeny tiny clip of some song at the very end of "Shadows & Tall Trees" on Side 2. That didn't appear on further pressings. I do love the songs "Unforgettable Fire" and "she moves in mysterious ways". But overall, it's Bono's whining vocals that put me on 'edge' (get it? lol). My ex-h loved 'with or without you' and I used to like to warble an exaggerated whining vocal just to annoy him.

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  3. I love U2, although I agree that their recent work hasn't been much to write home about. Achtung Baby is my favorite of their albums.

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  4. This was totally hilarious. There was something in nearly every paragraph that really captures my nostalgia.

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  5. Great post David. I agree about their more recent stuff being just...eh...but I still love, love, love them. You're probably wondering how I really feel about them huh? ;)

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  6. Are we up to U already? Sheesh, where have I been? I like U2, I don't care if they rose to fame too quickly. Love The Joshua Tree. And even though I can't see the videos I know you've attached (I don't know if it's this new Blogger interface or what??) I can hear all the songs in my mind.

    Well done!

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  7. They have been through a lot of changes, but then maybe that's part of their success. Great post!

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  8. thx Scots Lass..ha. That is funny Jo Jo - I know what you mean re Bono's voice; I was a fan of Shadows and Tall Trees. Thx Julie would agree re Achtung Baby

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  9. Always try to keep you amused Olga - so tell me how you feel about them Tracy? Yup U already Jayne - yikes hope that's not a general problem re the vids.

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  10. Oh but their tribute to the victims of 9/11, Superbowl halftime show in 2002? They have my utmost respect for that one performance alone. Nice choice for a "U" post, David.

    xoRobyn

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  11. thanx Robyn - hmm - I'm not up with the Super Bowl much but am sure it was powerful.

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  12. The Joshua tree was the first album that made me aware of U2. I have enjoyed their music on and off, many favourites, some never listen to again.

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  13. I prefer U2's earlier albums, although Beautiful Day got its hooks in me somehow. I would absolutely rate them among the top 25 bands of all time, and although changes of direction can be jarring, I have to applaud them for sheer scope of material.

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