George Starostin's Reviews



Become a Certified Commentator today by following this link!

!!Before adding new comments, please check the GUIDELINES. Don't say I didn't warn you!!


No reader comments yet.


Rich Bunnell <> (25.01.2001)

This is very different from later U2 - so different, in fact, that it bored the living crap out of me the first couple of times I listened to it. I've grown out of that stage, mainly because Steve Lillywhite is the coolest producer ever. He surrounds the album with an echoey, huge vibe with the drums way up front, and it makes the songs kick a lot more ass than they would on their own. "Out Of Control," "Stories For Boys," "The Electric Co" - kind of generic melody-wise, but produced like they are, they sparkle. Then there are "I Will Follow" and "A Day Without Me," which would be perfect songs in any given setting. The band is technically perfect, delivering a hard edge to Bono's vocal stylings that would be absent on future U2 recordings, and overall the album is very consistent and listenable. One exception: I still think "An Cat Dubh" is really boring despite the fact that it's always considered the best song on the album by fans because it has the artsiest title. On the whole, however, it's a high 8/10.

Bryan Boyd Jackson Jr. <> (25.01.2001)

I love this album. U2 has never been one of my favorite bands, but there is something about this debut album that really stands apart compared to the other U2 albums. At any rate, this is still my favorite album U2 did. I would probably give it a 14. Yeah, diversity is the biggest flaw with U2, but apparently many people liked that direction in this band. Anyway, this is one of the few U2 albums I can listen to in one sitting. This one, October and Achtung Baby are probably the bands best works, but that's just my opinions. Rock on, baby!

<> (25.01.2002)

their best one, of course, but nevertheless already kind of embarrassing. i was glad to get rid of my u2 records after their release of the unforgettable fire.

Bob Josef <> (28.02.2002)

A year and a great producer can make all the difference for a band. Two of the songs here, "Out of Control" and "Stories for Boys," first appeared on the band's very first Irish release, the EP U2:3,in 1979. Those original versions were pretty poor -- the tempos were quite rushed, the playing thin and barely competent, and Bono's voice sounded like he had just barely gotten out of puberty.

But it's clear since them, the guys had done a lot of rehearsing, and Lillywhite gave them that massive, echoey, multitracked guitar sound needed to get the songs across -- the hooks are great, but not enough in themselves. And Bono's vocals are more aggressive and perfectly mixed. Despite the band's incredible egotism (after the album's release Bono declared that they were already "destined to become one of the great groups"), it's hard to argue with the music here -- it just grabs your attention and doesn't let go.

On the B-side of the "I Will Follow" single, there's a live version of the third U2:3 track, "Boy/Girl," recorded at the Marquee in London. This proved that the band was already an exciting live act, even if the song is rather minor. Still, its post-adolescent theme could have fit in well with the general concept of Boy if they had chosen to redo it.

Tagbo Munonyedi <> (22.07.2006)

It's strange that U2 passed me by until 1987; crazy as it seems, it wasn't 'til I'd been a christian for a couple of years that I bothered to check them out. Initially, when I'd let God turn my existence over-under-sideways-down, I was unclear what music I should be listening to or if I should at all. I didn't listen to anything for a whole year while I unlearned and relearned and slowly but ever more surely, I got solidly back into listening and playing. While I wouldn't want anyone to go through my particular path {coz ultimately, I conclude that I didn't have to-mind you, hindsight is a wonderful thing} it was, in the end, beneficial for me because I came out of it with a doubly renewed vigour and a love and appreciation of music that surpassed where I had been before - I saw things in works that I had not previously seen and I was able to get into piles of new stuff of different genres on different levels. Prior to '85 I wasn't remotely aware that there were Christians in the fascinating world of popular music {and in that I count every genre} other than Cliff Richard who was treated as a bit of a joke. I knew loads of soulsters had churchy backgrounds {one of rock's great cliches is that all Black American singers came out of the church; mind you, truckloads did} and in the West Indies many of the reggae artists had had similar upbringings, but there was no overtly Christian stuff about. But being an avid reader and researcher, I came across bit by bit artists who either were followers of Christ or had been through pretty major Christian phases at some point during their careers. It was during my initial resurgence that I came across U2 and their album, BOY. Funnilly enough, I remembered seeing them on TV back in '81. I was living in a house populated with a load of students who were either smashed on booze, drugs or the destruction of anyone that opposed Britain and it was the first time I'd lived alone. We had a common room with a colour telly and I spent alot of time in there when I first moved there coz I'd always wanted to watch TV in colour. One good thing about the diversity of that house was that you were forced to watch alot of stuff that you wouldn't ordinarilly have watched. And one night there was this recording of a gig on and it was this Irish band and all I can remember about them was that they sounded very punky, which I really wasn't into at the time, and the singer just jumped up and down like a pogo stick. I certainly didn't listen to them with both ears...........that was U2. I didn't really have any interest in pursuing them coz I just wrote them off as a punk band. Years later when I heard some of them were Christians, I was sort of intrigued. I couldn't've been that intrigued though because I remember asking a mate of mine who did like them alot of questions about their music before I'd commit and even when I went down to Tower records to buy the album, I had butterflies in my stomach, I was short on cash and I had this awful feeling that I was wasting my money...... Nineteen years later, I can happilly report that it was one of my better purchases and it's yet another lesson in my life not to judge a book by it's cover or a band/artist by the reputation that others have bestowed on them.....or even myself writing them off on the basis of a half listened to gig while I impatienly waited for what I really wanted to watch. Because this is one great debut by a band that even today still knocks out great, listenable songs from time to time. I discovered some great and totally unheard of obscure Christian bands from the late 60s and early to mid 70s {most Christians I know have never heard of most of them !} and there is a great variety in the writing of the artists, some being upfront about their faith {a la Dylan}, others being more oblique {like Townsend is in TOMMY}. Now, I listen to stuff of all shades and opinions, some of which I don't agree with at all {lyrically}; it's natural that I should be interested in the works of some people that share some of my stances on life. But U2 were slightly different because they were immersed in the language and moves of rock and for them the message, if there was one, was secondary to the creation of a damn good song. What I patricularly liked about them, particularly on BOY is that they appealed to the lover of Christ in me, they appealed to the lover of rock in me, they appealed to the chronicler of chilhood in me, they appealed to the interior man in me, they appealed to the spiritual side in me, they appealed, man ! They touched off quite a few buttons with their great, simple sounds and clever and witty insider references.

