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THE MAKING OF A LEGEND
From "Out Of Control" to "All I Want Is You", Neil McCormick presents a major critical retrospective on the complete recorded works of U2, the band who went from being one of the world's worst cover groups to become a leading force in modern Rock'n'Roll
Neil McCormack, 27 Jul 1989
I was looking over an old school photograph the other day. Sixth year, Mount Temple, 1978. Blurred young faces staring earnestly out of the past in grainy black and white. This one here became skateboard and laser sailing champion of Ireland. This one here wound up in prison for rape. This guy here played football for Leeds United. And these two are in one of the most successful, critically-lauded and essential rock bands of our time.
Superstars aren't born, they arrive fully-formed, usually from America. I have laboured under this delusion for years. People often ask me who, on my travels as a journalist, is the most famous person I have ever met. The question throws me; I am not in the habit of consorting with superstars. Celebrities, perhaps, But is Carole King more famous than Paul Weller? Is Ray Davies more famous than Chrissie Hynde? I usually claim Bob Dylan, a certifiable 24-carat superstar, though I actually only stood next to him once, something not generally construed as a meeting.
The most famous people I have ever met were smiling up at me from the photograph.
I feel like sparks are about to suddenly erupt from my fingers every time I try to write about U2. I fear I could go down in a burst of electrical activity. This isn't just history, it's memory. This is my life. Look at the youthful Bono and Edge, Who knew what lay in store for them, for any of us, back then? Eleven years later they've been, along with schoolfriends Adam and Larry, on the cover of Time magazine. They're in the papers, they're in the charts, on TV and the silver screen. Sometimes, I walk into a stranger's room to be confronted by their picture, pinned to a wall. I always have to stop myself asking, "How do you know them?". Everybody knows them.
The last time I saw U2 live they were onstage at Wembley and I was standing so close it might as well have been the old school gymnasium. They were extraordinary at Wembley but they were extraordinary at the first performance in the gym, back in '76, too. It seems to me they have always been extraordinary, ever when, realistically, they must have been, well, shit. That gig was my first live rock'n'roll and it changed my life. I told Bono so some years later and he could only agree. It changed his life too.
The gap between Wembley Stadium and Mount Temple Gym is, of course, immeasurable. The distance between the same four individuals in Feedback in 1976 and U2 in 1987 is beyond comprehension. What is the same is the spark. "We built ourselves around that spark," said Bono in 1980. It still fires inside them today, spitting white heat at the heart of the matter, connecting them, in some indefinable way, with rock'n'roll greatness. You could feel it, recognise it, believe in it long before it actually exploded the group to life. Many people did. You can feel it, recognise it, believe in it now that the group have attained genuine, irresistible superstar status. Many more people do.
The spark remains constant. Everything else changes. Try listening to U2's 1980 debut album "Boy" back to back with 1988's "Rattle And Hum". Could this be the same group? One determinedly modern, electric combo with big, silvery shards of guitar and stretched, youthful voices, the other a rootsy, rocksy, folksy band with a rough-hewn sound and a growling powerhouse of a vocalist. Over the years the gradual changes can seem almost imperceptible. This is evolution, not revolution. But over seven albums in eight years U2 have redefined and almost completely reinvented themselves.
U2 records are stacked up by my stereo. Twenty-seven of them, including the singles. I've been spinning them all, reminding myself of forgotten pleasures, sometimes opening my eyes to unnoticed weaknesses, trying to see how things look as the dust settles on the rattle and hum. Most of all, catching up on old friends.
I was of the feeling it was out of control, I had a crazy notion it was out of control... U2's debut single, "Out Of Control", remains an appropriate anthem with which to have unleashed the group on the world. The song's central image is of an adolescent realising, as Bono has said, "that the two most important decisions in your life have nothing to do with you: being born and dying." And with that vision of personal anarchy, U2 were fired forward into the unknown. The song became, for a time, the mainstay of their live set, opening and closing their gigs, so it is ironic to recall that prior to the release of the record there was a great deal of uncertainty about which of the three songs recorded should feature on the A-side, the matter eventually being settled by a competition on the Dave Fanning Rock Show. At the time "Stories For Boys" was a favoured contender, a poppier and more structured song that, in retrospect, lacks the life-and-death dimension that gives "Out Of Control" its historic perspective.
But how was anyone to know that back then? Our ideas on the band, their own ideas on themselves, were just forming. The "U23" EP, released only on CBS Ireland, introduced a young, new-wave rock group with a distinctive guitar style. Looking back, it all fits quite neatly with the musical preoccupations of the post-punk era (though it should be recalled that, along with bands like The Skids, U2 were establishing the hallmarks of that early 80's sound themselves). This is not a gargantuan, earth-shattering record. It barely touches the feeling U2 were capable of stirring live. The drums are dinky, the playing too fast and, on the third track "Boy/Girl", Bono lapses into singing in a sort of cod-English accent in keeping with the popular style of his Brit-rock contemporaries. Still it has power in the rumbling low bass and The Edge's too sharp but already remarkably inventive and fluid guitar playing, and the songs themselves are more than a little left-field, dealing from four different angles with the character of the Boy, the Bono child, who races in dazed confusion through all three tracks and who was to go on to provide the central theme for all of what can now be seen as the first phase of U2's output.
"U23" now sounds like a public demo, the shaping of things to come - as indeed it was. But the B-side of their second CBS Ireland single is an even rougher beast, an early four-track recording of "Twilight" (later to be improved on their debut album, along with "Out Of Control" and "Stories For Boys"), complete with an unchecked bass mistake, very dubious timing and a contrived, hiccuping vocal. It sounds unformed and naive but, in its exposure of the group's essence, it is somehow far more in character than the A-side, "Another Day". Produced, like the previous single, by Chas de Whalley and U2, this was a relatively new song that brought the Boy bouncing back, protesting about the conditioning of childhood. An uncertain attempt at a bright, modern, new-wave pop-piece, it remains U2's weakest ever single, interesting only in that it reflects an area of sound, structure and approach that ran through a lot of their early live material. It has something in common, for example, with the riffing rock of "Cartoon World", a striking, straight ahead rock song that boasted an unusually concise and exact lyric for Bono at the time ("Jack and Jill went up the hill/They dropped some acid and they popped some pills!/lt's a cartoon world") but which they completely abandoned before embarking on their recording career proper.
