Yesterday I listened to the first decade of U2″s career. From Boy to Rattle and Hum, I covered it all. There was eight in all, from their studio records to the live EP’s of Wide Awake in America and Live Under a Blood Red Sky.
Early U2 is really their best, most consistent material. I am not one of those U2 fans that say “their best CD was Joshua Tree or “their new stuff is terrible”, I enjoy everything they put out and realize that each release has a place in musical history.
Achtung Baby is near the top for favorite records of all time, and their recent releases have made me fall in love with them all over again; but the 1980″s was their decade.
I haven’t listened to U2 chronologically in a long time and it offered an interesting perspective. The opening trio of Boy–October–War is unstoppable. I always forget how good those albums really are; I have favorites on them all and after each listen I remember a few more gems. If you want a taste of U2 in their young rebellious years, any of those three albums will suit your fancy.
Unfortunately I find there is a dark spot in their decade of perfection. In 1984 they went to Slane Castle in Ireland to record Unforgettable Fire, a very layered, reverse and different record. It just doesn’t do it for me.
This sort of “stop the car, do a 180 and drive in the opposite direction” thing is something U2 has been known to do often and to much success. Think of Zooropa as their 90″s equivalent to Unforgettable Fire or even Achtung Baby to Joshua Tree, which has been described as the sound of the band tearing down the Joshua Tree.
After such a brilliant start to the decade this is where their pace slows, but only for a moment. Although it is difficult to dislike a record when it has several epics such as A Sort of Homecoming, Pride and their best off the record: Bad.
The next major release raised the bar of music everywhere. The record is nearly half singles, which is a testament to the quality on there, but a b-side won my heart. Everyone loves Joshua Tree, but for me, Exit (the second last track) is U2 in their finest form from 1987.
The song has a slow vocal build, then leading to a frantic climax from The Edge and company. From there it returns to calm, focusing on the lyrics and a slow pulse given by Adam Clayton. Shortly after it builds to another blast of volume and intensity. For me, that is where the CD ends. I know, there is one more song after it, and it’s a great one too (Mothers of the Disappeared), but after I listen to Exit a few times I am spent and am done with the record.
Their last release in the decade was followed by one of my favorite U2 tours because it focused heavily on playing songs from Rattle and Hum. Being the ripe age of seven I never got to experience the Lovetown tour, but from what I have seen it was great. This was a release that was meant to be hated by the public and has a unique feel to it (like examining yourself in a mirror) where old songs are played live and new songs took shape. This was a band looking ahead while still playing with the past.
I have a lot of favorites on this release, but it ends on one of the best songs U2 has ever done: All I Want Is You. I could do a whole post dedicated to this song, but I will save you all by simply saying that this is one of the few songs to put me into tears from happiness and sadness. A song that contains this sort of emotional power deserves to end a musical decade that belonged to a few guys from the north side of Dublin.