Review/Confession: Achtung Baby

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The Disciple

New Yorker
Jan 22, 2004
I don't know if this is the right forum or not, but here's a very long and personal look at Achtung Baby that I recently posted on my blog. It's the 1st of my reviews that I've been brave/stupid enough 2 share here, so please be kind. U must forgive the idiosyncratic grammar that I use, I find it fun, some people find it annoying. Keep in mind, this is just MY personal interpretation. It's not meant 2 b taken as gospel. Anyway, here we go:

Review/Confession: Achtung Baby

Another U2 review? Damn right! And it won't b the last! This album, however, holds a special place in my heart. I can listen 2 this album straight through, even though many of the songs were heavy hits on the radio and have been played like crazy, as a whole, I believe this is U2 at their best, if not, it's just the band at their most creative and bold.

Every1 has an album that tells their life story frighteningly well, so well that U 1der if U wrote it and were never given credit. Or it mayb that the lyrics and themes r so close 2 Ur heart that the lines between album and reality r xtremely blurred. Achtung is an album that came in2 my life a lot later than at its commercial peak, as I did not become a U2 fan until some 10 years after this album topped the charts.

In it, however, I have found stories and poems of love, spite, fear, insecurity, arrogance, sex, lies and the search 4 redemption and God. As a centerpiece, the album follows a character who is not identified until "Zooropa", The Wanderer. This is a man in love with a woman who torments him just as much as she pleases him, and a man who finds himself curiously drawn 2 the dangerous night, in search of fulfillment and happiness, only 2 wander back home with the sunrise. It is a journey that I at times struggle with, falling on some of those days, flying on some.... as Bono sings in "So Cruel".... "Head of Heaven... fingers in the mire.."

The dichotomy of being in love with God but finding the night and the flesh deliciously tempting is as old as Creation itself, and few have so brilliantly painted that canvas better than U2 on this album. 2 realize the impact that U2 had when this album came out, 1 has 2 remember that previously, U2 were seen as "good Ol' Christian boys" and their music was as fitting 4 the cathedrals and churches as anything that the Gaither choir had written. With Achtung Baby, U2 threw that image in the trash, and the result is this album, the sound of "four men chopping down the Joshua Tree" with a very loud saw.

U2 begins as journey in this album that is completed in their follow-up, the ethereal "Zooropa".... (which will soon b reviewed)... Bono's lyrics address the stress of a group almost torn apart, the last days of the Edge's marriage, and Bono's own late adolescence, made even more dangerous when it's happening 2 a man in his 30's, with several children, a wife at home, and a large bank account.

From the industrial sounds of "Zoo Station"... we know we're not listening 2 Ur Daddy's U2. Bono's voice sounds like it was recorded leagues under the sea, almost beastly in the sound effect that is used... "I'm ready... I'm ready 4 the laughing gas..." This album was recorded in East Germany, at the time of the fall of the Berlin wall, and the Xenophobia and overall insanity of the times comes across xtremely well in this track. "Even Better Than The Real Thing" is still one of the funnest U2 tracks 2 sing along 2, and the video that accompanied it shared the manic mood of the album's 2nd track. As with almost all of the songs on this album, Bono is apparently pleading 2 both the Heavenly and the Sensual when he sings in an ear-shattering falsetto... "Take Me Higher.... You Take Me Higher...."

The 3rd track is the album's "black sheep", but also its centerpiece. "One" doesn't sound like the rest of the album, but is the track that is probably responsible in elevating U2 from gr8 rock group 2 Rock Legends. Recorded quickly in a day, at a time where the Hansa Studios recording sessions were yielding nothing, the song is a painfully beautiful panorama of love, pain, anger, marriage, divorce and brotherhood. The song has taken on many definitions as time has gone on, from a son dying of AIDS calling 2 his estranged father from his death-bed, 2 a marriage on the rocks, and most recently, 2 a song of universal responsibility and brotherhood in the plight against poverty and AIDS in the third world.

The improvised lyrics are sheer genius, even if almost by accident. No single U2 song can b interpreted in so many ways by so many people. "You say Love is a temple, Love the Higher Law, Love is a Temple, Love The Higher Law... You Ask Me To Enter, but then You make me crawl, and I can't be holding On to what You got, when all You've got is hurt..." The verse can b taken as one speaking of Religion... eager 2 gain new followers, only 2 burden them with guilt, which as the book of Romans teaches, is not of God. Others c a man dealing with a lover who tortures him by permitting him intimacy, only 2 have him beg 4 it 2 continue 1nce he's there. The vocal per4mance turned in by Bono is perfect not in spite of its imperfections, but BECAUSE of them. The Edge's mournful guitar compliments it perfectly, with a layered depth unheard of in U2 b4 this album.

