U2 – Achtung Baby is the next to be featured in our new (hopefully) regular feature of classic album reviews. Of course, as usual, what qualifies as a classic album is a matter of opinion and typically, I will highlight albums that I have listened to quite a fair bit in order to ultimately arrive at this particular specific assessment.
To this day, almost 40 years after its release, I have mixed feelings about U2 – Achtung Baby. At the time, U2 (viz Bono, The Edge, Larry Mullen Jr and Adam Clayton) had come off the adverse reactions to Rattle and Hum (1988), their double LP of new recordings and live tracks accompanied by a film that was an obvious rock god over-reach by the Irish band. Perhaps Bono and co had gotten carried away with the success of 1987’s monster, The Joshua Tree.
So… the band set about recording new material in Berlin, a controversial decision in itself. Was it a self-mythologizing move designed to compare themselves to the vaunted iconic Berlin era of David Bowie and Iggy Pop? Or was it a genuine attempt to gain inspiration from German reunification, which had just taken place? Did the fact that they had Brian Eno (who worked with Bowie on his so-called Berlin trilogy) on board make it all more or less legitimate?
Who knows? As with U2, it’s probably a bit of both! But of course, what it boils down to is – were the songs any good? Yes. U2 – Achtung Baby found the band in inspired form. A deliberate change of direction from the rockist tendencies of the previous two albums, the band embraced electronic sounds and club grooves, which had been bubbling beneath the surface since The Unforgettable Fire.
Lyrically, the band turned its concerns inwards, eschewing the overt political commentaries of the 80s oeuvre. For me personally, this approach was realised most in “So Cruel” which provided an engaging midpoint for the album. The psychedelic hip-shaking “Even Better Than the Real Thing” became the edgy pop hit to balance the sugary misstep that was “One” with the former – thankfully – informing much of where U2’s musical headspace was occupied.
Sadly, the critical and commercial success the album received, convinced U2 to go deeper down the rabbit hole, resulting in a gradual decline in quality that the band has never quite recovered from.
In the final analysis, the purpose of a classic album review is not to simply describe the music. That is pointless, you can click on the links I have provided here to listen to the music yourself. What I try to do is to convey what the album means to me and how it affected me mind, heart and soul. What more can I do, U2 – Achtung Baby is essential listening. You know what to do.
… still there’s more …