That began when they signed to Island and released "11 O'Clock Tick Tock", a 45 which has subsequently repeatedly been voted the No I Single Of All Time on the Dave Fanning Rock Show. A remarkable record, it showcased an unusual and individual rock group of a character as yet only hinted at on vinyl. It was their first recording in Windmill Studios, which subsequently became virtually their home from home, and they were working with a new and more accomplished producer, Martin Hannett, an eccentric who was briefly British rock's main sonic influence due to his early work with the likes of Joy Division and Teardrop Explodes.
In fact, the sound of the record reflects the influence and preoccupations of Hannett far more than it does the still crystallising U2. It's a (lark, cavernous aural landscape featuring a white-noise snare and guitars that are not so much metallic as rusty. As the band swiftly moved on to develop a more even keeled relationship with Steve Lillywhite, "11 O'Clock Tick Tock" has been left as a strange anachronism - a one-off, utterly different to what went before but just as divorced from what was to follow.
It remains an outstanding piece of work, featuring a coruscating riff (which, controversy has it, was pilfered wholesale from Irish contemporaries The Atrix) and giving Bono the long-needed room to say more by saying less. This time the singer isn't all over the song, he's deep in the heart of it. Though his voice is still thin and undeveloped it suits the harsh production and fits the yearning mood. This is a song for and about children of the night, rock audiences and fashion victims desperate to establish individuality in life's identity parade yet sadly channeling their energies in futile directions. "We thought we had the answers, it was the questions we had wrong, " he sings. The title does not even appear in the song but stands instead as a guide to how the listener might approach it, defining the mood. The B-side "Touch" (transmuted from an early song called, unconvincingIy, "Trevor"), a big, basic, human plot with heavy, heavy guitars, makes an ideal companion piece. It was often remarked (before they became regular fixtures on Top Of The Pops) that U2 were not really a singles band yet this record could only exist as a single, the first essential U2 output, made all the more vital retrospectively by the fact that we would never hear the band sound like this again.
"A Day Without Me" is like a white flash compared to the previous record, a speedy, surging, bright, fresh attack, driven by loud clattering drums and, with The Edge's guitar expanded in every way, at long last fleshed out into a more accurate representation of how it sounded live. For U2, Lillywhite was an ideally sympathetic producer, building the sound up from their own raw materials rather than imposing his identity upon them. It is a far more assured and dynamic sound than that of their debut but you can make the connection, trace the development. In fact "A Day Without Me" and "Out Of Control" both deal with similar ideas, a youthful look at death and, in this case, suicide, but production values apart, the earlier song is superior in almost every way. There is no real emotional core to "A Day Without Me", the too-sketchy lyric betrayed by the optimism of the musical feel. Coupled with "Things To Make And Do", a rock instrumental flip of no consequence, it is a less than vital single, though it did serve as an introduction to the redirected sound. And what a sound...
"Boy", U2's first album, breathed with it, was drenched in the shimmering silver rain of The Edge, hammered out with the piledriving reverberations of Larry's kit. It was a stunning album when it came out and it remains an intriguing, original and rewarding one to this day. It was the culmination of years of growth and exploration, but more than that, it was an artefact in itself in which the ideas and talents of the band were distilled in brand new material, as well as established live favourites.
Early U2 songs were built around two characters, The Fool and The Boy. It seemed the former had been laid to rest without ever having made an appearance on vinyl. Gone were such songs as "Concentration Cramp", "Life On A Distant Planet" and "The Fool". It was probably a very wise decision. Half-remembered lyrics, like "He’s the fool/The street jester/Hero of society", suggest a one-dimensional, even cliched creation. "Boy" could never be accused of those faults.
From the simple, elegant, yet oddly disturbing cover photograph of a young child through to the final, fading after-noises of the album's play-out grooves, "Boy" deals with growth, innocence, adolescence and burgeoning sexuality with an empathy that is rare in the (so often all-too-macho) world of guitar rock. Bono plays at being the catcher in the rye, spreading out his arms to hold on to all the tensions, arrogance, pride, insecurity and irrationality of youth. The lyrics are expressionistic rather than explicit, and sometimes a little too simplistic in language, but they work - perhaps because the group were still young enough to know the feelings they were dealing with. "Boy" evokes, as much as it examines, those feelings.
And it flows. "Boy" is a journey. You get caught up in the opening landslide of "I Will Follow", filled with thundering spiritual promise, and carried without pause to the quiet, closing sadness of "Shadows And Tall Trees", a dripping, acoustic sound picture. "Twilight", "Out Of Control" and "Stories For Boys" had all been re-recorded to dramatic effect, the latter becoming a bellowing anthem. "Another Time, Another Place", a long established set-piece, featuring The Edge impressively on a style of fluid guitar he has not been inclined to since, "A Day Without Me", improving in context, and "The Electric Co", were rushes of pure excitement while other new material - "The Ocean", "An Cat Dubh" and "Into The Heart" (the latter two linking seamlessly together) - was moodier, more delicate and restrained.
Bono has said that he finds it difficult to listen to his early recordings because the singing is so bad. Certainly, in comparison to the grandeur he has since achieved, the singing is weak, but context is everything. The voice here has an identity of its own, radically different to his later dominatingly powerful delivery. It sounds vulnerable but it reflects the song's vulnerabilities. It never seizes the record but it never has to, it is held up in enormous, crashing waves of always riveting guitar. When I listen to "Boy" now I bear the near-perfect creation of a young rock group. But as much as it is the birth of the band who would be kings, it is also the end of a first explosive chapter of growth.
With Boy U2 exhausted the themes of childhood and innocence they had been exploring and indeed building themselves upon for many years. They needed not only a new direction but a new core. "I Will Follow" was taken off "Boy" as a single and though it exists very much in the context of that album and the group at that time it also, in retrospect, heralds the changes.
"I Will Follow" is a desperate, driving, optimistic song filled with burning need. Essentially it is a spiritual song and more specifically a Christian one: circumstance may have obscured the point at the time but it seems so obvious now, when Bono sings "I was blind, I could not see" and "I was lost, I am found ". Spiritual quest - the need to believe and find meaning in something - was present in U2's music from the outset: from their earliest cover version of Peter Frampton's "Show Me The Way", from their first self-penned song "Street Mission" (never released). It is in the fear of death, central to "Out Of Control" in the sense of wonder at the beauty and mystery of the world in "Shadows And Tall Trees", but in "I Will Follow" it is for the first time made direct: it is God, Bono is pledging himself to follow. The song quickly became the centrepiece of U2's live set, replacing "Out Of Control" as a new and more positive anthem.