Punk was never my main tipple but I do like a number of bands that were punk influenced, punk flavoured or were identified with it {MC5, the Police, the Stranglers, Sex Pistols} and without a doubt, U2 were flavoured with a punky sauce. But they were also beyond that genre both musically and in the themes they pursued lyrically. Because right from the start they brought a keen and edgy spiritual dimension to the table. It was to go through ups and downs, regress and mature, but it was there and as the Edge put it, they did it backwards. Instead of establishing themselves and then asking the questions of life they were immersed in spiritual matters from the get-go.......and had the fun later. They lived out their faith, life, mistakes and progressions as they went along and very much publically. Punk, for me, was pretty much doomed from the start and once England had gotten over the initial 'shock-horror' tabloid inspired outrage {I mean, lets be honest, what was different about the antics of any punk band one cares to name that wasn't the Stones/Who/Move/Pretty Things etc retrod and how many of those band members went on to become exactly the very things they made their names being critical of ?}, much of what initially made them seem so fearful was exposed for what it really was and the very establishment that they railed against {interestingly, both political and musical-the angst was often interchangeable} simply defused and subsumed all things punky and that, as they say, was that. But there was one crucial thing that punk did that has lasted to this very day and thankfully so; the notion that you didn't need to be a virtuoso playing £2000 guitars/drums/keyboards or whatever, to make music. If there was one justifiable criticism of the way much popular music had gone, it was that. And consequently, the reality of many of the themes that the 60s and early 70s had brought to the fore about life had been tragically diluted. U2 combined the anger and fire of early punk with the questing nature of many of the artists of a bygone time. It would become clearer as the years went on but BOY was where it began. Bono reckons that he let the band down by making up lyrics on the spot, often just before he recorded them and that he couldn't write down the ideas that were in his head but in retrospect, I see this as a strength of some of their early work. It meant that you got raw and jumbled thoughts and there's a sense in which U2 did not write songs as such.....they wrote feelings. This is, after all, the music of teenagers. STORIES FOR BOYS so chimes with me, the notion of escaping into heroes, be it of comics or film. I'm sure that most of us with an imagination can identify with that one. Their manager thought it was about wanking and many gay guys thought it was about homosexual sexual awakening. It's beautifully driven, dynamic and punkilly abrasive, in a way that anyone could play and yet is so U2....THE OCEAN is actually rather short and atmospheric, or at least, the U2 guitar, bass, drum version of atmospheric. It kind of established that here was a band that was not going to be a one trick pony, but if it was, it was going to be a good one. It's almost relaxed and in the run out, I love the water sound effects, it sounds like the sound of water when a kettle boils ! There are not that many songs where I like every line, I tend to like specific lines and A DAY WITHOUT ME starts with a classic - "I started a landslide in my ego". I also like the fact that the Edge bought a cheap little echo unit for his guitar and it ended up being fundamental to his sound. His reliance on those echoed runs never wears thin for me and this track is full of it, so much so that it is almost unnoticeable until you really listen out for them. The song itself is both arrogant and fearfully questing; on one level, Bono is asking how could there be a day without him, he matters ! On the other hand, he's also asking if he does matter and what difference would it ultimately make in the day if he were not there. I think this was inspired by the attempted suicide of someone he knew and it really got him thinking deeply about his life. That incident also inspired THE ELECTRIC CO. coz the suicidee in question had apparently tried to top himself with a chainsaw and ended up in a mental hospital, where part of the treatment {if you could call it that !} was electric shock therapy. That the band were young men with a highly developed sense of rage at injustice is shown in the way this song is played. It's so angry that they can hardly play, let alone with anything approaching finesse. It's like just thinking about what was happening to people made them have to do something with their hands......and when they do go through a calm bit, it's more restrained rage than calm before they have to explode again. The ending of the song is the musical equivalent of the Who smashing up their instruments on stage IMO. U2, while being able to express and articulate anger and pissed off-ness with just as much, if not more, vibrancy than their forebears in punk, showed that unlike them, they weren't just all sounds and fury. Although it has been suggested that ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER PLACE was really about Dublin teenage boys trying to find privacy with their girlfriends so that they could have sex {and on one level, that may well be true}, I've always seen this in far more transcendent mode. It's very reminiscent of those biblical psalms in which the writer, during his communes with God, is moreorless transported off to somewhere else, a bit like certain drug experiences. That it's played so muscularly with a slamming beat from Larry Mullen, doesn't take away from that trippy feel that the lyrics have. The Edge isn't renowned for supreme lead work, but I think he's a great guitarist coz he put his limited assets to great use and developed a highly unique sound. And he can solo with the best of them when he feels it's appropriate to the song, as is the case here. This, early on in the recorded legacy of the band, is a firecracker of a solo and it builds up so nicely, it's like a tune in it's own right, it's so independently hummable ! And there is this great little shaker that comes in, Jagger-esque, as the tune is running out, priceless ! One of the band's major life question songs segues in from the aforementioned ELECTRIC CO, the deep SHADOWS AND TALL TREES. The title is from 'Lord of the flies' and the poetry is good. The lines about Mrs Brown's washing brings to mind Bono's statement about U2 having their heads in the clouds while their feet were in the gutter and their usage of ordinary imagery along with the more spiritual themes ensured that they were never so heavenly minded that they were no earthly good. There's a really weird bit in towards the end of the song where the tape seems to speed up and change key, like the Rolling Stones' JUMPING JACK FLASH. Whether deliberate, I do not know, but it adds to the general ambience. The opening five songs are equally diverse and heart rending {as opposed to mind blowing}. I WILL FOLLOW is a song that works on a few levels, like much of the band's early output. I think the death of Bono's mum when he was a teenager had a major effect on him; in a Lennonesque way it was the propelling hand that shoved his art on but unlike the Lennons and Lemmys of rock, he found something bigger in God.....and rather than it just being a phase, he ran with and stuck with it. This startling opener seems to merge both these twin themes in Bono, some lines about one, some about the other, some about both. You could read the whole song as one of yearning for the love of mum or about surrender to God and Bono reckoned that songs like this that pull in two directions at once have a different kind of power. Musically it's minimalism of the highest order, at once introducing that cohesive wall of electricity that could pierce or repel. Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen set up that simplistic but vital foundation on which the two more exalted members did their thing. There have been and will continue to be zillions of better bassists and drummers than these two, but their presence is and has always been crucial to U2's music and also explains their longevity. They were a band in the truest sense, a band of friends. The Edge would not have developed in such a unique way were it not for these two. They are the filling that makes his meat {and at other times the bread that makes his filling} a sandwich. Just check out the way first Clayton, then Mullen give true shape to the guitar figure the Edge sets up at the start of TWILIGHT and the way they play anchor as Edge skates all over the place with his rhythmic stabs and during his minimalist solo. That is U2. This was another song that many gay fellas interpreted as being about and for their situation. Bono does admit to some lines being in there about being 'approached' by an older man. He says he never had gay experiences but he knew alot of people that were struggling with their own feelings and sexual bent. Very perceptive.....AN CAT DUBH is probably the coolest track on the album {I used to work with an Irish friend of mine and she always used to laugh at my attempts to pronounce the 'dubh'- apparently it's pronounced like dove- but coming from where I did and having my name it was important for me to pronounce words as people understood them. As a sidetrack, being a Dubliner, she told me years before Adam was busted that he was involved in 'drugs'}. Cool in it's fantastic musical expression. It's about the time Bono split up with his girlfriend {they later married} and so he just went off with someone else and had a brief fling. The woman is portrayed as the predatory cat though the writer says it should be him. It's quite musically sophisticated and this sophistication carries through into the next song, INTO THE HEART. The song is lyrically minute, yet speaks oceans and galaxies-"Into the heart of a child/Iwill go there/I will stay awhile". It needs no interpretation. It ends kind of abruptly, segueing into the most violent track on the album, OUT OF CONTROL. Given the incendiary nature of the music, you'd be forgiven in thinking it's about being out of control of oneself {for years I did} but it's more about the teenage realization that once one becomes an adult, far from being in control of one's own life and destiny, there is a sense in which things are even more out of your direct control {with particular reference to birth and - more significantly - death} which is galling when you've waited so long for independence and autonomy ! The frustration is brilliantly conveyed musically and the very end sounds like it was tacked on from a different take coz the sound and the levels change dramatically.

