Re:Collection #003: Achtung Baby - U2
Are U2 an eighties band? Or a nineties? I think they may even have formed in the late 70s but certainly success was an eighties thing with early albums Boy and War setting up the much larger scale commercial appeal of The Unforgettable Fire and the perhaps quintessential U2 album The Joshua Tree.
Although I was sort of aware of the band from about 1983 - I remember a lot of talk in school hallways about live album Under a Blood Red Sky - but I'd only become a fan around the time of The Unforgettable Fire and lead single Pride (in the name of love) and worked backwards from there. But by the time The Joshua Tree something about the band was leaving me cold.
I was certainly not alone. Even as the album was racking up huge sales across the world and the band were becoming huge in America they were also being described by some critics as "pretentious, misguided and bombastic" with accompanying accusations of grandiosity and self-righteousness. Yeah; that's what I thought too. Follow up Rattle and Hum had also left me cold despite enjoying some of the more rootsy elements of the latter; Angel of Harlem particularly, apparently written as a homage to Billie Holliday - I didn't know that until today.
So by the late eighties and early nineties U2 were an act I used to like but didn't anymore. So I thought.
But then along came The Fly - first single from the new album Achtung Baby. Not just a surprise in how different it was from what had come before but also gave us all final respite from the record breaking No1 chart run of Everything I Do I Do It For You by Brian Adams.
Once again, it's an album that represents a period just I made the move to London I can remember clearly listening to The Fly on Radio 1 in the kitchen in my flat in Edinburgh, in particular Simon Mayo's breakfast show that was also responsible for a resurgence of popularity for the Monty Python song Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. I think Eric Idle even recorded new lyrics for a version that mentions him by name.
Other tracks released as singles didn't quite hit the heights of No1 although in the main they are probably better remembered over the long term. Even Better Than The Real Thing even had a Paul OakenFold dance remix; an idea which struck me at the time as being a bit ridiculous, but listening back to it now it does work pretty well. Amazingly, One only reached no7 in the uk chart - maybe making you wonder what the other 6 were? OK here they are...
It is a splendid song but my personal U2 favourites are Sometimes You Can't Make it on Your Own (from How To Dismantle a Nuclear Bomb), The Unforgettable Fire (from the album of the same name), and Hold me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me from Batman Forever - possibly one of the few good things about that movie!
"And I know it aches
And your heart it breaks
And you can only take so much"
But my absolute favourite is Walk On from the album All That You Can't Leave Behind, which is another great example of their ability to mix touching with epic. Shame they seem to have lost their edge (!) lately. And at least one member sets himself up for parody on a regular basis.