The single's B-side was a live version of "Boy/Girl", the first of many in-concert performances to appear in an initially futile attempt to capture on vinyl that extra something that U2 always had live. Their touring commitments, as they spread the net worldwide, garnering an ever-growing reputation as an essential live band, meant that, for the first time since they'd begun recording there was a lengthy gap between records. It was nine months before the next single appeared, after added delays due to the band's sensitivity about the song's title in the wake of Dublin's tragic Stardust Ballroom holocaust - a tragedy which occurred in Artane, close to the band's Northside base.
The single was "Fire" and, once again, it sounded like a departure for U2 (though it would turn out to be a misleading one). It lopes and clicks along with a looser, more shambolic, less structured feel than anything U2 had done previously. It is indisputably a rock performance yet it has a slightness of touch about it. The guitar is, for the first time on a U2 single, not a constant, dominating presence, though it effectively steals the limelight as it bursts in and out of the track with spit and fire. Though the lyrics deal with personal struggle, with anger, the music bubbles with optimism and this time the two complement, rather than contradict, each other. It remains one of my favourite U2 records and with the B-side "J. Swallow", a jumbled collage of sounds that might have been recorded under another element, water, it suggested, at the time, a group at ease with themselves, ready to dive off the deep end of possibilities.
"October", their second LP, did not fulfill such high expectations. It reveals a band developing and perfecting their own unique sound - but somehow at the expense of content. The Edge's guitar-work is, once again, the focal point, though the range is wider, more all-encompassing, with an added staccato element making its presence felt. He also introduces a deep, ringing piano, letting it take one solo and fill in where once there was only guitar. Adam's bass playing, often the least noteworthy element of U2, is more assured, with just a hint of contemporary funk influence. The bass sound is fatter and fuller. The drums are like compact thunder with blasts of percussion riding across. The vocals soar with confidence, more assured than before, more varied in texture, though Bono still sounds like a man who's pushing hard against frustrating limits.
The album opens with "Gloria", an all-cylinders-firing patent U2 epic that is one of the most potent hymns ever carved out of rock. And a hymn is exactly what it is. "I try to stand up but I can’t find my feet/I try to speak up but only in you am I complete/Gloria in te Domine."
On "October" U2 embraced their faith and therein lies the rub. With the public revelation that three of them were committed Christians they had been confronted in the press and by their fans with their beliefs, forced to re-examine and reaffirm them, which, as "I Will Follow" had suggested, was something they chose to do with their music. "October" is a spiritual LP, a Christian LP, though it is not preachy, not hellfire and brimstone, not crusading, not evangelical, not even particularly specific. In fact it is not, in retrospect, much of anything. You can tell something is awry with just a glance at the cover. A standard colour photo of four young men in a group, it has no special resonance, lacking the sense of overall vision "Boy" 's cover immediately imparted.
Side one of the album is crammed with excitement, as U2 wail through a sequence of immensely powerful rock performances. "Gloria", "I Fall Down", "I Threw A Brick Through A Window", "Rejoice" and "Fire" all deal in some way with faith and personal struggle, the bottom line emerging on the thrilling "Rejoice": "I can't change the world/But I can change the world in me/I rejoice..."
When I first reviewed this album for Hot Press, I was a excitable youth and I was so pleased with the passion, so wrapped up in the explosion of sound on my turntable that I accepted without too much reservation Bono's bare declarations of fealty to his Lord. I no longer can. Lyrically, "October" is a decidedly inarticulate speech of the heart and only on the elegant and quite beautiful title track does it come any way close to conveying the mysteries of faith. In "Tomorrow", a breathy, Uilleann pipe inspired Irish musical adventure, Bono sings, once again, about death, winding up with a cry to Jesus. It is as if he no longer had questions, he had an answer. But to convince the sceptical, answers have to be supported and defended not simply declared...
On side two only "October" and "Tomorrow" really work for, although the band charge full steam ahead, they are bedevilled by an inadequate sense of direction. "With A Shout (Jerusalem)" is one of my least favourite U2 tracks of all. U2-by numbers, contrived and lacking in substance, it takes their own sound innovations and abuses them to the point of cliche. "Strangers In A Strange Land" is an impressive evocation of alienation but it is essentially just a picture postcard, a snippet of an idea that drifts off because it has nowhere else to go. "Scarlet" meanders inoffensively but unspectacularly, with Bono litanistically reciting the word "rejoice". And the closer "Is That All?", though it involves a striking band performance, is undermined by Bono's banal repetition of the question "Is that all you want from me?". I suspect he is addressing God but the listener's answer has to be "No!". U2 had already demonstrated that they were capable of so much more.
I have often felt that "October", of all U2's LPs, is the one that has weathered least well. And yet, far from an unequivocal failure, listening to it again reveals numerous pleasures on offer. For one thing, it shows them taking their earlier sound to its full potential: as a hard rock unit, U2 had never before been this cohesive, this tight, this professional... and I suspect that on the whole they never will be again. For, in an odd way, the sound was beginning to let them down: it was taking over, creating a shroud behind which the limitations of the content might be hidden. "October" is an exciting and passionate record even when it completely fails to get to grips with the issues it is addressing. Once the band were plugged in and going, nothing else really mattered: everything they did would sound enormous. For a group so intent on getting right to the heart of the matter, however, this could only be self-defeating. Before we heard from them again there would be more changes afoot...
"Gloria" was released as a single and it remains a classic, possibly the most stirring U2 song of those first years. Once again there was a live B-side, this time a version of "I Will Follow" that adds nothing to the original, though it did provide a sort of double mega-anthem package. U2's next single was to be a one-off, unconnected with an album, the first time they had done this since their Island debut (and, so far, the last). I think I can lay claim to having coined the title (a poor substitute for fame). The phrase 'a celebration' had provided the key point and, as I recall, the headline to my own overwhelmingly positive review of "October". It became a catchword not only associated with but used by the band, getting as close as any word could to the essence of U2's uplifting musical identity. And it became the banner waving heading for their new record - one in which, like "11 O'Clock Tick Tock", the title phrase never appears.
"A Celebration" is a raw, blistering song with a big 60's, Who-like guitar figure, the first hint of a new rock rootsiness. Bono had been making remarks about U2 sounding too much like U2, and though this single had all the hallmarks of their sound, there was something rougher, more aggressive about it. The lyrics too were challenging in tone, still displaying a Christian sensibility but now sounding a warning that Armageddon might be at hand. "I believe in the bells of Christchurch/Ringing out for this land... I believe in the powers that be/But they won't overpower me." Viewed with hindsight it is very much the halfway mark between the old U2 and the band that would emerge on the forthcoming "War".
