- 20 Oct 20
40 years today, U2 released their debut album Boy. To celebrate, we're revisiting Declan Lynch's original review of the classic album – first published in Hot Press in 1980.
"U2 make me think", it's been said. That criterion is used a lot these days, because as rock'n'roll gets older, its priorities and values change. It spreads itself out and becomes more adjustable, like a toy.
It couldn't really be said of Gene Vincent or Jerry Lee Lewis that they made you think. They hardly even had to stand at the cross roads and decide which road to take, because through naturally innocence and naivete, they were relieved of that burden. They made you know.
Now it seems like we've come such a long way without really going anywhere at all. U2 seem anxious to draw the brakes, so they mention 'innocence' and they use the world 'spiritual' a great deal. (Come, come boys, let's be reasonable, you're not selling us that old dummy, surely?) (Bono is nodding his head, I think he means it.)
Easier said than done of course, factors such as background, education, time, and place being the salient ones. The days of liberation through primitivism are gone, and the psychological dance goes round and round, the dancers think, the thinkers dance.
We're walking a kind of plank. The record shows that rock'n'roll went sour when it became a vehicle for 'self awareness', and when people started seeing God in guitar solos. There's a different kind of hippy dippyism on the prowl at the moment, with groups wallowing in their own so-abject misery, even bragging about it.
U2 could beat the snare. Their music is so positive, so optimistic, it can make you think straight as distinct from the Rolling Stones, who took the Devil's music and dressed it up in white man's clothes, and white man's drugs, and whose fans knew that the Stones knew what they were up to, U2's aim is to forget everything they ever knew and start all over again. (Impossible).
Certainly in terms of the great, glorious tradition of Irish rock, they stand out. Lynott was at times capable of honesty, but mostly hid his inadequacy behind the myth of Lizzy. He played along with everything, he was cute, he kept the wrong company and at heart he was the Darling of Dingwalls.
Geldof's road to freedom was through his ego, and while we all knew it was a front and that behind the mask there lay a wonderful, cuddly human, we decided that a joke is just a joke.
In comparison, U2 have so far led a sheltered musical life, and the milder rock climate that has been apparent of late, has allowed them to grow naturally. They are not at all warped by the myths of rock'n'roll and in terms of male involvement with rock, they are idealistic and less prone to the hedonistic practices of others.
I think they stand for something, and I think that's quite important.
This album echoes with sounds and sentiments which are unfamiliar. There is a romanticism there, a dream-like quality, and this is offset by a new aggression, a new directness. No one track is radically different to another in construction or in texture. This is an exposition of the emerging sound of U2, the cards are now on the table, and the only direction to take is straight ahead.
For their already large fan club, Boy will be practically a retrospective album. 'Out of Control', 'Twilight' and 'Stories For Boys" have been re-recorded. 'A Day Without Me' is here also. 'Shadows In Trees' and 'Another Time, Another Place' have been taken out of mothballs.
I find it almost impossible to react negatively to U2's music. It rushes your senses, it's so sharp, every song seems like it's been lying under the tree all year, and at Christmas it's taken out of its box and shown to everybody, open-mouthed.
I wouldn't worry about U2 selling out because I know they will. 'Out', after all is the only way to sell and once you show an interest in the shifting of units, there's no point feeling guilty about the extent. It will be interesting to see if they cop better than others, but as regards railing against the music business, I've lost interest. If you're mixing with pigs, you're bound to get dirty, self-admonishment notwithstanding.
There is potential both positive and negative, in U2's music. The guitar style of Dave Edge gives the sound such width, that further experimentation could prove ponderous and indulgent. This should be watched.
For now, U2 are full of bluster, almost keeling over with the weight of energy on board. They have given birth to their own kind of cool, and they are as important or as trivial as you want to make them.
Make them sweat.
With two anniversaries rolled into one, 2020 is an important moment for U2 – marking 40 years since their extraordinary debut album Boy, and 20 years since their marvellously resonant All That You Can’t Leave Behind. The records were world’s apart, surely. Not so fast, says Pat Carty, in a powerful piece that leads our Hot Press U2: 80-00-20 special – hitting shelves this week, and available to pre-order now!
Plus, you'll find interviews with producer Steve Lillywhite and longtime U2 graphic designer Shaughn McGrath – who also designed An Post's new set of U2 stamps! The musicians of Ireland also have their say about the band frequently dubbed the greatest rock band in the world. Make no mistake – it’s a cracker of a read for U2 fans!