I think this is one of the best debut albums I've heard. It's a vision of what punk could have been, retaining the anger and fire but allying it to vision, honest questing and integrity and damn good musicality. It's not mature but it's better evidence that young people really did have something valuable and worthwhile to contribute. I think that on BOY, U2 were conscious of the fact that young people grow into older ones.......


Bob Josef <> (12.04.2002)

A little less focused than the first or third albums, but only because someone stole Bono's book of lyrics and he had to rewrite them at the last minute. The Edge's tinkling piano adds a little bit more variety to the arrangements (I don't think there are synths anywhere yet, though). The emotional power of Bono's vocals overcomes the vagueness of some of the lyrics once again. I do have a gripe with the title track, which sounds unfinished, but otherwise it's a strong record. "Gloria" was the first U2 track to make significant headway in the US, because of the colorful video getting heavy rotation on early MTV. Bu the song deserved it, because it is one of the group's powerhouse singles. The other favorite for me is one song you don't mention, "I Fall Down," in which Bono manages to pull off a rare trick -- expressing emotional vulnerability and insecurity in the context of a hard rocking song. A lot better and more real than the stupid 80's hair bands that were also beginning to rise at this time.

Adam Kavulic <> (12.01.2006)

I think it's because of the lack of respect October has received that it's my #1 U2 album. When I want someone to look beyond the media Bono of today I reach for October. All you can say is it's classic U2, without the recognition. Hell, there's only one other review,as of now, about this album. I've read so much about U2 messing up on their sophomore attempt and of War saving them from the chopping block that it makes me sick. I could see if on October they did nothing but jazz standards mixed with echo-y banjo work from the Edge, that people don't like the album. And if that were the case, I would praise War for not being jazzabilly.

But come on people, October is Boy and Boy October! If you love one how can you say they missed the boat on the other?! Unless you are partial like me and only love it because no one else does. I am not the type of person though to hate a band if they go "mainstream" or feel respect because I knew a band before everyone else did. That's just silly. I am giving honor to where honor is due. "With a Shout", "Gloria", and "Fire" is classic U2 schtuff! But the title track, "October", it came out of U2's left field. If The Beatles wrote a Pink Floyd song (Revolution #9 :^\) or if Britney Spears did a Rolling Stones cover (Satisfaction :^\) this is how out of place this song is. But it works, oh how it works. The listener is dulled into these short lyrics, seeming to describe an Elvish castle in the fall, and piano notes bring tears to the eyes. Just as it anticlimaxes, "With a Shout" kicks in, blowing away your sleepiness. It's like coffee in the morning after a two year slumber. A blast from Bono belting, "Where do we go from here?!" is enough to ice my blood.

Just enjoy this album because it should be enjoyed not shunned like a forgotten son. Take the good with the bad. In this case, the good with the good.

Tagbo Munonyedi <> (17.03.2006)

The blessing and the curse of the double edged { no pun intended } sword. The burden of the valley of vision.

Of the U2 albums I have, this one is the one that just doesn't do it for me. I've been listening to it since '88 and it's always had a big hole in it, somewhere, somehow......which is highly ironic since much of the intention in the songs was to show that the God shaped hole in the human psyche could be filled and was a productive thing in a godless time. It's the poorest of the U2 albums I have, but there was some serious turmoil going on within and with the band at the time.

After the brilliance of the debut, this, for me,is one of the most dissapointing follow ups I've ever heard. Something I've noticed in my time as a Christian is the vast number of weak albums that well known artists have put out once they have become Christians. Obviously this isn't always the case { I think Dylan, Arlo Guthrie and Barry McGuire, for example, did some good stuff } and those that were already Christians or not big players in the rock / pop world put out some superb albums but so many went downhill. This used to both annoy and baffle me coz my thinking was and still is that if you have an encounter with and a relationship with God { or if you believe you do }, the music you'd make would have a major edge { no pun intended } or should have, especially if it was on the cutting edge { no pun intended } already. But I do understand why so many play it safe and bland. Believe me, life so changes that everything has to be re- evaluated and they were unclear whether, with 3 of the band as believers, they should be in the world of rock'n'roll { it may sound stupid to some, but I can totally identify with it, having wrestled with it myself for a number of years - and that only from a listening point of view } and this was causing ructions with Adam the bass man, who felt that the Christian group that the other three were part of was tearing the group apart. So there were serious tensions - the Edge actually left, Bono was about to do likewise and Edge asked for 2 weeks grace to decide whether he would return. But such tensions have often produced great recordings by bands, scores of whom have almost benefitted from the tension { think, the white album & abbey road, to name but two }. This was not the case here with U2.

Most of the songs IMO are seriously lacking, lacking in ideas, more than anything. Much as I love melody, I can live without it when there's other aspects to keep the interest but that rarely happens here. That Bono had to improvise alot of the lyrics { the originals were nicked } isn't an impediment coz he sang from the heart. Unfortunately, much of the impact of the words is submerged by the mono - dimensional music. And I'm not just saying that from a Christian bias, he could have been singing about printers or London buses or turnips for all I care because for me, it's not any particular subject matter that gets me grooving. But here much of time, interesting concepts and expressions are reduced to the level of gun talk from a water pistol.......

IS THAT ALL ? kind of sums it up really, both in title and song, a boring, unmemorable noise for the most part. OCTOBER is symptomatic of alot of the tracks here, a promising start, one verse , then it just ends ! In later years, they would've developed this into something eternally memorable. I don't find that the addition of the piano adds much on this LP, which is unusual coz a keyboard into the guitar / bass / drums line up usually makes for something worthwhile. In WITH A SHOUT, a not bad chorus desperately tries to lift a tune that sounds like an uninspired jam that has left itself nowhere to go. REJOICE....I almost do when it ends, I guess this is kind of tuneful punk by punk standards but that ain't saying much, it's still half formed and monotonous. I THREW A BRICK THROUGH A WINDOW starts off really promisingly with some great primitive drums and a stinging guitar and moves into a fascinating lyric that is at once universal and specific. It seems to be dealing with some serious anger and the hatred of being limited and also the honest recognition of the need for inner change. But the music doesn't really develop beyond mediocre and so much of the lyric's power is lost. FIRE once again shows promise with some neat guitar to " fire " things along but it ends kind of abruptly. The band seemed to have immense problems throughout the album in building songs and sustaining interest, I FALL DOWN being yet another victim of this. Some songs do show a little more than average promise though, SCARLET being one. Mind you, the idea is better than the song....It's the kind of piece that would work well in a live church setting where time and space is given to relax and drink in the love and presence of the almighty while stretching out and sensitively improvising instrumentally; whether it lends itself to repeated listenings I'm not so sure. The opener GLORIA is simply sustained by a fantastic riff, far and away the best on the album. The song itself doesn't really stand up and even the triumphant monk like outro is a bit of an effort but fortunately the energy level is sufficiently high for it to matter less than on other numbers. The dual subject matter of seeing a woman in the spiritual sense and God in the sexual sense is deep and ambitious but it's not well brought out at all so much of Bono's cleverness is missed and that's his fault, not the listener's. Inspired by a meeting at a checkpoint with a border guard, STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND like a number of songs here and by U2 over the course of their career carries massive biblical resonances and kind of sums up the matters that the band were struggling with at the time. I just love the main riff, so simple yet so effective and the incredulity in the opening lines comes across so vividly and I still laugh when I hear " He looked at me like I / was the one who should run ! ". It suffers from an unthoughtout ending which is a pity but it's one of the few great moments on OCTOBER. That accolade is reserved for the opener on side 2, the magnificent TOMORROW. From the first moment I heard this track all those years ago, it was the standout. It's the only one IMO that is complete, that doesn't lack ideas all the way through, that is cohesive and it is a gem that hangs together so well. It builds through it's melancholy feel with real verve, starting with some lovely touches from the guy playing the uileann pipes and the almost desperate vocal, pleading, yearning, and it succeeds in retaining it's melancholy and tension even though it explodes into a somewhat louder section where they all let go. The flickings of the acoustic guitar amidst the wall of volume is really powerful and the controlled vocal really soars and at one point, it sounds like Bono is singing " open your heart, open your heart / to the love of God / to the love of e - bay " !! Good advice on both counts, but it's just the way he sings. E bay didn't exist then, of course, but it is one of those great amusing moments......while there are obvious references to the second coming and allusions to the then troubles in Northern Ireland { the same stuff that warranted comment from the Police in 'Invisible sun' } the main subject of the song is the death of Bono's mum. I think it's one of their best ever songs. It feels like it's on the wrong album though.

