Achtung Baby (1991)


 
1. Zoo Station 2. Even Better Than The Real Thing 3. One 4. Until the End of the World 5. Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses 6. So Cruel 7. The Fly 8. Mysterious Ways 9. Tryin' To Throw Your Arms Around the World 10.Ultraviolet (Light My Way) 11.Acrobat 12.Love is Blindness




 

If ever there was any doubt in anyone's mind that U2 was simply one of the very best bands of the century, they need not look further than this album. More specifically, how this album came about, and the album that it followed. Although Rattle and Hum was its immediate predecessor, it was The Joshua Tree that was really there last serious effort of a consistent piece. And what a piece. They found themselves on top of the world - demigods if you will. Yet like all artists (and there haven't been that many) that reach this pinnacle, they never really felt comfortable as saviors of the world. Although they firmly believed what they preached, they were, after all, a rock and roll band, and it became a bit too serious of an atmosphere for them to endure.

When they went into the studio to record this album, they really had no idea what they really wanted to do. The initial sessions were hard, frustrating, and members had doubts of the groups future. Well, they started to incorporate European dance music as an influence, and one thing let to another, and they ended up going in a completely different direction by the time the finished product was ready.

This is the beginning of U2s "techno" phase, and whereas this moniker would be less than kind to them in the future, they pulled off arguably their most brilliant album ever. Oh, sure, they had some naysayers that griped about this new style - but some never got over the fact that they changed directions after Boy. Speaking of Boy, you could almost argue that this album is the closest thing they had ever done to that awesome debut. No, it doesn't really sound like it all, but this record, like their first, is abound with energy and, for a time anyway, the seriousness of the group was put on the back burner, and least musically.

This whole album has a free-spirited, danceable tone that simply radiates with pure energy. As the recording sessions progressed, they probably found themselves accidentally charting these unknown waters, yet realizing how great everything sounded, probably just let go of the reins and see where the music would take them. The opening bars of the lead off track Zoo Station is a great indicator of where this record is going - with its fuzzy, crunch guitar riff and equally as pummeling rhythmic, drum beat, it almost makes the listener (and one insider stated that this was the intention) think that their hi-fi was busted. Fortunately, the track is powerful and catchy, and whereas most of the songs are toned down and have somewhat of a variety, the spirit of that track permeates through the whole record. Its not unlike the powerful The Fly, that was wisely chosen to lead off the record.

Of course, this is still U2, so no matter how crazy they get, the music is still craftily done, the instrumentation is brilliant, and Bono is as reverent as ever with his lyrics. Some of the best tracks here seem to be a bit on the heavy side, at least lyrically (witness One and Love is Blindness), yet the pieces are somewhat slowed down as well. Fortunately, though, these songs never lose the energy and tenacity that's always needed when turning good songs great.

This whole shift was amplified when the guys went on tour and managed to turn the show into a wild spectacle of outrageous costumes (who can forget Bono's leather pants and fly sunglasses? A long way from the cowboy hats of the last tour), elaborate video productions (they would actually channel live TV feeds onto the backup screens on the stage), and incredibly expensive light shows and effects. They seemed to be saying that they could be a great band, yet still have fun and make it somewhat of a spectacle. They would perform this new album almost in its entirety (10 of 12 songs were featured on the tour) and their first three albums were ignored completely. Again, this didn't sit well with some die-hards, but the overall production was so incredible, that the majority were pleased. They took rock and roll to an entirely new level - and had an incredible amount of fun in the process.

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