For my birthday, Michael bought me The Unforgettable Fire, which is a U2 CD that I lost in the Great Stolen Car Incident of 2003. It’s one of my favorite CDs and as I was listening to it yesterday, it led me to contemplate what how I rank all the U2 studio releases against each other. So, here goes, in order of my favorite to my least favorite:
1. October (1981)
2. The Unforgettable Fire (1984)
3. War (1983)
4. The Joshua Tree (1987)
5. Achtung Baby (1991)
6. How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (2005)
7. Zooropa (1993)
8. No Line on the Horizon (2009)
9. Rattle and Hum (1988)
10. All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2000)
11. Boy (1980)
12. Pop (1997)
I think I got them all. I don’t know if Rattle and Hum technically counts as a studio album, but I need to recognize that there are some really great songs on that release, including a cover version of Dylan’s “All Along the Watch Tower” (are the members of U2 Cylons??) and U2 original songs such as “Heartland” and “All I Want is You.”
I also love the Under the Blood Red Sky: Live from Red Rocks CD. That definitely doesn’t count as a studio album, but the live versions of some of their best songs is outstanding on this release (though not all of them really come from the Red Rocks concert). Of course, the video footage of the show is even better because of all it was actually filmed at Red Rocks (thus some of the songs are different than the supposedly corresponding CD). That was probably one of their most amazing shows and I was too young to have seen it live at the time (I was like 8 years old).
I think it’s funny that my favorite releases–The Unforgettable Fire and October–are generally the least favorite by a lot of U2 fans. My all-time favorite U2 songs come from these releases: “A Sort of Homecoming” from The Unforgettable Fire (UF) and “With a Shout (Jerusalem)” and “Tomorrow” from October.
UF is a great release; it’s the growth of the band into something else, making their own sound and experimenting with a laid-back ambient tone. Some of my U2 friends will debate this with me, but I think the release is solid all the way through. My favorite tracks are “Indian Summer Sky” and “The Unforgettable Fire.” To me, the CD is about poetry. The music is poetry and the lyrics are poetry. The rock sound is subdued, only brought out in the hit “Pride (In the Name of Love).” It’s always been my favorite traveling CD, especially when traveling in the bright colors of fall. UF embodies a feeling of loss and renewal. It’s also a very transitional release between War and The Joshua Tree–two releases of a completely different sound. I will always love UF and I don’t care what the popular vote of the fans is.
October is just what it is. It’s very spiritual, written by a band at the height of their Christian fervor (well, at least as far as Bono and The Edge go). It’s a very intellectual release and I feel it’s when Bono really started to think harder about the words he chose to use in his songwriting. It’s their second release, coming after the juvenile musings of Boy. I see October as a coming of age and the start of the U2 we come to know and love later.
A funny thing about October is that it is undoubtedly one of their most spiritual releases and me, a total atheist, I missed almost all of the Biblical references including in the song “With a Shout” because I didn’t know he was saying “Jerusalem” as the refrain. I’m really clueless sometimes! When I started unraveling the lyrics, in the love of the music, and taking a closer look at them, I realized quite embarrassingly that my favorite of their releases happened to be the most pointedly Christian one they ever did! Being not so spiritual, I actually felt bad about this for awhile. “How could I love a CD with all this Christian stuff in it?” I mused. “What will my friends think?”
Of course, like all U2 music, the spirituality is subtle. I read somewhere that Bono has said that the spirituality is in the lyrics for those who want to hear it. Meaning, I think, that you don’t have to be in his camp to enjoy his music. I thought it was a very English literature thing for him to say, something along the lines of finding your own meaning, as the listener, in the lyrics.
Still, I always like to know what the music I enjoy is trying to say. Even if I can’t go there with Bono as far as the Christianity goes, I find that I can identify with his spirituality on non-Christian level. Besides, even if I can’t go with him on his Christian journey and thoughts, I find myself fascinated with his take on things, with how he sees the world and how he beautifully conveys that to his audience. He’s a thinker and his lyrics give me a lot to think about. I feel like he has that amazing ability to convey his thoughts in such a way that he can make you feel what he’s feeling even if you can’t even identify with the language behind them.
Well, that’s not to say the whole band doesn’t do that. It’s not just the lyrics that make the entire U2 experience for me, it’s the sweet sound too. And the rest of the band contributes to that. What U2 has is magic. October, to me, is the beginning of that magic. And though their music may have gotten more refined with age, I rank the beginning albums highest because I’m intoxicated by the sound of potential and the energy of four people who were pouring their heart and soul into it.