The B-side, "Trash Trampoline And The Party Girl" is also something of a departure. This bizarre, swinging song has a refreshingly idiosyncratic arrangement and displays an off-beat sense of humour that few would have credited the band with. Not that there are any jokes, you understand, but there is a strange and indefinably poignant cast of characters that might have wandered in off a Tom Waits' track, and when Bono sings "you know what I mean" nobody really does. Call it surrealist comedy - but whatever it is, it works. Interestingly "Party Girl" became a live favourite, even appearing on the "Under A Blood Red Sky" live mini-album, while "A Celebration" seems to have disappeared without a trace, rarely having ever been played live and apparently having now been deleted as a single. I suspect the band's dissatisfaction with the song lies in the lyric's inability to quite get to grips with their intent. If it is meant to show an acceptance of the existence of worldly powers while rejecting their personal hold on the singer, lines like "I believe in the third world/I believe in the atomic bomb" certainly invite misinterpretation.
"New Year's Day", the follow-up and the first taster of "War" is something else again, a song of which the band can and do remain justifiably proud. It is a pulsing, gently locomotive piece propelled not by the usual U2 guitar figures but by resonating piano chords and a modern, throbbing bass. When the guitar does come in its effect is sensational without being domineering; its figure is linear, travelling with the track, adding bursts of colour with an almost minimalist restraint which only "Fire" had successfully hinted at. And the voice is different, just as the rest of the band hold back, it moves stage-centre: forced to take charge, Bono is straining at the leash, extending his range, digging for fresh passion and finding it.
This was the band's most contemporary performance to date, fitting in oddly with prevailing rock-dance trends and it provided them with their first hit single. In some ways it is a love song - not this time about the love of God but centering on a more human concept of love and how it can overcome conflict. And not this time interior conflict either but the physical travails of flesh and blood. It is about a moment of quiet on the western front. This is U2 in the real world.
Together with the B-side "Treasure (Whatever Happened To Pete The Chop)" (an obscure title that refers, for no apparent reason, to a character Bono had met in New York and written a never-released song about), it introduced some of the themes which would surface on the forthcoming album. "Treasure" – a rougher, less well-formed attempt at a track that would evoke a similar feel to the A-side - rails against the endless repetition of the same old songs: "I think it's time to get it right," sings Bono. He's not singing about the charts, he's singing about rebel songs, history endlessly repeating itself. He's singing about...
"War"! After "Boy" Bono had talked to me about making an epic album, their Sergeant Pepper he'd called it in a moment of extravagant enthusiasm, an album about good and evil, an album about struggle. "October", whatever the band's intent, was not it. "War" at least saw them coming close.
It may seem strange to say so now but at the time it was a shocker of an album. Not least because, as I have already suggested, the group were, in effect, abandoning their sound, to build themselves up again along new guidelines. The drums, for example, were surprisingly rough: harder, uglier, more basic than before. A sharp snare replaced the sonic-boom of reverb that had provided such an awesome back-drop to previous recordings. It was as if Larry had sacrificed his special effects to lend the band a tougher feel. Adam's bass playing, though always straightforward and to the point, acknowledged a host of contemporary influences from the dance sphere. And, most noticeably, the guitar had been stripped, not of its power perhaps, but certainly of the automatically giant sound created by The Edge and his way with effects.
The Edge was never a guitar hero in the old mould, never really a virtuoso, a wizard of dexterity. He had relied instead on imagination, and especially an ability to shape and control his guitar sounds. On "War" he had evidently decided to make things difficult for himself and find new ways to approach his instrument. Suddenly here, he's playing rock'n'roll, playing acoustic, playing rough-cut funk and playing havoc with the atmospherics, all the time underpinning the songs rather than taking them over.
And they are songs. Much later in his career Bono was to become publicly enamoured of 'the song’ as a special creation, something far removed from old U2 material which he almost disparagingly redefined as existing only as performances within the boundaries of the band's identity. "I've just discovered 'the song'," he was saying with amazement post- "The Unforgettable Fire", as though he had never written one before. But even in the light of his new terms of classic reference he was being unduly harsh on U2's older work. "War" is a collection of distinct songs, melodic and well-formed, with greater individual identity and more complex lyrics than anything U2 had done previously. And in writing those lyrics it was as if the singer had decided to take charge.
Bono and The Edge have always been the lynchpins of the group (not to detract from Larry and Adam's engine room contributions) but while Bono's personality was the key to U2's live appeal it was The Edge who starred on the records. With "War" Bono came into his own, stamping his passionate personality on the music, determined to evoke the feelings and express, in his own words, the ideas to which U2 aspired. And the words themselves came pouring out. For the first time in his career as a lyricist, Bono risked being called verbose.
The album opens with "Sunday Bloody Sunday": with its cascading violins, military drumming and roared vocal, it represents an angry, emotional cry for U2's divided country. Not a rebel song, but not a peace anthem, it is, rather, a battle-cry for love. It demands humanity from humans. "And the battle's just begun/There's many lost but tell me who has won?/The trenches dug within our hearts/And mother's children, brothers, sisters torn apart... How long, how long must we sing this song?". It is, quite unusually for a U2 song, unequivocal in its stance, not relying on subconscious imagery and not open to individual interpretation.
"Seconds", which mutates in an acoustic fashion from the same drumming and a reversed riff, widens the battleground, railing against the nuclear threat hanging over our heads. Interestingly the lead vocal is taken by The Edge, though, as is often the case within a group, the influence of the lead singer serves to make the two voices almost indistinguishable.
The sense of longing - for peace -conjured by "New Year's Day" is followed by "Like A Song", on which Bono vents his frustration at the impossibility of halting the fighting, whether through violence or love. It is a frenzied, spluttering performance, a long way from the shiny, powerhouse rock of "October". The side ends with "Drowning Man", a sometimes clumsy but moving declaration of love, the singer's voice almost fragile as he finds personal solace in the arms of another, losing himself at the same time in a strange musical landscape.
Side one, is a conceptual journey across fields of conflict, supported by the saving grace of love. Side two takes us to America, takes us to the wasteland. It opens with "The Refugee", a sloppy storm of a song, a hard, pummelling African influenced blow-out in which the victims of war and imperialism keep themselves alive with the hope of the (false) promised land, America - the world's saviour or the Great Satan? Built into the song is a strange, threatening sense of war someday arriving in the US, as if war itself is a refugee. No one can declare themselves immune from this evil.
