The Bottom Line: Best record ever made. It's that simple. A must-own even if you hate U2.
Recently, U2s The Joshua Tree was voted by a panel of critics as the greatest record of all time. The one thing I can say for those critics is, at least they got the band right. I take nothing away from the magnificent Joshua Tree in this review, but we all know what idiots real critics are. The Joshua Tree may have all the universal acclaim, but my own personal favorite record of all time is Achtung Baby.
Achtung Baby was more than just another piece of music for me. It was a wonderful, exotic, colorful masterpiece. The first time I heard it way back in 1995, it blew me away. All of a sudden, music had taken on an entirely new dimension, and I knew, for the first time, the difference between good music and bad music. I came to pity every record I heard from there on out, as Achtung Baby immediately became the standard by which I judged everything. And so far, nothing Ive heard reaches that bar. Nirvanas Nevermind? I hate to sound cliche, but never mind. Radioheads OK Computer? Please, I heard all those cheap little tricks before. Santanas Supernatural? Close, but no cigar. Those were just to name a few personal favorites.
Achtung Baby was the resulting product of the commercially disappointing live Rattle and Hum record and a hiatus. There are many people who call it a departure by U2, but I would sooner use the term new beginning. When it was released, it was the beginning of a new decade and, their old 80s mullets having had their day, a new U2, one which accompanied their loyal fans through two records in the 90s. Instead of the uplifting, idealistic messages and jangling guitars of memorable songs like I Will Follow, Desire, and Pride, fans would now experience the dark lyrics and danceable beats of Until the End of the World, So Cruel, and Mysterious Ways.
Before those brilliant pieces, though, U2 got things started off on a more positive note. The record opener, Zoo Station, has one of the aforementioned danceable beats with an emphasis on Larry Mullens drums. And the lyrics send a message to both fans and detractors alike: U2 is HERE for the 90s, and well be here whether you want us here or not: Im ready Ready for laughing gas Im ready Ready for whats next Ready to duck Ready to dive Ready to say Im glad to be alive Im ready Ready for the push U2 never did have a problem thinking up great lyrics to open their records, did they?
After sending the message that theyre here to stay, U2 takes it up a notch in Even Better than the Real Thing. Now they say theyre not only sticking around, theyre also still better than all those other guys: Give me one more chance And youll be satisfied Give me two more chances You wont be denied
Well my heart is where its always been My head is somewhere in between Give me one more chance Let me be your lover tonight The primary instrument in this catchy number is the guitar, which finds a happy medium between the repetitive riffs of popular 80s U2 songs and the hard rock sounds of the 70s.
80s U2 was not completely forgotten by the band members, however. For all of the early 90s techno sounds crammed into the record, 80s U2 is still very much alive and makes a couple of cameo appearences. The more noteable appearence is on the third track, One, but the song most closely resembling something off The Joshua Tree is kind of a tie between Whos Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses?, and Love is Blindness. One is most noteable mostly because it was all over the radio, but it really is the most modern-sounding of the trio (as modern-sounding as was modern back in 1991, that is). Its also the best tear-jerker ever written, using very low bass riffs which surround the song with an aura of sadness that stretches for miles. Like many U2 songs, there are many theories about the meaning of One. AIDS is a popular conclusion. One is ultimately a love song, but what makes it such a unique love song it that it seems to have meaning on two levels: The individual level, a man/woman relationship, but also a more humanistic level, as in loving your fellow men.
As for the other two, Whos Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses? is a guitar-driven tear-jerker which lets Bono let out in a way not heard since The Joshua Trees With or Without You. Bono just builds his voice in the verses, then out comes a torrent of painful emotions in the hook. Love is Blindness is not one of the stronger points on the record. Its the typical U2 record closer, with Bono singing in a low voice to music which hardly even seems to be there.