I hope I haven't been too dismissive of the record. It kind of sticks in my craw that this is the one that is thought of as ' the christian album ' of U2 ! But I don't dislike it, I just think it's near crap. Listenable crap though. In retrospect it is an important album because it would be ages before they released another turkey and it focused matters for U2 and a series of fine albums came forth. For the next few years, quality control was to be in the ascendence.


David Dickson <> (19.08.2004)

What? No reader comments yet? WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HE

This is U2's best album, by far. Hoo boy George, if you think U2 aren't good with melodies or hooks now, just wait until you get to their other supposed "classics"--'Tree In The Desert', We Can Speak German And Sound Like Primal Scream On Qualuudes, etc. Great production, but no melody whatsoEVER. Those albums do have the edge in atmosphere, but this is their HOOKIEST album ever, at least as long as we qualify that with "hooky without neglecting the drama." What would they be without the DRAMA?

Bob Josef <> (25.07.2005)

Although I don't think there's anything here quite on the order of "Gloria," I'd still rate this, overall as the band's best album. You've hit the nail on the head -- the band is at its most powerful here, compensating for any charge on pretentiousness. I don't agree, though, that they couldn't pull off a slower number -- "40" is one of the band's most moving ballads. The weakest song for me is the rather clattery "The Refugee." It's not a coincidence this is the one song not produced by Steve Lillywhite.

The B-side on "New Year's Day" was called "Treasure (What Ever Happened to Pete the Chop?)". Some sort of inside joke, obviously. A great, driving guitar line was wasted on an incomprehensible lyric from Bono. Too bad they couldn't have turned it into a real song and put "Refugee" on that B-side instead.

Tagbo Munonyedi <> (18.03.2006)

A welcome return to form if you ask me. All of OCTOBER's issues have been sorted, I wonder how much of a struggle it was, gigging some of those songs for 18 months or whatever. Anyway, having decided that Christians can have a valid and vibrant place in rock, they now throw their energies into combining powerful sounds with that social side of the gospel that always elicits charges of pretension. Perhaps sometimes it is, but just as often, it's that recognition that things don't have to be the way they are and a belief that has to be lived out, that we are our brother's keeper to use an older phrase. Their faith would be so intertwined with their music from here on in that it barely became an issue. But then, it always had been what informed the observations that gave rise to the lyrics, both from Bono and the Edge.

The first thing that immediately jumped out at me on hearing WAR was the confidence exhibited. It's so apparent in the opening strains of SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY that the confidence so lacking on the previous album has been re - discovered. It's a damn gutsy sound and the violin adds far more than the pianos did on the whole of October. Being a violin lover, I kind of wish they'd utilized it more as it's one of those instruments that can be both sweet and powerful. The song itself is good and it was a pretty brave thing to do to use that title at that time because bloody sunday had and still has a very particular meaning on both sides of the Irish border and will evoke raw memories for longer to come and they left themselves open to all manner of interpretation, we humans being what we are. The merging of the resurrection with modern day conflict posits this as a peace song. I think SECONDS is a fine track and one of their more underrated numbers. While Adam holds things together with his ploddingly funky bass, Edge emerges as the main man here, driving things along with a nice piece of acoustic guitar. He also sings lead vocal. I find his voice so remarkably close to that of Bono Vox ( and he in turn sounds just like the Irish folkie, Leo O'Kelly who used to sing with Tir Na Nog ) that for 18 years I didn't even realize it was him singing. It has since been revealed that his was often the voice used in double tracking and harmonies.There's a truly off the wall moment in the middle of the song where an early example of primative sampling takes place ( it's some kind of girl army chanting ). NEW YEARS DAY is one of the highlights of the album, propelled by a great riff that came initially from Adam Clayton, but which the Edge develops. Bono improvised alot of the lyrics and the song hangs together well. The solo is minimalist to extremes but it is just the right one for the song, a great piece. For some reason, this has always reminded me of the old Eastern bloc. LIKE A SONG is dealing with the cliches of the rock attitude and lifestyle and musically is also pretty confident. This confidence and sustaining of ideas was absent IMHO from most of the previous album. The band said that they wanted a more basic groove which kind of explains the lack of Edge's echoey, atmospheric guitar. But he demonstrates that he is more than capable of power chording and rough play. A song like this would have lifted it's predessesor, big style. The atmospheric DROWNING MAN is another standout track, a gorgeous piece that Bono describes as a psalm. It's almost as though he's trying to write in the persona of King David ( of Goliath slapping fame )...but it's also written in parts from the perspective of God and is addressed to Adam the bass's a tender and yearning song, passionately sung and played with that delicious violin weaving such an appropriate countermelody. REFUGEE has a few monotonous moments but it's a good energetic song with anthemic qualities. This and the curious sort of inverted Irish funk number, 2 HEARTS BEAT AS ONE are good examples of how the band turned their limitations into strengths - Adam Clayton by his own admission was the weak link in the group, Mr root note player. But his bass work was what this band needed, it is what kept them tight, driving and anchored while Edge weaved his particular colours and Bono improvised at will. Clayton and Mullen were an essential element in that phenomenon that enabled the band to be often going in two directions at once without sounding disjointed. RED LIGHT is another good example, weird la la la - ing at the start [ provided by Kid Creole's coconuts ], a neat bass figure combined with lovely melodies and that guitar, sometimes atmospheric, sometimes rocking. By WAR, Edge was a more rounded guitarist without straying into cliches. Not dissimilar to Andy Summers or a decade before him, Syd Barrett. The off the wall thread that keeps popping up all over the album rears it's head more than once on RED LIGHT, notably with this crazy trumpet playing [ or is it a fanfare ? ] that sounds so funny. SURRENDER is simply brilliant, it's at once fast mouthed, anthemic and strangely melodic. Actually, most of the songs on WAR are strangely melodic. The way U2 treated melody was to make them indivisible from the overall sound so individual elements don't necesarilly stand out on their own. But when put together......WHOOOOSHHH!!! I love the sort of non guitar playing, it's noises that just appear and disappear, I think it's clever. Although 40 is taken from the opening stanzas of psalm 40, the psalm itself is quite a long one and what I pick up from U2's rendition is a calm celebration of continued life, like, I will keep the relationship with God fresh ( singing a new song ) and everyday, rather than just settle into the rut of form and ritual. " I waited patiently for the Lord....." is a description of looking to the almighty to fill one up and to get God's smarts, an acknowledgement of the need to be constantly connected to the Holy spirit. It features Edge on the bass and some could argue he does it better, rather like Keef was actually a better bassman than Bill Wyman in the Stones.......I prefer to look at it as a welcome diversion like the vocal on SECONDS. And in common with the title track of the last album, this one ends fairly quickly without being particularly developed, but it's a strength this time. There may not be as wide a variety of moods as on OCTOBER but there is a gulf of difference between the two, the improvisations work, the ideas are realized, the connections between sections make sense, there's very little monotony and it rocks where it needs to. It only takes a second to say goodbye.