The 4th track is one of the most misunderstood yet lyrically genius of U2's career. At first listen, with lines like "last time we met it was a low-lit room, we were as close together as a bride and groom" and "waves of regret and waves of joy, I reached out for the one I tried to destroy"... it sounds like a regretful lovers' quarrel. But knowledge of the band's spiritual beliefs, plus a keen ear reveals a song sung from the perspective of Judas, possibly on Judgment Day, 2 Jesus. Judas pours out his heart going through the plethora of emotions he felt when he betrayed his Lord, and the guilt that ultimately crushed him. 1dering aloud about his fate closing with, "You said you'd wait until the end of the world." Don't get me wrong, the song can also b interpreted as a jilted lover confessing the spite with which he ended a strong but bitter relationship. That's what's amazing about it, plus it doesn't hurt 2 have a killer guitar riff.

"Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses" showcases a man fighting with the thought that his lover has moved on, pleading with her, and making his case as 2 why she should not leave. Even though he desires the best 4 her and wishes 2 set her free, stating "Don't turn around, don't turn around again. Don't turn around your gypsy heart." The song ends with the man pouring his heart out, reverting back 2 wanting her 2 stay,
"Who's gonna ride your wild horses?
Who's gonna drown in your blue sea?
Who's gonna taste your saltwater kisses?
Who's gonna take the place of me?
Who's gonna ride your wild horses?
Who's gonna tame the heart of thee?"

"So Cruel" again deals with the angst of a man who's soul is tortured by a lover and a relationship that although he knows is doomed from the start, he cannot resist. We've all had at least one of these, and suffered from the "Car Wreck" syndrome, where we can't resist watching it all go up in flames. This is evident in lines like, "We're cut adrift, but still floating. I'm only hanging on to watch you go down, my love." Bono describes a woman that is all 2 familiar 2 many men. The woman 1nce scorned who now can never truly trust, and who retains a quiet distance that is unpenetrable, even with time. Bono again uses a reference that can b taken as sexual, but also has relevance 2 one-sided relationships in which the narrator has given his all, totally submerged himself in his love 4 the haunting lover, only 2 have her drift further and further away.
"I disappeared in you
You disappeared from me.
I gave you everything you ever wanted
It wasn't what you wanted.
The men who love you, you hate the most
They pass right through you like a ghost.
They look for you, but your spirit is in the air.
Baby, you're nowhere."

"The Fly" was U2's introduction 2 the 90's, the first single off the album. It is also the introduction 2 the stage persona that would kick each ZooTV tour 4 the next 2 and a half years. Decked out in a black leather outfit, with matching Fly Glasses, the Fly is part idiot philosopher, part Elvis, part Roy Orbison, mostly egomaniac, but all Bono. The track features Edge's meanest guitar solo ever, and is a live favortite of fans 2 this day.

"Mysterious Ways", apart from being a Karaoke favorite of mine, is a sweet take on the power of both the sensuality of the female, as well as the mind-numbing humility brought on by the Holy Spirit.
"Let her talk about the things you can't explain.
To touch is to heal, to hurt is to steal.
If you want to kiss the sky, better learn how to kneel
On your knees, boy!"

Bono has made several references 2 the Holy Spirit having female characteristics, and "El Shaddai", a Hebrew term 4 God, is sometimes translated as "The Breasted One". Jesus made several references 2 God taking care of his followers like a hen holds her chicklings 2 her bosom as well. The music is hedonistically hypnotic, and sounds ethereal after a few glasses of wine, which also presents U with the dilemma of not being able 2 stop Urself from singing it. MW never ceases 2 bring a smile 2 my face, and has proven irresistable 2 many a lady 1nce she reaches the dance floor.
"It's alright, it's alright, it's alright.
She moves in mysterious ways."

"Trying To Throw Your Arms Around The World" finds The Wanderer stumbling home from a night out WAY 2 late. Many a night have I been able 2 relate 2:
" Six o'clock in the morning, you're the last to hear the warning
You been tryin' to throw your arms around the world.
You been falling off the sidewalk, your lips move but you can't talk
Tryin' to throw your arms around the world."