The perfect balance between old and new U2 is found on Until the End of the World. While the song contains some of the studio magic which would be a trademark on 1993s Zooropa and 1997s Pop, it wouldnt sound completely out of place on War or The Unforgettable Fire either. This is a song which tricks you. The music carries a bit of a positive tone to it, but the lyrics tell the story of Jesus(pboh) betrayal through the eyes of his betrayer, Judas. In the last verse, we bear witness to Judas guilt trip, and the lyrics capturing the emotion are very brilliant and very powerful: In my dreams I was drowning my sorrows But my sorrows they learned to swim Surrounding me, going down on me Spilling over the brim
U2 uses a synthesized sound throughout much of Achtung Baby. Some songs have the sound sprinkled on lightly, like One, and Tryin to Throw Your Arms Around the World. Other songs use it heavily, like So Cruel, and The Fly. The Fly has a very apparent use of studio magic during the hooks. Bono begins the hooks singing in a high voice, but at the last minute, a low voice kicks in and overlaps the high voice. This gives the song an interesting sound, but one that works.
Some people like to talk about music which tickles the brains pleasure nerve. The eighth track, Mysterious Ways, firmly grabs the pleasure nerve with both hands and throttles it. The song begins with a simple but very oriental and exotic dance beat, with the lyrics telling a short story about a kid named Johnny and his sister. Soon, however, the lyrics trail off into jumbles of random sayings, and the music explodes into colorful, unpredictable directions. Any attempt at trying to comprehend it at this point sends your brain into a kind of euphoria. Your mind will just stop entirely, and your pleasure nerve takes hold of you as you mindlessly listen to the infectious hook and eclectic combination of instruments. This is one of those songs which seems to end far too soon.
After experiencing the musical nirvana which is Mysterious Ways, U2 kind of gently lets you off you high so your head doesnt explode. Tryin to Throw Your Arms Around the World is a rather quiet song which gets the band out of the trap of trying to top Mysterious Ways. From there, we hear a pair of good but unremarkable songs before the record closer, the low Love is Blindness.
Achtung Baby was simply an introduction to the studio magic sound which would be heard on Zooropa and Pop during the following decade. Its easily the best of the techno-experimental U2, because of the way it combined old sounds with new techniques. Adam Claytons bass is more noticeable than ever, and The Edge probably a a bit less to do this time. Bono and Larry Mullens are both showcased in all their glory. Although the studio magic is prevelant, its never enough to overshadow the musicians.
Musically and Lyrically, Achtung Baby is the deepest thing Ive ever heard from U2. It toys with your emotions, taking you to the ultimate musical pleasure while yanking your heartstrings. It contains an old and new balance not heard on Zooropa or Pop. I have no qualms about calling Achtung Baby the best piece of music ever produced.
'Achtung' has to rate as one of two of the best albums by U2. It ranks with 'Joshua Tree,' which has more variety, even if 'Achtung' gratifies the listener with more immediacy. U2 reinvents their own sound wheel with the help of Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, once again, but with "Flood" added to the helm. The lyrics cover the gamut of love realized and unrealized with the fluency and passion of their best work. Their skill and repertoire are furthered on this outing. "One" … more
This is a terrific album from U2, with almost every song being memorable and well crafted. This is an album with lots of poetic, emotional songs, with both introspection and observations about society in general. Most importantly, though, the songs are musically memorable, with both Bono and Edge's guitar singing on tracks like Mysterious Ways, One, Trying To Throw Your Arms Around The World, & Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses. Other excellent tracks include The Fly, Ultraviolet, & So Cruel. Love … more
,Achtung Baby is U2's CD that has made me change my attitude towards the band. The rhythms and special effects are extremely creative especially on Zoo Station, Mysterious Ways, and So Cruel. Furthermore, One is truly a beautiful emotional song. Definitely one of U2's all time best songs based on the lyrics, vocals, and effects. Love Is Blindness is another captivating piece. Love the piano accompanyment and the guitar soling at the end is just awesome. Its certainly a team effort on … more
"I'm ready / Ready for what's next," Bono announces at the outset ofAchtung Baby, the album that proved the so-called "band of the '80s" was capable of blazing into the '90s by replacing its flag-waving arena-rock stance with screaming synths, clubby rhythms, and industrial skronk. The group advances its sound without losing accessibility on "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses," "Even Better Than the Real Thing," and "Mysterious Ways," while pushing the envelope a bit more on "The Fly," "Zoo Station," and "Acrobat." The moody ballad "One" is arguably the finest song the band has produced, full of sorrow, compassion, and hope all at the same time.--Daniel Durchholz