Regan Tyndall <> (18.08.2004)

Under A Blood Red Sky is a model live LP for all groups to follow (repeat after me, "I Will Follow"). It was released not long after War had hit #1 in the UK and the top 20 in the US, when there was a big demand for product. It was probably hastily assembled, and was as George Says marketed as a mini-LP and sold at a cheaper rate than normal. The brevity of it is a big part of its charm, for me. Most songs are short and direct (although George makes it sound like there's a great deal of preaching and audience participation, there really isn't; at least, it never detracts from the songs -- something you wouldn't say about the live cuts on Rattle & Hum).

The question of a live album is: Is the live era it captures worth officially adding to the band's official catalog? And, does it capture that era? It's a big yes to both questions. The band were in 1983 at their youthful, rockin' zenith, while Bono's voice was just coming into it's peak era (notice he's a better singer on this live album than on War... and he'd be better yet on Unforgettable Fire).

Another strong point is the 8-song selection. Just three of the eight are from the previous LP (War), while two tracks hadn't appeared on LPs at all and were then (and are still today) quite rare, but essential in their way.

I also disagree with George in that I feel several songs are quite different than the studio counterparts, but not so different that they're unrecognizable. "The Electric Co." played live, for example, is actually a mixing of two different tracks, one from Boy and one from October, so it's quite different than on the albums. 'New Year's Day' sounds a lot harder... not necessarily better, but with a different feel. "40" is much better than on War because of the audience singalong, which enforces the power of its message and is instantly moving and memorable. I don't much care for the "Sunday Bloody Sunday" played here, as it's a bit too bombastic (what? U2 bombastic??); the band realized pretty quickly that this kind of song and performance could stereotype their sound with less informed audiences and they soon backed away from this kind of thing (hence, The Unforgettable Fire).

If you like your music with heavy doses of irony and self-deprecation (not to mention self-pity), stick to Nirvana and Weezer. But if you like earnestness and some bravery, then 80s U2 is endlessly rewarding. This is a great album. The reason it's never been tacked on to War as bonus tracks is because U2 are the only band of the era for whom people will still shell out their money for a live recording. And yes, George, they still have it -- see the live performance at Slane Castle 2001 for proof. Now if only we can get Bono to shut up once in a while....

Bob Josef <> (25.07.2005)

At first, I had to get used to the band's live sound -- without multitracking, the songs initally sounded a little thin. But it didn't take too long for me to be converted -- the band's energy (at least at this early stage) more than compensated. You do note that the some of the songs are played at tempos faster than the studio versions, another key to the recording's success. And one song does sound tons better than the studio version. "11 O'Clock Tick Tock" was indeed a the band's second, pre-Boy A-side. Not produced by Steve Lillywhite, the production and performance were quite weak. Here, the song comes into its own.

I agree that the record is now way too short for the CD era. The accopanying video had several additional songs ("Seconds", "Fire" and "I Threw a Brick Through the Window", among them). I think it's about time for extended, remastered CD version, don't you?

A studio version of "Party Girl" also exists. The full title is actually "Trash, Trampoline and the Party Girl", and it was a B-side released between October and War. The A-side is an absolutely fantastic track called "A Celebration" ,and it has NEVER been on an official U2 album. One of the band's great lost singles. But the band did perform it on the War tour (for instance, on the a show broadcast by BBC-1) and would be a godd candidate for inclusion on an expanded version of this album.


Regan Tyndall <> (31.08.2004)

U2's The Unforgettable Fire is, for me, one of the greatest LPs ever, and my personal favourite in the catalogue. Although the songwriting is not as consistent or impressive in and of itself as perhaps The Joshua Tree or Achtung Baby, the songs are certainly very enjoyable, mostly quite melodic, and, as George says, played with a lot of energy and vigor. However, it is the really the sound and aural texture of this LP that stay with you. There's something very special about it -- it just doesn't sound like anything else.

"A Sort of Homecoming" is the most remarkable track, perhaps. The washes of electrified sound that pour out of the speakers are uncannily like the waves of the ocean crashing against rocky cliffs, and Bono's lyric is powerful and beautiful ("no, don't sorrow, no don't weep / for tonight, at last / I am coming home / I am coming home"). "Pride" is not complex in any way -- it's thundering sounds harkens back, just once, to War -- but its sincerity (which George gently mocks) is to 1984 what "I Wanna Hold Your Hand was" to "It's My Party." That is, completely welcome. And, Bono at this point has some powerful pipes, which greatly carry off the job at hand (even though they screwed up the factual details: MLK died in the evening, not the morning).

"Wire" is just amazing -- the purest kinetic energy a U2 track has ever given off. The title song is chillingly beautiful, its keyboard refrain memorable long after the album fades, like a distant and haunting dream. Likewise, "Promenade" -- its lyric of Bono and wife just relaxing as the sun sets over a beach.

"4th of July" I could probably do without, since it's more Eno that U2. "Bad" rolls in subtly, and when its over you're left melted on the floor, having been utterly blown away by maybe the only 4-piece that can sustain that kind of intense music and vocal. It's like a catharthis when it's done. "Indian Summer Sky" is a very solid song. It doesn't sound overwhelming in this context (especially after "Bad") but it would be a highlight for any of U2's peers.

Apparently what happened with "Elvis Presley and America" is that Eno had the tape rolling in rehearsals, and Bono improvised the entire track, from start to finish, in one take. When he was finished, he told Eno that it was interesting and that they could work on it. Eno replied, "What do you mean? It's finished!" And so it went on the album.

"MLK" is a perfect closer. Bono's voice has never sounded better.

I'll score this album a 14 out of 15. It might not be perfect, and the songs are not quite as consistent as two or three other LPs, but the overall effect is stunning and "Pride" is certainly one of the 80s' great singles. With "A Sort of Homecoming" and "Bad", U2 reach places that their classic rock predecessors never attempted (or could have arrived at, really).

Miles Davis was apparently listening to this album on his deathbed, and I'll be lucky to do the same.

Bob Josef <> (05.08.2005)

I hear this album very Differently from you, maybe because you're much more a fan of Eno than I am. I guess it is sort of commendable that they didn't want to make War, Part 2, but this isn't that great an alternative. I was hoping at the time that Eno would help them come up with the U2 equivalent of Remain in Light, but instead he emphasized what was the band's biggest weakness at that time: mistaking being unstructured and meandering for being "arty." This was OK once or twice on an album ("October," "The Ocean," "An Cat Dubh"), but not here. I supposed a lot of people are carried away by the sound, but there more sound than songs here.

