In eighth grade, my English teacher bestowed upon my class what would easily come to be the most awesome, school related assignment I would ever undertake—to write a review of your current favorite album and hand it in. While I toiled away coming up with the perfect four paragraphs to describe Nirvana’s Unplugged in New York, my friend Chris asked for guidance in his assessment of REM’s Monster. After reading his introductory paragraph, I realized Chris thought that Monster, the follow up to the massively successful Automatic for the People was actually REM’s second album. Aghast at this I set my compadre straight, assuring him that REM had been around since the early ’80s and Monster was more like their ninth album. When all is said and done, Chris and his ignorance got an A on the assignment while my lack of coherence doomed me with a B-.
A similar problem has plagued U2. Since the revamped image and mammoth success of both All That You Can’t Leave Behind and How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, some baby faced fans see U2’s recent popularity spike as just that, recent, and are ignorant to the way in which they changed the face of pop music in the 80s. Like when Nolan Ryan became a fan favorite in his 23rd year on the mound, with U2 people were and continue to be missing the point. Sure they remain decent for their age but when sun finally sets on their last show the legacy they leave behind (pun intended) will be measured by the work of their greatest albums, their greatest being 1983’s War.
Before the ballads that would come to define their sound, before Bono made a mockery of the Spanish language and before they enlightened Dubya as to the African plight and way before those ridiculous fockin’ sunglasses, U2 was a rock band, churning out cathartic pieces of dynamite that teemed with politic undertones. War, the group’s third album, would come to stand as their opus and a creative benchmark that had not been reached in the music scene of Europe since London Calling.
“Sunday Bloody Sunday” beings with a staggered and staggering automatic rifle snare salvo as Bono moans in the background amidst a whispered but wailing string section. The recount of the January 30, 1972 massacre in Nothern Ireland’s County Derry, where 14 civilians where killed at a peaceful protest by British soldiers, builds behind its rising guitar riffs that leaps from the speakers and Bono’s vocal frustration shakes, inches away from boiling over especially on lines such as “there’s many lost but tell me who has won?” where he reaches accomplishment and a terrifying level of awareness.
“New Year’s Day” a song that would come to be U2’s first legitimate hit plays both sides of U2’s lyrical fence, commingling the themes of romance and political strife with the aid of a walking bass line and guileless piano piece. On the same page is “Like a Song…” the best track off the record and possibly one of the brightest spots of U2’s entire career. Furiously and flawlessly executed by both Larry Mullen and David “Edge” Evans, “Like a Song…” details what can and should be done for love as well as borders that are set. Bono’s voice strains with adolescent eagerness (“A generation without name, ripped and torn, nothing to loose, nothing to gain, nothing at all…A new heart is what I need, Oh God, make it bleed.“) as his bandmates emphatically explode behind him.
The rabid zeal and overall unduplicated fortitude U2 reached with War showed amazing promise that eventually gave way to the inevitable breakdown two albums later. Certainly, The Joshua Tree was packed to the gills with amazingly constructed love songs but still, something was missing. And one realizes this when they hear tracks such as “Two Hearts Beat As One,” War‘s most overt love song that fails to give in to the conventions U2 would later succumb to. And with the release of current “rockers” “Elevation” and “Vertigo” one can’t help but think U2 realizes the error of their ways and is desperately trying to get something back, the feel they abandoned so long ago. But you can never go back, boys. Once you’re gone, you can never go back.
The Police – Synchronicity
REM – Fables of the Reconstruction
Simple Minds – New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84)