Yet 1nce the glamour of the night starts 2 fade away, The Wanderer still longs 4 what he has at home:
"I'm gonna run to you, run to you, run to you, woman be still.
I'm gonna run to you, run to you, run to you, woman, I will."

He even covers the not-so-glamorous after-effects that he deals with the following morning...
"Sunrise like a nose-bleed, your head hurts and you can't breathe
You been tryin' to throw your arms around the world."

Also, he 1ders how far he can push the path he finds himself unable 2 resist:
"How far are you gonna go before you lose your way back home
You been tryin' to throw your arms around the world."

The character struggling with the lure of the temporary pleasures that the night offers in contrast 2 the memory of the love he has waiting 4 him, and the temptation that every man at one time or another finds himself in has rarely been so simply and honestly sung about. This track also presents Adam Clayton's finest hour. The infectious bass-line on this track has probably contributed 2 many a baby-making session.

What follows on "Ultraviolet (Light My Way" is the narrating of the consequences The Wanderer faces when he returns home 2 the aloof lover and perilous relationship that he has been trying both 2 4get and struggling 2 return 2 all night long. He 1ders if he should just give in, sensing a bad ending is inevitable...
" Sometimes I feel like I don't know
Sometimes I feel like checking out.
I wanna get it wrong
Can't always be strong
And love, it won't be long"

Bono sings of a home and relationship torn apart and filled with a growing distance, realizing that the more we learn, the harder it sometimes becomes:
"There is a silence that comes to a house
Where no-one can sleep.
I guess it's the price of love; I know it's not cheap."

He yearns 4 the earlier, simpler days of the affair, "when we could sleep on stones."
Acknowledging, "Now we lie together in whispers and moans."

Still, he freely admits that he still acknowledges his dependence on her, "When I was all messed up and I heard opera in my head
Your love was a light bulb hanging over my bed.
Baby, baby, baby, light my way."

The 2nd 2 last track is a long-time fan favorite, which has inspired petitions 2 have it played live, 2 no avail. The lyric is probably Bono's most personal and reflective. The singer is brutally honest about the contradictions in his personal nature, as well as the deep longing he has 4 God and all things spiritual The following is THE SINGLE LYRIC that I most identify with, in all of music:
"And I'd join the movement
If there was one I could believe in
Yeah, I'd break bread and wine
If there was a church I could receive in.
'Cause I need it now.
To take the cup
To fill it up, to drink it slow.
I can't let you go.

And I must be an acrobat
To talk like this and act like that.
And you can dream, so dream out loud
And don't let the bastards grind you down."

The yearning 4 fulfillment in a spiritual and nurturing community, compounded by the chosen exile of a disillusioned believer is one many of us can relate 2 and struggle witth. Rarely, if ever, has an artist worn his heart on his sleeve, baring his soul about his shortcomings in such a painful yet cathartic way. Personally, I'd love 2 hear the song live, but I understand why Bono has never done that. It would b xtremely hard 2 go out and sing this confession every night 2 a crowd full of strangers. The track on wax is enough 4 me.

The darkest album of U2's career closes (as did every ZooTV Show 4 the next 2 and a half years - along with Can't Help Falling in Love) with "Love is Blindness". The Wanderer makes his way home, only 2 realize that his adventures come with a cost. Both his lover and himself are praying 4 blindness, a blindess that will allow them not 2 confront the emptiness, the betrayals, the distance, the coldness.
" Love is blindness, I don't want to see
Won't you wrap the night around me?
Oh, my heart, love is blindness."

This is not an uplifting ending. But life does not always end well. Love does not end well. Relationships wither out, people grow apart, lovers lie, cheat, leave. That's one of the reasons I always adored this album. It was blood and guts, in Ur face, and it made U confront those uncom4table situations, past OR present, that all of us go through in relationships. The Wanderer is ADMITTING that he doesn't want 2 c, he doesn't want 2 know or hear the truth... he wants the lie, because the lie will mean there's a 2morrow. Confronting the truth may mean it's all over.

Achtung Baby is a multicolored opera about many things: love, hate, anger, joy, sex, God, betrayal, friendship, marriage, divorce, etc... but it is done on a combined lyrical and musical level that I don't believe has ever been matched on any other album. But that's just my opinion. If U don't have this album, go buy it. If U do, give it a spin, listening 2 it anew, as if 4 the first time. Let me know what U think.
Hey man, I just want to say - great review

I just got Actung Baby!, and I was always skeptical about it. The sound of the music drove me away at first.