For instance, "4th of July" and "MLK" are just fragments -- gorgeous fragments, I agree, anyway. "Wire," "Promenade" and "Indian Summer Sky" sound like jams that Bono just threw lyrics on before they had a chance to work them up into better songs. "Elvis Presley.." is my candidate for worst U2 album track ever -- Eno decision to keep at as it is was very foolish. Some of the better tracks ("Bad, "A Sort of Homecoming," the title song) are ruined by a murky, overcluttered production. I saw them on this tour, and they could not perform the songs without backing tapes. By default, "Pride" is indeed the best song, its power less affected by the production than anything else. Still, Lillywhite would have given it the power that it needs. So, as you can probably tell, I consider this among the weakest of the group's albums.

I do think that three out of the four tracks on Wide Awake in America (which actually wasn't recorded in the USA at all!) are better than most of the album. "Bad" and "A Sort of Homecoming" are superior, despite the backing tapes, because you can actually hear the performances! And "Three Sunrises" is a joyous performance that is a relief from the super-serious tone of most U2 tracks. Only "Love Comes Tumbling" is dull -- it sure could have used more tumbling. Fortunately, after this, the U2/Eno/Lanois chemistry would improve.

GUTIERREZ HERRERO, Enrique <> (02.09.2005)

Small correction: It was recorded at Slane Castle and finished at Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin. Contrary to expectation, the castle depicted on the cover is not Slane but Moydrum Castle. You are helping me appreciate good rock music at the age of 33. Thank you.

Breck Brizendine <> (27.03.2006)

This album is the very best U2 album -forget everything they've done afterward. I mean that. Screw the Joshua Tree. Loathe that trite, over-hyped, commercial, Rolling Stone-approved, self-important waste o' time.

This album submerges the listener into a lake full of strange colors and textures, finally easing them out into a night beautiful, of stars and fairies. U2 was always supposed to make dream music but they were too self important to realize this even when they accomplished it.

rotb <> (12.06.2006)

Hi, I'm not looking to add fuel to the fire of reviewing your reviews, just a couple of edits to your text:

"That's a mighty impressive castle out there, isn't it? Slade Castle in Meath, Ireland, to be precise. And that ain't no hollow promo shot, either: they really recorded all this stuff down at that place"

The castle on the cover is actually Moydrum Castle in County Westmeath, Ireland. The castle where the some of the album is recorded is Slane Castle in Slane, County Meath, Ireland. Some of the record was recorded, but a good deal was also recorded in Windmill Lane in Dublin where most of U2's 1980's output was recorded. Finally, for interest only, U2 have played on the grounds of Slane Castle twice, in 1982 as backup to Bob Dylan, Bono appeared on stage with Bob Dylan and ad libbed his way through some Dylan songs he didn't know to well... Again in 2001 as the headline act for two shows captured on video for the 'U2 go home' video release. On the DVD of this release is a remastered copy of the Unforgettable Fire documentary (recorded in 1984 as the band wrote and recorded the album in Slane and Dublin).


Regan Tyndall <> (02.11.2005)

George, I really like you and I like your site but honestly you need to get your 60s head out of your ass sometimes. Just kidding, my friend, but look-I'm a 60s fixated music fan too; it's the music I first loved (yes I'm the same age as you), always loved best, and it's where I come from musically speaking. But your attitude towards all post-punk music is way too condescending and often ridiculous. You make the point yourself that critically evaluating music requires one to appreciate the music in its time and context, then you go and slam big post-punk groups like U2 for not matching the Rolling Stones in one area or another. Look, if you're in a museum looking at a Manet, are you going to say, "Not bad, but it's not as good as Raphael so I give it a lower rating."

[G.S.: Wrong. There's plenty of high - and sometimes, very high - ratings I have given out to numerous post-punk albums by numerous post-punk bands. I do not think that it is very fair to counterattack what you see as an unjustified generalisation with generalisations of an even higher level.]

Anyway, whatever, I can't argue with your opinion. Like most people I know (who, like me, don't like many popular groups, don't like arena-friendly music, and are over educated), I consider The Joshua Tree a masterpiece and one of the 6 or 8 LPs after the early 70s that easily counts as one of the greatest, and I'd definitely score it a 15. But whatever.

Now, let's look at a few of your very vague points for some no doubt much appreciated helpful tips:

A) In other words, you didn't have much to choose from. It was either U2 or Poison. In a way, sending The Joshua Tree up the charts was just a mark of desperation.

Look man, this is your supposition based on your aversion to whatever is popular in the USA. Okay, maybe I overstated it but certainly you're guessing on this point. In fact, there were lots of quality rock bands in the mid-to-late 80s, albeit mostly on independent labels (R.E.M., Replacements, Smiths, New Order). So why were U2 more popular by 1985 than any of them? U2 are contemporaries of late 70s new wave bands. Does The Joshua Tree sound like late 70s new wave? No sir. What U2 did is to evolve and mature, unlike their early 80s peers who stuck to bad hair, syths, and angst, and were washed up by Live Aid (although Bono's hair some help at Live Aid too). And why did U2 get much bigger (esp. in the USA) than The Teardrop Explodes? I'll tell you why-because they worked harder and were (are) and awesome live group. But in any case, certainly it was not simply a case of either U2 or Poison, as you state it. Why weren't The Smiths selling out stadiums across America in 1987 if U2 could do it? It's a lot easier to make it big if you're from England than if you're from Ireland, I would think.

[G.S.: Mea culpa for not stating the point clearer. "Traditionally-oriented guitar-based bands" was actually referring to "traditionally-oriented hard-rocking guitar-based bands, which neither R.E.M. nor the Smiths nor, by all means, New Order ever were. In other words, U2 were filling in the Stones/Who niche in the 80s, one of the only decent bands around who could do that successfully.]

Incidentally, it's not like U2 got big in the USA with The Joshua Tree. They were in the US top 20 by 1983, and sold out Madison Square Garden on the Unforgettable Fire tour, supporting an LP of ambient Euro-sounding music that shouldn't appeal to Americans at all. They just got bigger in 1987. okay, a lot bigger.

B) The Joshua Tree is the single most powerful ever confession of "love for America" from the mouth of a non-American .. Bono's lyrics evade straightforwardness at any cost.

Right. I suppose "See the rain pour through a gaping wound, pounding the women and children. as they run into the arms of America" is not straightforward enough for ya? How does 'Bullet The Blue Sky' (obviously an anti-US foreign policy lyric) count as love for America? Well, it's true that many of the lyrics are not overly straightforward, but I didn't hear you criticizing Highway 61 Revisted for being lyrically obtuse.

[G.S.: First of all, it is not a criticism. Second, I love America and I am strongly anti-US foreign-policy and anti-US-many-other-things. For certain people, that actually counts as being PRO-American. Let us not confuse politics with people, traditions, and music.]

I think the point of the overall lyrical approach, as you point out later in your review, is to show the two sides of America-the good and the ugly. The spirit is always good (not only American, but anything spiritual is "good" in U2's world), and the military and foreign policy is bad. I don't think stating that straightforwardly (a new adverb?) would improve the lyrics.

The only thing I would criticize in the album's excellent lyrics is Bono's over-reliance on Old Testament / desert imagery. The stars, deserts, valleys, and rivers fall from motif almost into cliché if you analyze it. But this is not a problem of straightforwardness (new noun?). And there's no love for America here. There's some American imagery on a few tracks, and one song overtly criticizing US politics. "California Girls" by the Beach Boys? Now there's a song that's loves America!

[G.S.: "California Girls" loves California. California is not quite America (and neither is NYC, of course). You can't really find one single lyric on JT that could be used as proof. It's the overall approach. The entire album loves America. It's chockfull of typically American, sometimes close to Afro-American, spirituality and gospel influences. And less you should protest again, I do not find this bad at all - per se].

