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Achtung Baby

Alternative Rock and Pop album by U2

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Lift My Days, Light Up My Nights

  • Jun 20, 2003
Pros: Too many to list

Cons: "Mysterious Ways" is too short

The Bottom Line: Best record ever made. It's that simple. A must-own even if you hate U2.

Recently, U2’s 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 I’ve heard reaches that bar. Nirvana’s Nevermind? I hate to sound cliche, but never mind. Radiohead’s OK Computer? Please, I heard all those cheap little tricks before. Santana’s 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 80’s mullets having had their day, a new U2, one which accompanied their loyal fans through two records in the 90’s. 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 90’s, and we’ll be here whether you want us here or not:
“I’m ready
Ready for laughing gas
I’m ready
Ready for what’s next
Ready to duck
Ready to dive
Ready to say
I’m glad to be alive
I’m 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 they’re here to stay, U2 takes it up a notch in “Even Better than the Real Thing.” Now they say they’re not only sticking around, they’re also still better than all those other guys:
“Give me one more chance
And you’ll be satisfied
Give me two more chances
You won’t be denied

Well my heart is where it’s 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 80’s U2 songs and the hard rock sounds of the 70’s.

80’s U2 was not completely forgotten by the band members, however. For all of the early 90’s techno sounds crammed into the record, 80’s 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 “Who’s 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). It’s 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, “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses?” is a guitar-driven tear-jerker which lets Bono let out in a way not heard since The Joshua Tree’s “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. It’s 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 1993’s Zooropa and 1997’s Pop, it wouldn’t 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 brain’s 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 doesn’t 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. It’s easily the best of the techno-experimental U2, because of the way it combined old sounds with new techniques. Adam Clayton’s 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, it’s never enough to overshadow the musicians.

Musically and Lyrically, Achtung Baby is the deepest thing I’ve 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.


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More Achtung Baby reviews
review by . September 09, 2006
'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" …
review by . September 19, 2003
posted in Music Matters
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 …
review by . December 27, 2001
,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 …
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About this album


"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
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Label: Island
Artist: U2
Genre: Alternative Rock, Pop
Release Date: November 19, 1991

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"Their Best"
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