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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Ranking the U2 albums

Hard for me because I think all of them are great so don't get mad if your favourite is not ranked highly or whatever. It doesn't mean it sucks or anything.


Achtung Baby: Spin ranked this album #1 for best albums of the last 25 years over Nevermind and Ok Computer. At the time U2 was washed up, your older sibling's group. Then this drops with it's industrial edge and electronic tendancies and still holds up today. It has perhaps the greatest U2 anthem "One", grooviest single "Mysterious Ways", plus some killer album cuts "Acrobat" and "Ultraviolet".

The Unforgettable Fire: Like with Achtung Baby, U2 were looking for a new sound. Enter Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois who pushed U2 into making the moody ambient record that they had been trying for a while. It is for some the rough blueprint of what they would accomplish with Joshua Tree, but Unforgettable Fire has a more interesting feel and subdued. U2 after dark so to speak.

Boy: What a debut! For a band that could barely play their instruments at the time this album wails like the best punk rock records do, but there is definitely something more than 3 chords and the truth on here. U2 had this innate sense of the lound/quiet dynamic even at this early stage. "Out of Control" is an early highlight with "Twilight" dark and brooding. With all the hits of the following years to choose from, the fact that U2 still make a point of regularly playing stuff off this album is a testament to it's greatness.

How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb: Vertigo was probably the best single they've put out in years and the whole album is finely crafted anthemic rock. Bono is definitely in save the world mode here, and the group proves that U2 isn't ready for the scrap heap yet.


Zooropa: Perhaps the most misunderstood U2 record, and not really pop material. Let's see, we have an almost 7 minute electro funk ode to a lemon, another electronic gospel hymn sung by the late Johnny Cash, and a lead single that doesn't feature Bono but rather the Edge in some weird hypnotic rap. It was so weird that when I first heard it I couldn't believe that it was U2 that had done it. U2 were really free to do as they pleased at the time and took Achtung Baby further and debunked the U2 myth. It seems like each one of the songs do a little bit at tearing down what U2 had done to date and in the end a subdued masterpice is born.

War: U2 really needed to come up big for this record. The first couple albums had done ok but there was crisis along the way. This was a band on the verge of breakup and in the end they were able to channel that energy into their first mainstream success. Many of the songs you know such as "New Years Day" and "Sunday Bloody Sunday" but the album's strength in in the fact that there is very little filler. U2 would follow this with the live at Red Rocks concert video where Bono really steps into his own as a frontman.

The Joshua Tree: It's been called many things but it is still their mainstream high point. Lot's of great songs on here and some that have been played so much you may never want to hear them again. Side A is the hits starting with "Street Have No Name" still U2's finest moment. "Bullet the Blue Sky" may be U2's heaviest number predating something that Rage Against the Machine would do years later. Side B has some nice songs and a few clunkers, not a perfect album, but you can't deny its legacy.

No Line on the Horizon: Their most recent album is a more expiremental affair similar to The Unforgettable Fire. It has great anthemic moments but in the end quiets down and becomes very inward looking. Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois are brought in a full time songwriters on this one and you can hear the results in something like Fez/New Born that had Eno stamped all over it.

For the Fans

Pop: U2 have admitted that they didn't have enough time with this record and went to the trouble of recording a number of the songs for the Best of the 90's compilation. That is the difference with Zooropa. Zooropa was a no pressure exercise in trying to create something...where as Pop had a booked tour waiting for them. Some great moments on this record but it is usually when U2 stray away from the electronic sounds and get back to just creating good songs.

October: Another hasty situation with a religious dynamic brought into the mix. Bono and company where heavily into evangelic christianity at the time which alienated non-christian bassist Adam Clayton and Manager Paul McGuiness. Add to it the old notion that you have all life to write your first record and two weeks for your second and this album falls a little short. Even the good songs are lacking something here. In the end it is U2's least accepted album and virtually hitless.

All That You Can't Leave Behind: A little bit of a mess of a record. I don't know, a lot of people like it I guess. Songs like "Walk On", "Elevation", and "New York" are strong. Heck I even like "Beautiful Day" but songs like "Grace", "Peace on Earth", and "Wild Honey" may be some of the worst songs they have ever done. The skip track quotient is high on this one.

Rattle and Hum: U2 got a little corny with this one, not intending to. It turns out everyone was laughing at them instead of with them because we all know the 80's U2 members never ever laughed. A hodgpodge of live tracks and studio recordings that total over 70 minutes leave a lot for the listener to get into, but not a lot really sticks. Most of the new studio songs are hit and miss, and the live songs have been done better. Two exceptions with the studio songs, the song Heartland which is lovely, and "All I Want is You" that closes the album on a high note. Of the live tracks "Silver and Gold" was a nice live rendering on a Joshua Tree B-side that prolly should have deserved better justice.

Other U2

Under a Blood Red Sky: A strong live mini-album that highlights the early material. Worth Checking out in the special edition pack with the "Live and Red Rocks" DVD.

Passengers: U2 and Eno and several others work together on several ambient instrumentals along with a few interesting songs. The best known track from here is Miss Sarajevo. Other songs are the wonderfully seductive "Your Blue Room" and the interesting Bono rap "Elvis ate America". When this album came out it wasn't advertised as U2 and hence has become their worst selling affiliated album. Definitely not for the average fan, but for the completist it is worth tracking down, though you can probably find a few in second hand record shops.


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