"Two Hearts Beat As One" is a love song but it too embodies all the tension of violence, though the conflict in this instance is not between two people but between one man and his feelings. It is also a pop song, a pile-driving, slap-happy, rocky U2 version of New York-styled R'n'B funk, which would give the band their second hit single. The New York influence remains through "Red Light" and "Surrender" which utilise the talents of female backing singers from (of all people) Kid Creole And The Coconuts and a superb solo trumpeter, as Bono sings about cities and the people who lose themselves in them.
"Surrender" indeed is a seductively atmospheric track, the music swelling up around the vocalist until it drowns him completely. Appropriately it is about the lack of a will to resist, about surrendering, because there is nothing else you can do. The album's lullaby closer "40" leaves Bono reminding us, wearily, hopefully, of the question posed at the very beginning: "How long to sing this song?". It is far removed from the unsatisfying query on which "October" ends - "Is that all You want from me?" - for it is a question posed by someone who has just given his ail.
"War" is quite an achievement. Like "Boy" it looks at one complex topic from many different angles but it is far more specific in intent. "Whereas the previous two lp's had been inward-looking, 'War' was outward looking," Bono reflected at the time. Clearly it was a band trying hard to relate and to communicate, to apply their inspirational beliefs to something -a band fronted by a singer who no longer just performed with passion but who examined it, confronted it and revealed himself through it. The character of Bono that could be felt on stage, that was so evident in person, could at last be heard on record.
U2's third lp can stake a claim to greatness but it has its share of weaknesses. U2 had stepped from a bright place into the shadows, stepped down off the unique rock pedestal they had built for themselves and moved into the bustling market-place of wider rock influences. They had reworked their patented sound and replaced it with something powerful... but not yet, I think, equally powerful. "War" is far superior in concept and content to "October" but it does not leap off the turntable with the pure sonic strength of that record. The decision if it was that, to hold back The Edge and unleash Bono was brave, but without Edge and Larry's Wall Of Sound, Bono's voice is sometimes left too open, exposing ragged and uncertain edges. When "War" is sloppy it sounds less like deliberate punkiness than a band overwhelmed by passions they can't quite control. In retrospect it is clearly the work of young guns, coming out with all barrels blazing and shooting up everything they see. Musically it is a precursor to "The Joshua Tree" but, in comparison, that Western Odyssey would display the dangerous mastery of sharp-shooters.
The single "Two Hearts Beat As One" featured, in response to the style of the times, a variety of mixes on the 7" and 12" versions. With a band for whom the spirit, the inner strength, of the performance is everything, the lengthier club mix and the hip Francis Kervorkian remixes of the title track and "New Year's Day" seem almost entirely pointless, marketing gimmicks that amount to little more than meddling. Still it made a change from the extra live tracks that usually cropped up on U2 12" and double-pack singles.
Including the previously mentioned B-sides "Boy/Girl" and "I Will Follow" there had been 10 live takes issued with U2 singles, almost an album's worth in quantity if not quality. '' 11 O'Clock Tick Tock", "The Ocean", "Cry" (a short inter-linking passage that had gone on to form the basics of "Is That All?") and "The Electric Co." had appeared as added extras with "Fire".
"Fire" itself, "I Threw A Brick Through A Window" and "A Day Without Me" had featured on "New Year's Day" ' This material was not dishonourable but neither did it ever really capture U2's overwhelming live appeal. The band's next release would attempt to do just that.
"Under A Blood Red Sky", billed as a mini-album, featured eight live tracks from three separate gigs during 1983. This was the "War" tour, with which U2 really caught the imagination of the great gig-going public and the performances are correspondingly gripping.
"Gloria", "I Will Follow", "The Electric Co." (preceded once again by a short blast of "Cry"), "New Year's Day" and "40" are straightforward and efficient, the added warmth from the live setting compensating for any studio losses. Not that there were many...
The Edge has always worked wonders live, defying the limitations of a four-man band with a barrage of effects and quick changes that sustain an impressive and complex variety of interlocking sounds. Hot Press writer Bill Graham has dubbed him 'The Edge Orchestra' and here he gets to demonstrate exactly why he deserves such a grandiose title. He also, unintentionally, shows why he is not in Van Halen! On "Party Girl", the old B-side, the guitar is shorn of effects and The Edge offers up a strained, awkward solo that ends in blunder. U2, however, made no blunder in allowing the mistake onto vinyl - it's an intentionally humanising moment of humour from which the song then surges forward, the full weight of the crowd behind it.
It is these sort of touches that really bring a live album to life and "Under A Blood Red Sky" could have done with more of the same. It lacks a sense of adventure which, as anyone who has seen the band can testify, is crucial to U2's appeal. The featured material hardly differs from and rarely improves on earlier versions. Only on one occasion does Bono indulge his habit of playing with other people's lyrics with a nice yet essentially frivolous inclusion of snatches of "I Want To Live In America" and "Send In The Clowns" during "The Electric Co." (his habit was to cost the band considerably in an out-of-court copyright settlement). In this light the album's standout has to be the reworking of "11 O'Clock Tick Tock", stripped of Martin Hannett's gothic touch yet retaining its dark intensity, while the martial and stirring performance of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" might be reckoned a disappointment in comparison to the slower interpretation that featured so powerfully in later tours.
"Under A Blood Red Sky" went a long way towards confirming U2 as a major band yet in retrospect it is little more than an enjoyable souvenir of a particular tour, a moment in time when the band were about to make a quantum leap live. Subsequent tours were a revelation because U2 were not only powerful and exciting (as they had always been) but also consistently surprising, making the stage a creative musical environment in which their material was deployed as a springboard into other unmapped areas. This is how it had been before they won a record deal, back in the days when their live shows were all they had, and how it was to become again. Marketing considerations aside, "Under A Blood Red Sky" came a little too soon. Nor can it hope to match the later "Rattle And Hum" as a spiritual, truly live creation.
It did mark one departure: producer Jimmy Iovine replaced Steve Lillywhite at the controls. There were far more radical departures on the horizon. "I think you can see that something has come to an end in this group," Bono told Hot Press at the end of the "War" tour. 'I really feel we're about to start again."
