- 18 Feb 10
With Achtung Baby, U2 famously relocated to Berlin after the Wall came down in 1989. The sessions were tortuous: the band were miserable at Hansa-by-the-Wall (a freezing Nazi ballroom that had hosted Bowie’s Heroes, plus recordings by Depeche Mode and Nick Cave), at odds with each other and creatively blocked, with Daniel Lanois struggling to get a handle on things. Salvation came in the form of ‘One’, arguably their greatest love song, the guts of which was written in a matter of hours as Edge chased down a middle-eight for ‘Ultra Violet’. With the centrepiece in place, the rest of the album began to come together. The hot colours and white funk of ‘Mysterious Ways’ reconciled the spiritual with the sensual. The dank, subterranean soundscape of ‘Until The End of the World’, was a roiling, turbulent tune based around a hypothetical conversation between Christ and Iscariot. Musically, Edge loaded up on Nine Inch Nails, My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth, while also checking rhythmic developments in Manchester and Detroit. Lyrically, Bono had switched from the political to the personal. The result was a seriously ambiguous album about sex, love, fidelity and betrayal. Irony abounded in the twisted riddles of ‘The Fly’, but those bug-eye glasses served to protect as well as deflect. Songs like ‘Acrobat’ and the Orbison/Scott Walkerisms of ‘So Cruel’ were unflinching in their depiction of the loneliness of long-distance lovers. ‘Trying To Throw Your Arms Around The World’ was a wry admission of fallibility hitched to a trip-hop pulse. ‘Love Is Blindness’ was borderline Brechtian: U2’s darkest song since ‘Exit’ brought the album to a suitably ambiguous conclusion.
No 2 in 2009, as voted for by over 200 Irish musicians. Down from No 6 in 2004.