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Old 11-22-2004, 06:47 AM   #1
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The Four Most Important U2 Albums*

By Greg Soria
2004.11



What makes an album important? Is it the songs, Billboard chart placement, the musicians or the money it generates? It is all of these things and more. In U2's case an important album is an album that has propelled the band to greater power and heights. In its storied career, U2 have had many hit and chart topping albums; what is it that makes any one of their albums important?

Fans far and wide will argue to the tooth about which is the "best" U2 album, but this is not a study of that subject. What I am looking at is what albums have had the greatest impact on U2's career, the albums that the band has ridden to greater heights and fame. In most cases the tour behind the album was as important or, in some cases, even more important than the album. After following U2 for more than 20 years, here are what I consider to be the band's four most important albums.

War (1983)

Without "War" I don't believe that we would not have U2 in our lives today. "War" gave U2 a voice in the rock/pop industry and grew it an audience outside of its small cult following. This was accomplished with the album's earnest message of hope and the powerful "War Tour," a tour captured in all of its glory in the video "U2: Live At Red Rocks." The album's songs, full of angst and political sentiment, were also the most relevant and assessable of U2's career to that point. Though today some of this album may not seem up-to-par with U2's latter work, at the time U2 never sounded more cohesive and together.

Songs recorded for "War" were not dissimilar to some of the songs on the "October" album, whereas lyrics were literally written at the microphone as Bono recorded his vocals. The difference between "War" and "October" was that U2 came into the studio with a purpose and conviction to take their career to the next level. What followed was an album that started all so powerfully and ended oh so gently.

With the release of "New Year's Day" U2 had a hit record on both sides of the Atlantic. The driving bass line, catchy piano hook and searing guitar were matched with Bono's best lyrics to date. He delivers a powerful vocal performance that is kept in check, whereas in the past he would overreach to touch the listener, such as "Tomorrow" from the "October" album.

The only other single released off of the album was the ultra-funky "Two Hearts Beat as One." This single is typical of U2 in the '80s, a quirky ditty with fierce guitars, a booming bass line, sharp drums and a trademark Bono howl. It failed to make much of an impact in Europe or America, but was played in concert up through the 1989-90 Lovetown Tour in Australia.

How could an album with only two singles make such an impact on U2's career? Simple, it's all in the timing. U2 had been considered a "baby band" and "The Next Big Thing" since debuting with "11 O'Clock Tick Tock" in 1979 but had not made many inroads with its first two albums. By the time the band began recording the "War" album in 1982, U2 was at a crossroads in its career. The band's three-album contract with Island was up and U2 still hadn't delivered a "smash" album. U2 worked with Steve Lillywhite again to produce songs such as "Seconds," "Surrender," "Like A Song" and the powerhouse "Sunday Bloody Sunday." These songs proved that U2 had grown from an "up-and-coming" band to a mature band, not afraid to take on powerful issues in songs, like the troubles of Northern Ireland and the solidarity movement in Poland. "War" put U2 on the verge of super-stardom as the band played over 90 concerts in 1983 to support it and saw the album debut at No. 1 in the British charts and climb to No. 10 on Billboard charts in America.

The Joshua Tree (1987)

U2's blockbuster album of 1987 could almost be placed in a tie with 1984's "The Unforgettable Fire," however "The Joshua Tree" propelled U2 to heights of fame that "The Unforgettable Fire" album and tour only hinted at. What makes this album important to me is that it was the first U2 album to feature strong songs from start to finish. There is no filler on this album, which was not always the case on the group's previous four albums.

The album starts with the synth buildup and guitar frenzy of "Where the Streets Have no Name" and ends with the subtle power of "Mothers of the Disappeared." The Edge and Bono are at top form, and the latter's beautiful singing and catchy melodies match the formers guitar wall of sound. We also hear U2's newer musical influences—country and western tones on "Trip Through Your Wires," or the African percussion that opens "One Tree Hill." It's as if U2 had drunk from a musical well and regurgitated through their music.

Again we find U2 tackling tough issues in the album; the group touched on the United States-backed revolution in Nicaragua in "Bullet The Blue Sky," heroin problems in Ireland in "Running To Stand Still," right back to the missing sons and daughters of El Salvador in "The Mothers of the Disappeared." I find everything in between is testament to the fact that U2 was at the top of its game and was ready to capitalize on the promise of "The Unforgettable Fire" era and its historic Live Aid appearance. With this album U2 became "the band" and, perhaps, the only band that mattered.

Achtung Baby (1991)

What "Achtung Baby" delivered was somewhat shocking on first listen. Who was this band? Where was the singer that we all knew could howl with the wolves? What was with the drums and processed sounds? The set of songs on "Achtung Baby" took the tried and true U2 formula and stood it on its head. Gone were the political overtures of the previous four albums and in its place were songs that explored the delicate and heartbreaking struggles of human relationships. Producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois took the U2 sound, twisted some knobs, threw in some studio treatments and produced a fresh, new sound.