C) The thing is, The Joshua Tree doesn't rock out too much.. But already the songs look a bit like artificial creations to me.

The first point is somewhat true, although if you've head them live in 1987 they totally rocked. As produced by Lanois, there tends to be a bit of a subdued sheen over the harder edges of the music (I personally don't like that but some people do). Still, I don't know how you can say that 'Streets Have No Name', 'Bullet The Blue Sky', 'In God's Country', 'Trip Through Your Wires' and 'Exit' don't rock. That's already 5 songs, more than "rocked" on Unforgettable Fire. Anyway, here you are again criticizing a post-punk group for diversifying-the very thing you complain that post-punk groups don't do enough of.

I have no idea what you mean by "the songs look a bit like articifial creations"? Could you elaborate?

[G.S.: I have already done that in the review itself, but I can repeat: Not a single track displays the kind of gripping, mesmerizing chemistry you witnessed between the band members on tracks like 'Pride' or 'Wire', not to mention early, "raw"-era U2. Not a single track really lets loose - perhaps Bono's self-importance wouldn't already let him allow any of that. Feel free to disagree.]

In my opinion, along with Achtung Baby in 1991, The Joshua Tree is their best songwriting ever (check out equally great B-sides like 'The Sweetest Thing', 'Spanish Eyes', 'Walk To The Water', etc.).

D) All of the album's hit singles and radio standards are right there at the top.

'In God's Country' was a hit single in a lot of countries. It's on the second half.

E) [Re: I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For]: In fact, I'm secretly hoping that he might never find the 'it' in question, because once the 'it' has been found, who's gonna keep on buying U2 records?

Bono, from live performance of this song on popular 1987 bootleg: "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For. I hope I never find it!" Perhaps some irony there that you missed?

F) Your disinterest in the second half of the record is fair as your opinion, but I tend to think the second half rules, it just can't compete with the first half (then again, neither can any side of an LP in post-punk rock history). 'Red Hill Mining Town' (which is about the miner's strike in Britain-no Americanism there) is great, 'In God's Country' is fantastic, 'Trip Through Your Wires' is one of my personal favourites (it's even a bit sexy), and you didn't even mention the sublime 'One Tree Hill', Bono's song to his deceased friend and personal assistant, who died suddenly when they were recording the record. Beautiful lyrics and melody, and breaks my heart every time. 'Mothers Of The Disappeared', by the way, was structured from a rhythm track, so I don't know why you can't find a rhythm section in it. It's also a perfect album closer.

In general, I think your reviews tend to suffer in quality when you spend too much time discussing lyrics, "approaches," and aesthetics. You didn't really say a great deal about the actual music on the album, which after all is the reason it is so popular. One of the unique things about U2 is that they really almost emerged in a vaccuum, seeming to come from nowhere with no concept of musical history when they emerged. It seems rather silly to criticize them for flirting with some Americana sounds when they first became cognizent of them, especially when your critical sword seems to rely a lot on diversity.

[G.S.: Once again, I have not criticized them for flirting with some Americana sounds - I have criticized them for flirting with these sounds in a superficial, forgettable way that relies more on production and style than on actual melody, although this criticism MOSTLY applies to side B. Apparently you have confused my merely trying to understand and explain the reasons for the album's commercial success with criticism of said reasons. I also happen to think that at least half of the review talks DIRECTLY about the music (or lack thereof) - so excuse me if I accidentally happened to write but half a line on what happens to be one of your favourite songs. We can't always match, can we?]

Bob Josef <> (09.01.2006)

This strikes me as a compromise between the atmospherics of the last album and the straightforward rock of the first three. At least U2 is back to writing songs with actual hooks -- everything here is at least catchy. Easy to understand why it became such a huge hit. "With ot Without You" is a a pretty straightfoward "anti-love" song that seemed to be so popular in the 80's. Eno's synths are much more prominent, as you said. "Running to Stand Still" is an interesting and rare exercise in minimalism from U2. The album drags a bit towards the end, with those last two songs, but they're still not bad. "Bullet the Blue Sky" used to grate on me a lot, but mostly because of how overwrought it could be live. (During the show I saw of the tour, Bono emoted "Outside it's America -- and tonight it's NEW JERSEY!!!" -- a ludicrous and annoying bit of pandering that undercut the point of the song). The studio version is much more tolerable, anyway. My personal favorite is also "One Tree Hill" - usually neglected (even live -- they didn't play it when I saw them), but really moving despite the overused "river running to the sea" imagery. The album, overall, still doesn't quite compare with the first three for me, again because the Eno/Lanois atmospherics undercut the power of the group.

And if you think that the fixation on America and Bono's Messiah complex are hard to take here, you ain't heard nothing yet...

Tagbo Munonyedi <> (13.08.2006)

