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U2 – Achtung Baby 20th Anniversary Edition

U2, Achtung Baby

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 5 out of 5

FEW bands can lay claim to delivering as many classic albums as U2, but even by their high standards, Achtung Baby rates among their very best.

Produced by Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, the album marked the first time Bono and company decided to radically re-invent their sound, shifting from the stadium rock of The Joshua Tree and its unjustly criticised Rattle and Hum to incorporate elements of alt-rock, industrial and dance into their sound.

It also found them assuming a slightly lighter tone while still managing to keep their finger on the pulse of world issues and write songs that were easy to embrace as standards.

Indeed, the album is often included among the Greatest LPs of all time lists, and deservedly so… for there are so many classic cuts on it.

The distinct sound of the album is evident from the outside, with the stop-start industrial sound that drives Zoo Station announcing in the most emphatic fashion possible that this was a new sound. And boy is The Edge’s guitar work thrilling.

It’s followed by Even Better Than The Real Thing, a track that seamlessly incorporates a dance influence into the U2 mix while never losing sight of the things that helped make them famous in the first place.

And then comes One… surely one of the most moving, yet empowering ballads of all time. I still remember – and cherish – the memory of seeing that track performed live at Earl’s Court as part of the accompanying Zoo TV world tour – Bono’s striking vocals giving life to the emotive lyrics about love while behind him, on a giant video screen, a herd of stampeding buffalo charged towards their death over a cliff-top.

And if those first three tracks were amazing in their own right, the album continues to deliver one seminal moment after another.

The Fly is pure rock exhilaration complete with more industrial influences and a cheeky look at the state of the world as seen through the eyes of a stereotypical rock star, while Mysterious Ways incorporates a funky guitar hook, a breezy dance element and some sly lyrics about the mysteries of love.

Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses is another special moment, featuring some really striking lyrics about the nature of rebellion, while the expert combination of melancholy piano chords and sombre guitars on So Cruel is fantastic.

Even in its lesser known moments, such as Until The End of the World or Trying To Throw Your Arms Around, Bono and company find killer riffs or lyrics that really strike a chord with the listener.

The 25th anniversary release comes with the tracks typically re-mastered for exceptional clarity and an optional bonus CD that includes many of the B-sides from the singles… most notable of which is the hugely fun Lady With The Spinning Head, a couple of cool cover versions in Paint It Black and Satellite of Love.

Indeed, only the Perfecto Mix of Real Thing sounds dated, providing further proof that you should seldom try and ‘dance’ up a classic rock anthem. While the lack of too many rarities among the bonus CD items is slightly disappointing (there’s nothing here that a true die-hard fan probably doesn’t already own).

But in all other regards, Achtung Baby is worth re-discovering as this is a classic album in every sense and one that deserves a place in every record collection.

Download picks: Zoo Station, One, Until The End of the World, Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses, So Cruel, The Fly, Mysterious Ways, Ultra Violet, The Lady With The Spinning Head, Satellite of Love, Fortunate Son

Track listing:
Disc One

  1. Zoo Station
  2. Even Better Than The Real Thing
  3. One
  4. Until The End Of The World
  5. Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses
  6. So Cruel
  7. The Fly
  8. Mysterious Ways
  9. Tryin’ To Throw Your Arms Around The World
  10. Ultra Violet (Light My Way)
  11. Acrobat
  12. Love Is Blindness

Disc Two

  1. Lady With The Spinning Head [UV1]
  2. Blow Your House [Analogue Mix Bono Edit]
  3. Salome
  4. Alex Descends Into Hell For A Bottle Of Milk / Korova
  5. Wild Horses [Temple Bar Remix]
  6. Paint It Black
  7. Night And Day [Steel String Remix]
  8. Real Thing [Perfecto Mix]
  9. Fortunate Son
  10. Satellite Of Love
  11. Where Did It All Go Wrong