But just now, along with your review, and the full lyrics of all the songs online so I could understand, I listened to the album (straight through, and completely listened to every song) for the first time.

At last, I know a large chuck of U2 history - "don't let the bastards grind you down" " move like this, and act like that..." I just the other week saw Zoo TV , the video from Sydney, Australia.

I saw the Fly and Macphisto for the first time, which I'd never previously seen because I wasn't a U2 fan during the early 90s.

So it has all been a great experience.

Your review has helped me get into this album.
I think of it a whole lot differently now, and embrace it as a part of U2.

I always used to say

"Yeah... I'm a huge U2 fan.... but....... I don't really know what happened in the 90s there......"

But now I know, and now I can explain to others what it;s all about.


one thing, on a side note, that raelly interested me, was, as you said, about Acrobat - Bono's contradiction. The holy spirit, religion, faith, and yet the darker side of things as well. It so much reminds me of something about him - He's a Taurus (may 10) like I am (6), but his moon is in Scorpio. And that's really rare. But the thing is, those two signs like that, together, really talk about this dualism. The heights and depths are apparent in this album, and in Acrobat. Even in the transition from the Joshua Tree to Actung. But Bono is a fascinating person, and a someone I can definitely see being a great singer and musical artist, which he is. I believe it very much, when you say that Acrobat is a very revealing portrait of himself, and why he chooses not to do it live. ANd it's just so interesting. ((If you don't know my very well, it's not that I'm into zodiac stuff, it's that I'm into people, and understanding how they work)) but that's another story for another time.


Your lines, from Acrobat, are ones I share too:

"And I'd join the movement
If there was one I could believe in
Yeah, I'd break bread and wine
If there was a church I could receive in.
'Cause I need it now.
To take the cup
To fill it up, to drink it slow.
I can't let you go.

And I must be an acrobat
To talk like this and act like that.
And you can dream, so dream out loud
And don't let the bastards grind you down."

Almost completely.
I'm sure it means something different to me than to you, but that's one of the great things about U2, isn't it - that you can both endorse something even if it has a different meaning to you, personally.

To me, it's about being uncompromising and an individual, but at the same time, having high ideals, and a faith. And also, the... ingrained contradiction and anticonformity I see to have. And my views about sex, and love.... (and a whole lot more, but I won't get into all of it here)

I have always said, if I really thought myself a Catholic, believe in god that way, if there was a church I felt really involved in, I would be a very devout goer. But there isn't. ANd I don't want to compromise my views or standards - - what did you say....

The yearning 4 fulfillment in a spiritual and nurturing community, compounded by the chosen exile of a disillusioned believer is one many of us can relate 2 and struggle with

^ that's it, right there. You said it perfectly.


So, basically, thanks for writing it.

I listened to the whole ablum front to back, and it was a good experience. I know I'll enjoy Actung Baby for a long time now.

If you do any more reviews, post them here, or let me know or something. Great job :up: :up:
Last edited: have some great insights into this album.

"And I'd join the movement
If there was one I could believe in
Yeah, I'd break bread and wine
If there was a church I could receive in.
'Cause I need it now.
To take the cup
To fill it up, to drink it slow.
I can't let you go.

And I must be an acrobat
To talk like this and act like that.
And you can dream, so dream out loud
And don't let the bastards grind you down."

"The yearning 4 fulfillment in a spiritual and nurturing community, compounded by the chosen exile of a disillusioned believer is one many of us can relate 2 and struggle witth."

you couldn't have said it better. those lyrics also really jump out at me too... i can relate to it very well.

i love how you connected all the songs together to tell one long narrative...i never really thought of this album that way. and i love how this album is so multi-layered...the songs could be talking about faith or god or spirituality, yet taking on a different level it could be about love and relationships.

this is my favorite album and pretty much the main reason why U2 is my favorite band. your review, i think, is gonna help me appreciate AB even more. and i hope that people who never really thought much of AB will be able to recognize the sheer brilliance of it.
Axver said:
I'd consider reading it if you cared to spell properly.

Your reply would likely be the same as most of your AB-related replies anyway though...'All of that for what is actually one of U2's weaker records and the most overrated one of their career...hardly a masterpiece...etc' :wink:
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