But new sounds alone did not take this album to the top of the charts; the songs on this opus are among the 12 best songs U2 have ever recorded. Songs like "One," "Acrobat" and "Love Is Blindness" are soaring, epics that delve into the psyche of the listener and have multiple meanings on subsequent listenings. Songs like "The Fly," "Even Better Than the Real Thing" and "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses" are similar to the great power pop songs U2 had written on "The Joshua Tree" and "Rattle and Hum."

The album and its manic ZooTV tour painted U2 in a different and more controversial light, making the band palatable to critics and music fans that had brushed aside U2 as a product of the 1980s. While the album is not as lighthearted as the accompanying tours, it proved that U2 was relevant into its second decade.

All That You Can't Leave Behind (2000)

This album, released in late October 2000, was U2's so-called "roots" album, a careful return to the organic sounds of the band with help from Lanois and Eno. The album also saw the return of the Edge's signature guitar sound from the 80's. Initially Bono was very nervous about the guitar sound of "Beautiful Day," in an interview in Billboard Bono said that after hearing the riff he "froze and said ‘Oh, no, we can't use that. It sounds too much like a quintessential U2 riff.'" However, because the band decided to leave in the soaring guitar line that runs through the chorus of "Beautiful Day," what the band ended up accomplishing was reminding listeners of what made this band so great to begin with. U2 rode the success of "Beautiful Day" to the high reaches of the Billboard charts and three Grammy Awards (Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocal).

"All That You Can't Leave Behind," and the enormously popular Elevation tour that followed, brought U2 back from the minor slump of 1997s "Pop" and established the band as one of the few seasoned rock acts still relevant in season dominated by processed acts like Britney Spears, 'N Sync and the Backstreet Boys. Like them or not, the songs on "All That You Can't Leave Behind" were melodic and catchy. The album and tour helped to comfort their American fan base devastated by the events of September 11th. Songs like "Walk On," and "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of" gained a new poignancy when listened to in the aftermath of this tragic day. The song "Kite" was dedicated in concert to Bono's ailing father who passed away shortly before the band performed their first of two concerts at Ireland's Slane Castle.

While "All That You Can't Leave Behind" is not as musically adventurous as the previous three albums the band released, it did bring U2 back to the forefront of the rock and pop industry and ensured that the band's next album would be highly anticipated and sought after.

So, there you have it, four U2 albums that I consider the most important. One took the band from the brink of stardom to fame's doorstep. The next album took U2 to the top of the pop world. The third proved to the world that U2 could reinvent itself and be successful. The fourth proved that you could go home again and be welcomed with open arms. Does U2 have another album like one of these in its future? Once the world has taken the opportunity to hear "How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb," then everyone can decide for themselves how important it is in the grand scheme of U2.
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Old 11-22-2004, 07:24 PM   #2
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your 4 list

Its pretty dead on , but to quote a rollingstone art. "there real no best of u2. " There's only one u2. Never trying to be U2. They just are. (which is maybe why it' hard to find or hear band cover their songs)
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Old 11-22-2004, 09:32 PM   #3
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Nah, the article is not trying to state what are the 4 Best albums, just albums that were "important" to the career of U2. Some will argue that Zooropa and Boy belong in there, but those 4 albums represent what I feel pushed U2 over the top, or kept them there.
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Old 11-22-2004, 10:50 PM   #4
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this article is definently one person's opinion, I personally like The Unforgettable Fire", as my first choice. It holds a very special place in my heart. 2nd, " The Joshua Tree." each album is special in it's own way. U2 are U2, need i say more.
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Old 11-23-2004, 11:40 AM   #5
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No you do not. Each album holds a special meaning for each fan. Again this is an opinion piece based on what each of the albums chosen meant to the band's career. It does not reflect a "best of" list...no way. Mine changes every week.
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Old 11-23-2004, 04:56 PM   #6
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Yeah, definitely not a best of list, but I think I agree with them as the top four most important. We'll see if HTDAAB picks up a new generation of fans. I guess I'd put it in at five... But then, it's only day 1.
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Old 11-28-2004, 04:01 PM   #7
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Without these four albums, I don't know how long U2 would have been around for.
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Old 12-26-2004, 10:21 PM   #8
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true. But without any 4 albums u2 would be completely different.

I agree in that eac album is speacial to a fan in one way or another, each one is different. Some are more one, some more another.


if Unforgetable Fire was never released, then There would be no PRIDE.

And if that were not so, I might not have been a U2 fan to begin with.


Wow, I don't even want to think about world without PRIDE......
And then there is BAD and MLK and the rest of UF.


You know, I haven't heard a U2 album that I don't like?
funny.........
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Old 04-04-2006, 02:24 PM   #9
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JT AB zooropa war
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Old 06-12-2006, 07:09 PM   #10
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1.War. 2. The Joshua Tree. 3.Achtung Baby. 4 All That You Can't Leave Behind. These are definitely THE four albums that matters .
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