U2 – How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb (2004)

u2-how-to-dismantle-an-atomic-bomb-20041

1 Vertigo
2 Miracle Drug
3 Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own
4 Love and Peace or Else
5 City of Blinding Lights
6 All Because of You
7 A Man and a Woman
8 Crumbs from Your Table
9 One Step Closer
10 Original of the Species
11 Yahweh
download-button1

U2 – All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2000)

u2-all-that-you-cant-leave-behind-2000

Nearly ten years after beginning U2 Mach II with their brilliant seventh album Achtung Baby, U2 ease into their third phase with 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind. The title signifies more than it seems, since the group sifts through its past, working with Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, all in an effort to construct a classicist U2 album. Thankfully, it’s a rock record from a band that absorbed all the elastic experimentation, studio trickery, dance flirtations, and genre bending of Achtung, Zooropa, and Pop, all they’ve shed is the irony. U2 choose not to delve as darkly personal as they did on Achtung or Zooropa, yet they also avoid the alienating archness of Pop, returning to the generous spirit that flowed through their best ’80s records. On that level, All may be reminiscent of The Joshua Tree, but this is a clever and craftsmanlike record, filled with nifty twists in the arrangements, small sonic details, and colors. U2 take subtle risks, such as their best pure pop song ever with “Wild Honey”; they’re so self-confident they effortlessly write their best anthem in years with “Beautiful Day”; they offer the gospel-influenced “Stuck in a Moment,” never once lowering it to the shtick it would have been on Rattle and Hum. Like any work from craftsmen, All That You Can’t Leave Behind winds up being a work of modest pleasures, where the way the verse eases into the chorus means more than the overall message, and this is truly the first U2 album where that sentiment applies, but there is genuine pleasure in their craft, for the band and listener alike.

1 Beautiful Day
2 Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of
3 Elevation
4 Walk On
5 Kite
6 In a Little While
7 Wild Honey
8 Peace on Earth
9 When I Look at the World
10 New York
11 Grace
download-button1

U2 – Achtung Baby (1991)

u2-achtung-baby-1991

Reinventions rarely come as thorough and effective as Achtung Baby, an album that completely changed U2’s sound and style. The crashing, unrecognizable distorted guitars that open “Zoo Station” are a clear signal that U2 have traded their Americana pretensions for postmodern, contemporary European music. Drawing equally from Bowie’s electronic, avant-garde explorations of the late ’70s and the neo-psychedelic sounds of the thriving rave and Madchester club scenes of early-’90s England, Achtung Baby sounds vibrant and endlessly inventive. Unlike their inspirations, U2 rarely experiment with song structures over the course of the album. Instead, they use the thick dance beats, swirling guitars, layers of effects, and found sounds to break traditional songs out of their constraints, revealing the tortured emotional core of their songs with the hyper-loaded arrangements. In such a dense musical setting, it isn’t surprising that U2 have abandoned the political for the personal on Achtung Baby, since the music, even with its inviting rhythms, is more introspective than anthemic. Bono has never been as emotionally naked as he is on Achtung Baby, creating a feverish nightmare of broken hearts and desperate loneliness; unlike other U2 albums, it’s filled with sexual imagery, much of it quite disturbing, and it ends on a disquieting note. Few bands as far into their career as U2 have recorded an album as adventurous or fulfilled their ambitions quite as successfully as they do on Achtung Baby, and the result is arguably their best album.

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 Ultra Violet (Light My Way)
11 Acrobat
12 Love Is Blindness
download-button1

U2 – The Joshua Tree (1987)

u2-the-joshua-tree-1987

Using the textured sonics of The Unforgettable Fire as a basis, U2 expanded those innovations by scaling back the songs to a personal setting and adding a grittier attack for its follow-up, The Joshua Tree. It’s a move that returns them to the sweeping, anthemic rock of War, but if War was an exploding political bomb, The Joshua Tree is a journey through its aftermath, trying to find sense and hope in the desperation. That means that even the anthems, the epic opener “Where the Streets Have No Name,” the yearning “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, have seeds of doubt within their soaring choruses, and those fears take root throughout the album, whether it’s in the mournful sliding acoustic guitars of “Running to Stand Still,” the surging “One Tree Hill,” or the hypnotic elegy “Mothers of the Disappeared.” So it might seem a little ironic that U2 became superstars on the back of such a dark record, but their focus has never been clearer, nor has their music been catchier, than on The Joshua Tree. Unexpectedly, U2 have also tempered their textural post-punk with American influences. Not only are Bono’s lyrics obsessed with America, but country and blues influences are heard throughout the record, and instead of using these as roots, they’re used as ways to add texture to the music. With the uniformly excellent songs, only the clumsy, heavy rock and portentous lyrics of “Bullet the Blue Sky” fall flat, the result is a powerful, uncompromising record that became a hit due to its vision and its melody. Never before have U2’s big messages sounded so direct and personal.

1 Where the Streets Have No Name
2 I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
3 With or Without
4 Bullet the Blue Sky
5 Running to Stand Still
6 Red Hill Mining Town
7 In God’s Country
8 Trip Through Your Wires
9 One Tree Hill
10 Exit
11 Mothers of the Disappeared
download-button1

U2 – The Unforgettable Fire (1984)

u2-the-unforgettable-fire-1984

In many ways, U2 took their fondness for sonic bombast as far as it could go on War, so it isn’t a complete surprise that they chose to explore the intricacies of the Edge’s layered, effects-laden guitar on the follow-up, The Unforgettable Fire. Working with producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, U2 created a dark, near-hallucinatory series of interlocking soundscapes that are occasionally punctuated by recognizable songs and melodies. The wet, shimmering textures of the title track, the charging “A Sort of Homecoming,” and the surging Martin Luther King, Jr. tribute “Pride (In the Name of Love)” are all remarkable, ranking among U2’s very best music.

1 A Sort of Homecoming
2 Pride (In the Name of Love)
3 Wire
4 The Unforgettable Fire
5 Promenade
6 4th of July
7 Bad
8 Indian Summer Sky
9 Elvis Presley and America
10 MLK

download-button1

U2 – War (1983)

u2-war-19831

Opening with the ominous, fiery protest of “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” War immediately announces itself as U2’s most focused and hardest-rocking album to date. Blowing away the fuzzy, sonic indulgences of October with propulsive, martial rhythms and shards of guitar, War bristles with anger, despair, and above all, passion. Previously, Bono’s attempts at messages came across as grandstanding, but his vision becomes remarkably clear on this record, as his anthems (“New Year’s Day,” “40,” “Seconds”) are balanced by effective, surprisingly emotional love songs (“Two Hearts Beat as One”), which are just as desperate and pleading as his protests. He performs the difficult task of making the universal sound personal, and the band helps him out by bringing the songs crashing home with muscular, forceful performances that reveal their varied, expressive textures upon repeated listens.

1 Sunday Bloody Sunday
2 Seconds
3 New Year’s Day
4 Like a Song
5 Drowning Man
6 The Refugee
7 Two Hearts Beat as One
8 Red Light
9 Surrender
10 40
download-button1

U2 – October (1981)

u2-october-1981

U2 sounded so confident and assured on their debut that perhaps it was inevitable they would stumble slightly on its follow-up, October. But when U2 do marry the message, melody, and sound together, as on “Gloria,” “I Threw a Brick Through a Window,” and “I Fall Down,” the results are thoroughly impressive.

1 Gloria
2 I Fall Down
3 I Threw a Brick
4 Rejoice
5 Fire
6 Tomorrow
7 October
8 With a Shout
9 Stranger in a Strange Land
10 Scarlet
11 Is That All?
download-button1