Al’s Top 30 Albums Of All Time – No. 20


U2 – Achtung Baby (1991)

A few weeks ago, one of my best friends told me that he overheard the following sentence in a pub: “Obviously Coldplay are the U2 of this generation.” Sadly, he couldn’t get the name and address of this person, but I have made it my life’s work to hunt him down, restrain and sedate him and tattoo across his forehead the following; “Please disregard everything you ever hear me say, for I am an idiot. I have no valid opinion about anything, and my only true value in life is to donate organs to those who will make better use of them than I ever will.” I’d also like to tell this imbecile that the U2 of this generation are, in fact, U2. They are the biggest band in the world and show no signs of slowing down.

It wasn’t always like this though. Achtung Baby arrived four years after U2’s previous offering, The Joshua Tree, had broke them in America and put them on the front of Time Magazine. Relentless touring and recording had knackered them and they needed some time to “dream it all up again.” It is also rumoured that Bono had been advised to disappear for a while after his amazingly brave/naive IRA-baiting speech during 1988’s Rattle and Hum tour and left him and his family in a unbelievably vulnerable position. So disappear they did, and having conquered the world with the earnest, chest beating gospel rock of Where The Streets Have No Name and Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, they decided to potentially commit career suicide and head in exactly the opposite direction.

Achtung Baby-era Bono is one of the most iconic rock stars ever. Gone were the vests, mullets and flag waving, in came the massive shades, black leathers and jet black greasy backcomb. The U2 of The Joshua Tree made music that had open spaces, fresh air and chiming melodies. This U2 produced a claustrophobic, smothering kaleidoscope of twisted metal, neon lights and poisonous fumes. The first single off the album, The Fly, is one of the abrasive songs ever released by a mainstream rock band, the aural equivalent of zapping through fifty TV channels in four minutes, with the volume on full. Elsewhere, Zoo Station is a pitch-perfect opener, ushering in the new FX-laden, vocoder-and-delay U2 sound;  So Cruel is one of Bono’s greatest ever vocals and Acrobat, with The Edge’s screaming guitar and the feedback-heavy production, is one of the few times this band sound genuinely intimidating.

And then… One.

I said on the last part of this series that in my opinion that There Is A Light… by The Smiths is the best song ever written, and I believe that. But One by U2 is something more than a song, it is almost a hymn. Like Bridge Over Troubled Water and Let It Be, it just seems beyond music somehow, especially the Popmart performance were The Edge goes up to the octave at the end and they do the extra verse. If this song doesn’t connect with you on some emotional level, you’re either a bailiff or an insurance salesman called Tristan.

There are people, mainly NME journalists and sixth form college students, who claim not to like U2. These are the same people who don’t like REM, Bruce Springsteen and Oasis. They are either trying to be cool, or have no taste. Either way, disregard everything you ever hear them say, for they are idiots. They have no valid opinion about anything.

Best Tracks: One, The Fly, Acrobat

Best Moment: The frantic outro of The Fly, when it seems as if a city is falling over.

Like this? Try: Violator by Depeche Mode, 1990

profile b and wAllen Miles is 31 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 20 month-old daughter who is into The Ramones. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of 18 Days, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written. It is available here.


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