Aside from being instrumental in me being alive in the first place, my Dad did some great things for me; when I was 4 he bought me a guitar which I promptly smashed to bits {must've seen the Who and Hendrix on our telly}. He was quarter of a century ahead of the game on that one, I didn't start learning till I was 26. He also used to let us freely use his record player, which was quite risky as all four of us were under eight and we used to muck about with the speed {it had 16 and 78 RPM} and play records backwards......then when I was 12 came the defining moment in my young life, my Dad bought me a cassette recorder. Life was never the same after that as I had real musical independence and privacy for the first time; even washing up was a joy with music. Pretty much near the start, I'd arrange albums that I'd record in the order of songs that I wanted them or do little compilations to my own specifications. We're talking the mid to late 70s here and so years before the advent of the CD player and even longer than before people programmed their albums in the order they wanted the songs to flow, I was in that zone. Of course not every album needed it but a sufficient number did and I would go from least liked to most liked {and not bother to tape a song I don't like}. Which has the distinct advantage of avoiding the situation that George so aptly describes in his review of THE JOSHUA TREE, whereby the first four tracks are fantastic, followed by a rather patchy collection. On my version the first four on the record come last. So I go for the build up, where I'm not entirely satisfied with the given running order. {My Dad was a communist for a while, so it must be the dictator in me}. It means that there's often great anticipation in an LP I'm listening to and it also means that all the songs get a fair play and a chance over the years to grow on me. Which is not at all to say that this is an unimpressive album. Quite the opposite in fact; I really like the Joshua Tree. I don't know why it was such a big hit; there really is no rhyme nor reason to these things, whatever the marketing people might say. The fact is that if a record is aggressively marketed through the usual channels you have to expect it to sell.......but they don't always. I don't think it's got anything to do with whether it's good or not coz that is such a matter of personal taste and opinion. Sometimes, something just chimes with huge numbers of people and goes on and on selling in massive quantities. It's remarkable that many of the most influential and creative groups in popular music haven't been huge sellers so numbers don't always mean much except that something has just clicked. But sales don't mean a thing to me, the music does and this album is good though patchy in places. Most of it is a far cry from the early U2 sound but I would say it's a progression, exploring some interesting places. One of the posts made the point that Bono's lyrics contain too much old testament imagery. That's not greatly surprizing given a) He was a Christian, b) He had been really investigating indigenous American music and c) much of the music carries electronic ambience but is not spacey music. Though there is a theme to the album {roots, death and renewal}, much of it is as unfathomable as the Who's TOMMY or Larry Norman's SO LONG AGO THE GARDEN. A song like RUNNING TO STAND STILL, for instance has the theme of heroin addiction running through it, Bono understanding why people would risk everything to attempt escape from their hopeless surroundings in the eventually destructive act of getting wasted. There was a drug problem in the area he grew up in and I think he was trying to empathize. The music is piano led minimalism and sounds cold and detached, like a heroin state is meant to be. IN GOD'S COUNTRY isn't a drug associated number though we're told that sleep comes like a drug. It's one of the more uptempo numbers with both the electric and acoustic guitars driving the tune along. Bono was trying to communicate some of the discomfort he felt about the States but it's such a jolly tune ! As someone pointed out earlier, ONE TREE HILL is about the death and funeral of a friend that worked for the singer. It is both cheery and melancholy at the same time, though as the song goes on, the poetry gets more and more confusing and intense and the Edge, Clayton and Mullen threaten to do likewise. But the song stops suddenly before a coda brings Bono and an ambient synth together talking about the sea and ocean. EXIT has grown on me to be one of my favourite U2 pieces, moving very disturbingly from desperate vocals riding on a menacing bass line through a crazed sonic assault that builds louder and louder like a sneeze that's on the tip of the nose before atchooooing loudly, winding down fractionally then firing up again with Larry and the Edge whipping up a storm with minimalist stabs and crashes. That murderous stalking bass line whether quiet or pumping stays the same all the way through and it points out how guitars and drums on their own can do so much to alter the sound, mood and texture of a song. MOTHERS OF THE DISAPPEARED is the weakest song of the album for me yet it should be the strongest. In much the same way that U2 and the Police had pursued similar themes in the very early 80s {Northern Ireland, spirituality, violence} the band share this theme with a song that Sting did around the same time, THEY DANCE ALONE. His is infinitely superior to this one though. U2's is actually quite a dreary bore, given the weight of the subject matter. Bono had hung around with the Canadian singer songwriter, Bruce Cockburn, in Central America for a while and Cockburn was an obvious influence on Bono to anyone familiar with his work in the early 80s in particular, but his output generally {it went back to at least 1971}. Cockburn was one of those Christian artists that didn't mince his words and was more critical of the actions of the Reagan administration in Central America than anyone I can think of but he didn't only go for the Americans. He raised alot of awareness of the region and South America long before it became de riguer and Bono picked up on that. It's a shame the band couldn't have made more of this song; whereas Cockburn's IF I HAD A ROCKET LAUNCHER fills one with fury and Sting's THEY DANCE ALONE brings me to the edge of tears, MOTHERS evokes no emotion in me at all. It was many years before I knew that RED HILL MINING TOWN was about the miners' strike in Britain circa '84~'85. I've always loved the song and it always evoked images in my mind of some hick American mining community. I suppose it highlights for me just how unimportant the actual lyrics of many of the songs on the album were at first. Just before I got into U2, I read Bono saying that the meaning of the words was secondary to the actual sound and scan so that, I suppose, conditioned some of my listening when it came to their stuff. That miners strike I remember really well coz it went on for a year and while I reluctantly concede that Mrs Thatcher's government was right, it had a negative backspin coz since then, with the unions lopped off at the knee, fear has become a regular ingredient in the lives of many workers here. Described as a "fun" track with the singer playing cute harmonica, TRIP THROUGH YOUR WIRES is very un~U2 ish but it's a great shambolic beer swilling sounding song, or at least their rather unorthodox take on it. I love the song and it sounds like a love song but I think it's concerned with America as the land of contradictory faces. As unusual as it sounds though, there's no mistaking the Edge and his guitar, even it's played almost straight. WHERE THE STREETS HAVE NO NAME is simply beautiful. It sounds so simple but it gave them immense trouble to settle on a satisfactory arrangement. Still, it was worth it. I STILL HAVEN'T another beaut, it gave alot of Christians real worries coz it's author called it an anthem of doubt and simply poured fuel on the fire for those who felt good Christian lads shouldn't be bridled in that evil world of popular music, the Devil's playground and all that. I can see where they were coming from too, worried that one saying that he still hadn't found what he was looking for was somehow intimating a relatonship with God wasn't enough. But as much as I understand, I don't agree with the assessment. For better or worse, the raw thoughts of an artist painting word pictures make strong art. Every believer at some point, even if it's only for five minutes, has doubts or worries or is impatient or wants more than their current lot. It's just that most of us keep them as thoughts and don't make them into songs or poems that end up selling millions of records ! Mind you, given that we're human and free to progress or regress in a relationship, for some, a relationship with God isn't enough or no one would ever leave it and many have. But the song is really no more dubious than Bono recounting in AN CAT DUBH or I THREW A BRICK THROUGH A WINDOW. Besides, in the song he blatantly states what he believes and it's one of the most candid and unequivocal statements of belief in popular music. The most significant line for me is the one that states "Yes, I'm still running....." coz Christian life is a race to the very end, full of problems, obstacles and stress~and one who gives us the tools to get through when we can't sail through what others might find easy. It's got a great melody and instrumentation but the real honours go to Clayton and Mullen on this one, for me; the bass plays such a foundational pattern and yet it's a great counterpoint~ to the extent that you could cut the guitar out of the mix and the song would only slightly be diminished. As for the drums, the bass drum is irrepressable and indispensable and the snare slap is as refrehing as a bucket of cold water poured over one on a baking hot day. A great song. WITH OR WITHOUT YOU is yet another class act. It's general mood and tempo, especially at the start, is so reminiscent of the 77s' BA BA BA BA that I wonder if any of the group had heard their LP ALL FALL DOWN. The 77s were at the time one of those obscure rocking bands on the Christian circuit, marginalized by both the mainstream and the church. I love U2's song, but I cannot stand that phrase " I can't live with you or without you"; Some of the teenagers I used to teach in church used to try to wind me up by throwing in that phrase whenever they could, once I told them I couldn't stand it. I just think it's such an idiotic thing to say ! It's as dumb as saying "I'd climb every mountain or swim the ocean for you !". What, with all that snow and those mountain lions and the sharks ? Later !! BULLET THE BLUE SKY is U2 doing Led Zeppelin doing Memphis Minnie. Bono was saying that the band were admirers of Zep and Larry was doing his John Bonham bit. The resemblence to WHEN THE LEVEE BREAKS is certainly noteworthy, not just in it's apocalyptic feel or distinctive drum pattern, but even in the construction of the song. During the verses of BULLET, you can easilly fit the melody and words of LEVEE and if you were a skilled enough arranger, cobble together one song out of the two. I completely adore both songs and I prefer them as separates ! The Edge's guitar playing when Bono cries "Wooo, bullet the blue sky..." is gritty and prominent and pregnant with tension, his overall playing is superb; once again Clayton and Mullen provide a bed that demands that something unforgettable be lain on top of it and the way the other two oblige is impressive. So much so that it's easy to miss Bono's stinging criticisms of American right wing Christianity that alligned itself to the administration that perpetrated so much destruction in Central America {of course, then, as now, that's only part of the picture; a huge percentage of Christians in America aren't right wing, in the same way that many gay people, Black people, women and athiests are anything but liberal or even democrat}. That kind of Cockburn type spirit comes through loud and clear in Bono {later it started to grate on the nerves of the Edge}, and though he loved America, he felt he just couldn't keep quiet after seeing US backed planes off on a mission that meant death to someone, somewhere. Thinking about it, some of the soloing reminds me of the emotional content in Hendrix's MACHINE GUN but it's not a soloists game here and I think it's a wicked group performance. I'd have to say, this is always a good album to listen to.

Return to the main index page