"Pride (In The Name Of Love)" was the clamorous clarion call that brought U2 back to the charts in late '84, after an absence of about a year. An unbridled, defiant and impassioned elegy for the assassinated civil rights leader Martin Luther King, it was U2 at their most anthemic but, though this was familiar territory, they were approaching it from another angle.
Principally there was something different about the texture: it was more seamless, more whole than the often choppy and (intentionally) sloppy playing on "War". The record had a broad, full sound that (as in earlier days) surrounded and supported Bono's voice rather than exposing it (as "War" had done). The singer had by no means been reined in however; continuing to grow in confidence and ability he delivered his most commanding performance to date, a blistering, full-frontal vocal rising all the way to breaking point. "Pride" is stirring stuff, an undeniable display of greatness.
U2 had a new production team in Brian Eno and his associate Daniel Lanois, an unusual choice that on the evidence of their first collaboration was making quite a difference. Eno, a founder member of Roxy Music, had a reputation as a theorist and an intellectual - the ambient music he pioneered was about as far from the full-blooded appeal of U2 as you could get. He did have impressive production credits but unlike Lillywhite, or indeed Hannett or Iovine, he had no track-record as a rock producer. His most contemporary work had been as collaborator on Bowie's electronic projects and Talking Heads' African-derived funk excursions. In fact, "Boomerang 1 ", a surprisingly sharp funk instrumental and -Boomerang 2", a chanted extension of the idea with African influence, betray a disappointingly derivative Talking Heads' feel. The single closes with "4th Of July", a moody, shivery guitar Piece bogged down by a slow and very dull bass. But if only the A-side was remarkable in its realisation, the whole suggests, at the very least, an openness to new ideas on U2's part.
"Pride" can he seen as a bridge between the U2 that "War" had given birth to and the U2 "The Unforgettable Fire" was to deliver. It reveals a more finely-tuned sense of atmosphere and dynamics than had been in U2's capability hot it remains within the framework of an identifiable rock song with verse, chorus and book. In that sense of the word song, it is the only one on the album.
The title "The Unforgettable Fire" was lifted from a book of drawings and paintings by survivors of Hiroshima, dealing with their horrific experience at the receiving end of the most appalling weapon the murder machine has ever produced - but that did not make this album the second (World) "War". Images of fear and terrible destruction abound in certain of the record's tracks hot to infer that it is some kind of nuclear protest album would be wide of the mark, for U2 also have another fire in mind, a fire that burns in all of us, a fire that's deep inside. In the opening track, "A Sort Of Homecoming" Bono sings, "Your earth moves beneath your own dream landscape. " This too was where U2 were moving, into the realm of the subconscious...
Bono has always had the greatest respect for the creative powers of the subconscious. As the band's principal lyricist he had never been too inclined to put pen to paper. I recall him struggling to write out the words to all of U2's songs for an early Hot Press interview, apparently uncertain what they were exactly. He liked the songs to evolve, taking gradual shape during rehearsal, refining them further on stage, not finally committing himself until the last possible moment, in the studio. His ability to extemporise had stood him in good stead on at least one notable occasion. In August 1984 he went backstage at Bob Dylan's open-air concert at Slane Castle in Co. Meath. (U2 had temporarily forsaken Windmill to record with Eno in a cavernous room at the castle). It was the first meeting between the two and Bono, in the days before he developed a genuine interest in rock music's back catalogue, was more familiar with Dylan's legend than his actual work. So when Dylan asked Bono to join him for a duet he was somewhat non-plussed. He was pleased and flattered at the request but every time Dylan asked him if he knew the lyrics to this or that song from his extensive collection, Bono had to confess that he did not. Finally, afraid the offer would be withdrawn, he seized on a familiar title and agreed to guest on "Blowin' In The Wind". When the moment came he improvised his own version, inventing lines about barbed wire and the Northern troubles to the Irish crowd's roar of approval and Dylan's naked astonishment. Bono rode rough-shod over the chorus but he caught the spirit if not the letter of the song and acquitted himself honourably.
It was this capacity to create on the run - this essence of creativity - that Brian Eno was keen to tap for "The Unforgettable Fire". The key song or piece is actually the record's weakest track, a fatally flawed attempt at spontaneous creation. "Elvis Presley And America" was recorded even as it was being invented, with Bono singing along to a slowed-down tape of music the others had been working on. When, pleased with the result, he suggested they keep working and finish it, Eno informed him it was finished.
In truth "Elvis Presley And America" is exactly what the recording method suggests, a sketchy work-in-progress. It is the longest piece on the album (or feels like it at least), a beginning in search of an end. The chord sequence it rides on is simply not sufficiently interesting to sustain endless repetition. And most disappointingly, Bono's vocal is the mumbled, half-formed gropings of a man not vet ready to commit himself.
He says "You know" a lot. He repeats "No one told me "over and over. Ultimately, the song says little or nothing. Clearly the intention was to evoke the decline of Elvis but for something with such a portentous title and premise, it is sad to discover that the publishing company's copy of the lyrics ends about half way through the song with a hand-written question mark.
Yet its inclusion on the LP indicates much about what U2 were trying to achieve. In marked contrast to "Elvis Presley", the rest of the, lyrics are imagistic, colourful and inspiring. They mark a return to the looser logic of pre- "War" U2 but they are considerably more resonant than any that preceded them. And it is not simply through the lyrics that U2 were drawing upon the powers of the subconscious. "The Unforgettable Fire- was and remains U2's most formless, indefinable artefact. From "A Sort Of Homecoming" on, you know you're in entirely different territory. "I'm coming home, "Bono sings but he's not taking the listener anywhere they've been with him before. Immediately noticeable is an almost total immersion of the guitar. It's there but The Edge, no longer so much guitar hero as magician, has made it invisible, its presence felt in a tail of sounds rather than riffs. Keyboards loom and swell where once piano chords made more direct statements. And the drums, that other most notable element of the U2 sound, are rolling not pounding.
"The wind will crack in winter time/A bomb blast lightning waltz/No spoken words, just a scream... " It is an atmospheric piece and you almost, almost know what it means. It has an emotional power the equal of U2's rock power, which is not to suggest that they had abandoned the latter. "Pride" states that case to perfection and "Wire", which follows it, is one of the toughest, most adrenalized things U2 have done, complete with scorching guitars, a dirty bassline, alien backing voices and a vocal that starts out pleading and winds up threatening, frightening in its intensity.
It seems - and there can be no certainty with these songs -to be about the living prison of addiction, opening with the line, "I'm in a cell and innocent am I" and slamming closed with "Here's the rope, here's the rope/Now swing on it". Addiction certainly provides the key to the album's other most riveting vocal performance. "Bad", a tense, slow-building song of frustration at a loved one's self-destruction, is a tour de force of musical collaboration, calling up a vastly wider spectrum of feeling than the lyrics could ever hope to alone. On such tracks the adventure of "The Unforgettable Fire" works unequivocally, giving U2 a depth and substance they had never before attained.
The title track, with a heart-stopping orchestrated middle section, is another of the record's undeniable high-points, lyrics overflowing with drunken poetry, filled with lost love and need. "Promenade" is a lover's stroll, a short musical ramble with a hint of Lou Reed, while "Indian Summer Sky" has the adrenalin rush of "Wire" but this time allied to a purer, lighter feel. The album closes with a short and lovely lullabye "MLK" (another tribute to Martin Luther King) in which Bono exhorts us to sleep, to sink with him into the subconscious: "May all your dreams be realised."
"The Unforgettable Fire" is another outstanding work, a strange and rewarding LP that showcased a band prepared to side-step their most obvious commercial appeal to pursue their artistic muse. Yet while it succeeds on these terms it does so occasionally at the listener's expense. It is guilty of being too wilfully obscure and it is hard to draw full satisfaction from lyrics that sometimes fail to offer enough clues for the listener to truly enter into the song. There are performances here driven by demons an outsider is incapable of understanding - which ultimately leaves us outside.
It is, intentionally, an impressionistic record and with it the band re-drew their boundaries but it is also a stepping stone to the realisation of greater potential, one that would wed their painterly sense of feeling and colour to the more defined construction of songs and ideas which they seemed, "Pride" apart, to have temporarily abandoned.
The single "The Unforgettable Fire" meanwhile boasted four extra previously-unreleased tracks, making it an essential fans' purchase. "A Sort Of Homecoming" (which was also the 7" flip) is purportedly a live version of the album's opener which had been shortened and rearranged in performance. The credits claim it was recorded live at Wembley and Good Earth Studios. In fact (I'll let you into a secret) I suspect that the only part recorded live was the crowd noise. The group had preferred the conciseness of the live version to the original and had intended to re-record it as the follow-up single to "Pride", drafting in yet another famous rock producer, Tony Visconti, to do the job. But the results did not meet expectations. I was paying a social visit to the studio and witnessed the dissatisfied shaking of heads while it was being recorded. Imagine my surprise when I spun this disc for the first time only to hear what sounds like the very same performance being greeted by the roaring of a very satisfied crowd!
The other songs were all new. "The Three Sunrises" is melodic and up beat with in almost Beatlesque flavour to its harmonies. It is delightful, one of U2's finest out-takes, as is "Love Comes Tumbling", a gentle but rhythmic love song on which Bono takes it easy and comes up trumps with an impressively light but muscular vocal, an indication of his ever increasing strengths as a singer. "Bass Trap", finally, is a graceful and civilised guitar and bass instrumental.
"The Three Sunrises", "Love Comes Tumbling" and "A Sort Of Homecoming (Live)" also feature on another interesting U2 artefact from around this period. Titled "Wide Awake In America", this four-track EP was intended only for release in the United States but became a huge import seller in Ireland, Britain and the rest of Europe. The reason was simple - the presence of a previously unavailable live version of "Bad". Extended from its original vinyl incarnation on "The Unforgettable Fire" and replete with taped keyboard intro, this has come to be considered the definitive version of the song, clear-cut recorded evidence of the smouldering power that U2 could conjure up on-stage and which would make "Bad" both a favourite with the fans, and for quite some time, the centrepiece of the band's live set.
Once again there would be a long wait for new U2 material - this time the longest wait of all. "The Unforgettable Fire" single was released in May 1985. "With Or Without You" did not appear until March 1987. The single's two B-sides clearly indicated some of the changes. Moody pieces that reflect the atmospheric qualities of the preceding album but display little of its rich depth of sound, they provide the bare backing for lyrics that, while as strong on poetic imagery as Bono's last work, were more specific and more direct than anything he had done before. "Walk To The Water" is a largely spoken story of fleeting love, casually if poignantly recounted, while "Luminous Times (Hold On To Love)" builds from a vague beginning to as clear a statement and dedication as the singer could make. "She is the avalanche/she is the thunder/she is the waves/and she pulls me under/ I love you cause I need to/Not because I need you/l love you cause I understand/God has given me your hand/It holds me in a tiny fist/But still I need your kiss/Hold on to love..." And this is just the b-side!
U2 have not been renowned for love songs, the terrain of the majority of popular music, but they mastered the medium and avoided the cliches on the tender, searching "With Or Without You". Though it has the sense of a ballad it actually - once again - boasts a driving and quite contemporary Clayton/Mullen rhythm section. The mix and arrangement is a long way from the last well-rounded Eno & Lanois production. The band have launched themselves back into the rough-house: drums too sharp, bass too bulky, vocals too loud and too exposed, yet their confident handling of themselves shows just how far they have come since "War". This time the singer can take the exposure, use the room the band have given him to lay his loving confusion on the line. Once again, Bono is dealing with an internal struggle but he is no longer hiding, he allows us access to his thoughts as well as his feelings. Honest, personal, straight from the heart: Bono makes his first confession. But the thing that really makes "With Or Without You" is a little touch, a sideways leap, a phrase that no logic would have found room for, apparently out of place but intuitively right. "And you give yourself away," he sings, giving it all away.
"With Or Without You" was a bold single, tight and constrained rather than anthemic, returning them to the public eye not with a bang but a whisper. "The Joshua Tree" when it emerged made shock-waves, catapulting U2 to the heights of superstardom, becoming one of the year's best-selling albums world-wide, and alerting the uninitiated that the tired old world of rock'n'roll could still produce a people's champion.
It also marked the integration of the most essential musical strands in their career. It returned to the rootsiness, the rock'n'roll sensibility and the reliance on straight-forward songs that made "War" their most emotionally potent album but it has a depth and maturity which that record lacked. It admitted and made the most of the instinctive, subconscious creative process that initially guided them to "Boy" and which they re-deployed to such potent effect with "The Unforgettable Fire". But there is far more coherence to "The Joshua Tree" than the "Fire" album and far more poetry, in both music and lyrics, than on "Boy". It has the maturity of a band who have proven themselves capable of carving solid rock and also playing mood-games, tampering with the atmosphere. Finally there was a new element, the X factor, in Bono's rather belated discovery of the blues.
"The Joshua Tree" is a tree capable of surviving, even flourishing, in the most sun-scorched desert. U2 had survived a flourished in the often soul-destroying and far too rarely soul-full wilderness of rock'n'roll. Perhaps they had benefitted from a kind of self-imposed isolation, turning a (relative) ignorance of rock history on its head by inventing their own rules, and themselves with them. As The Edge once remarked to me about their early attempts to play other people's material: "We could never play any of those songs. We were the worst cover version band in the world. So the only way we could actually become good …" "... was to write our own stuff!" (the conclusion was Bono's).
They were children of punk rock, knocking everything that went before them without really knowing what it was, and their success came so early on their own terms that they never really had to look back. If U2's detractors have accused them of being cliched at least they were their own cliches (usual slights concern their penchant for big-chorused anthems and favouring a quite limited selection of chords). However Bono, after being exposed to Brian Eno's extensive Gospel collection and having met and been impressed with the likes of Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones was beginning to investigate rock's past and (though "War" had made mainstream musical connections) for the first time identifiable pre-70's influences began to show in U2's work.
Bono was frequently to be seen with an acoustic guitar and wrote and performed a solo, bluesy track called "Silver And Gold" for Little Steven's Sun City anti-apartheid album. He wrote a (never recorded) country ditty called "Lucille" that he would proudly play as a party piece to anyone who cared to listen. A whole new world had just opened up to him and he was awed and impressed by it - but not intimidated! It was his self-confessed ambition to write a truly classic song, in the classic mode.
And there is at least one classic song on "The Joshua Tree", one timeless creation with meaning and melody enough for anyone, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For". Before the album's release, Bono proudIy told me that title and I knew he'd cracked it. That one line catches so much, traps the essence of every restless spirit (though it should be noted that The Edge has laid claim to coming up with it!). With a simple three-chord tune and an honest lyric, Bono built it into something entirely special, took it to a place where even his Christianity and his own personal answers became unsatisfactory as they ultimately can never fully satisfy the enquiring mind: "I believe in the kingdom come/When all the colours will bleed into one/But yes I'm still running."
It is not only written with painful honesty, it is sung with it. Bono's constant improvement as a Vocalist is a cause for hope for every tone deaf would-be singing star. In school, as the band began to become local favourites, he remarked amusedly that his brother told him not to waste his time, he couldn't sing and that was that. He's managed surprisingly well given this handicap. He has dealt with his limitations and either overcome or used them. But could he (or his brother) ever have suspected that one day he would wake up and be the greatest living rock vocalist in the world? For that is what many would consider him after the revelations of "The Joshua Tree".
Listen to him tear down the walls of sound in "Bullet The Blue Sky". He's surrounded by The Edge's unbelievably psyched out guitars howling like Led Zeppelin after the levee broke, but this time Bono needs no cushioning, he can punch his way clean out of there. The track's appalled look at the least romantic, most capitalistic, self-serving side of American imperialism was the darkest thing U2 had produced since "11 O'Clock Tick Tock" and it ripped out of the speakers, demanding to be seen and heard live - though for all intents and purposes it already was live! The gap between U2 on stage and U2 on record had always been the gap between The Edge and Bono. On "Bullet The Blue Sky", the two came together with a vengeance. Not surprisingly, the track would, on "The Joshua Tree" tour, assume the centrepiece role that had previously been the preserve of "Bad", its apocalyptic sound and vision drenched in blood-red lighting.
Not every track was such an achievement. The least satisfying songs are two that seem to have evolved from their post "Unforgettable Fire" live set and are curiously incomplete. "Running To Stand Still" comes out of Lou Reed's "Walk On The wild side" via (believe it or not) Elton John's "Candle In The Wind", both of which Bono would often sing snatches of -songs with drifting, shifting melodies that have been borrowed (We won't try and start a law suit with the word 'plagiarised') to form the basis of this sad tale of heroin addiction. Although lilting and lovely, it adds up to less than it might.
"Exit", on the other hand, attempts to capture the bleak, black feel of their punky live cover of Dylan's "Maggie's Farm". On record this murderous tale of the most negative side of love ("The hands that build/Could also pull down") is harsh but too lacking in form. On the subsequent tour it became increasingly crazed until it reached the intended terrifying proportions. The version that features in the "Rattle And Hum" movie (but not the album) takes the song into the twilight zone, where it truly belongs.
But if those might be considered the album's weaknesses they hardly detract from the whole. Both are brave songs. More than any other U2 LP "The Joshua Tree" is a collection of songs with interlinking themes but no overall concept. The main connection is a sonic one. This is U2 bared to the bone and fleshed out again. It makes the U2 of "War" sound almost amateur, certainly confused. Here U2 know what they want from the beast of rock'n'roll. "Where The Streets Have No Name" is the only track where they actually sound like U2 as we might have come to expect them to sound, yet they could be no other band, even when dipping into the country-rooted upbeat American thrashes of "In God's Country" and the lusty "Trip Through Your Wires". In getting to grips with some kind of roots music, Bono opened himself to a basic emotion that he had never previously embraced in his lyrics: desire. For "The Joshua Tree" U2 got off of their cloud to prove that they were really flesh and blood for the first time (though religious imagery lingers to torment the singer who seems bedevilled by temptation, uncertain whether he is faced by "angels or devils").
There was one bona-fide anthem on board too, in "Red Hill Mining Town", an earth-breaking slice of mega-chorus rock- yet unusually it had a tender and bittersweet core and a bleak message. It was a song about unemployment seen from the inside, where only love can save a man's dignity and even that is sometimes not enough. The rich tones of "The Unforgettable Fire" are evoked on the beautiful, forceful, funereal elegy "One Tree Hill" (inspired by the motorcycle death of their friend and
employee Greg Carroll) and there are lullabye echoes of "40" and "MLK"' on the hushed tribute to the long-suffering Argentinian "Mothers Of The Disappeared". This was U2's most varied set to date, a work of natural power and assurance that suggested a band at the height of their talents.
It was also their most successful record, the fastest selling LP in Britain ever, and number one on both sides of the Atlantic. Suddenly U2 were being hailed as the torch-bearers for rock'n'roll, on the cover of every kind of magazine, analysed in newspaper editorials, snapped by the papparazi. Bono was embraced as rock's latest mystic leader, a sort of holy cross between the Morrisons, Jim and Van. There was craziness in the air as U2 embarked on an extensive, exhausting world tour further