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Rock - Released January 1, 2011 | Mercury

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography - Sélection du Mercury Prize
Reinventions rarely come as thorough and effective as Achtung Baby, an album that completely changed U2's sound and style. The crashing, unrecognizable distorted guitars that open "Zoo Station" are a clear signal that U2 have traded their Americana pretensions for postmodern, contemporary European music. Drawing equally from Bowie's electronic, avant-garde explorations of the late '70s and the neo-psychedelic sounds of the thriving rave and Madchester club scenes of early-'90s England, Achtung Baby sounds vibrant and endlessly inventive. Unlike their inspirations, U2 rarely experiment with song structures over the course of the album. Instead, they use the thick dance beats, swirling guitars, layers of effects, and found sounds to break traditional songs out of their constraints, revealing the tortured emotional core of their songs with the hyper-loaded arrangements. In such a dense musical setting, it isn't surprising that U2 have abandoned the political for the personal on Achtung Baby, since the music, even with its inviting rhythms, is more introspective than anthemic. Bono has never been as emotionally naked as he is on Achtung Baby, creating a feverish nightmare of broken hearts and desperate loneliness; unlike other U2 albums, it's filled with sexual imagery, much of it quite disturbing, and it ends on a disquieting note. Few bands as far into their career as U2 have recorded an album as adventurous or fulfilled their ambitions quite as successfully as they do on Achtung Baby, and the result is arguably their best album. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Rock - Released January 1, 2011 | Mercury

Distinctions Stereophile: Record To Die For
Reinventions rarely come as thorough and effective as Achtung Baby, an album that completely changed U2's sound and style. The crashing, unrecognizable distorted guitars that open "Zoo Station" are a clear signal that U2 have traded their Americana pretensions for postmodern, contemporary European music. Drawing equally from Bowie's electronic, avant-garde explorations of the late '70s and the neo-psychedelic sounds of the thriving rave and Madchester club scenes of early-'90s England, Achtung Baby sounds vibrant and endlessly inventive. Unlike their inspirations, U2 rarely experiment with song structures over the course of the album. Instead, they use the thick dance beats, swirling guitars, layers of effects, and found sounds to break traditional songs out of their constraints, revealing the tortured emotional core of their songs with the hyper-loaded arrangements. In such a dense musical setting, it isn't surprising that U2 have abandoned the political for the personal on Achtung Baby, since the music, even with its inviting rhythms, is more introspective than anthemic. Bono has never been as emotionally naked as he is on Achtung Baby, creating a feverish nightmare of broken hearts and desperate loneliness; unlike other U2 albums, it's filled with sexual imagery, much of it quite disturbing, and it ends on a disquieting note. Few bands as far into their career as U2 have recorded an album as adventurous or fulfilled their ambitions quite as successfully as they do on Achtung Baby, and the result is arguably their best album. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Rock - Released January 1, 2007 | Island Records

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
Using the textured sonics of The Unforgettable Fire as a basis, U2 expanded those innovations by scaling back the songs to a personal setting and adding a grittier attack for its follow-up, The Joshua Tree. It's a move that returns them to the sweeping, anthemic rock of War, but if War was an exploding political bomb, The Joshua Tree is a journey through its aftermath, trying to find sense and hope in the desperation. That means that even the anthems -- the epic opener "Where the Streets Have No Name," the yearning "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" -- have seeds of doubt within their soaring choruses, and those fears take root throughout the album, whether it's in the mournful sliding acoustic guitars of "Running to Stand Still," the surging "One Tree Hill," or the hypnotic elegy "Mothers of the Disappeared." So it might seem a little ironic that U2 became superstars on the back of such a dark record, but their focus has never been clearer, nor has their music been catchier, than on The Joshua Tree. Unexpectedly, U2 have also tempered their textural post-punk with American influences. Not only are Bono's lyrics obsessed with America, but country and blues influences are heard throughout the record, and instead of using these as roots, they're used as ways to add texture to the music. With the uniformly excellent songs -- only the clumsy, heavy rock and portentous lyrics of "Bullet the Blue Sky" fall flat -- the result is a powerful, uncompromising record that became a hit due to its vision and its melody. Never before have U2's big messages sounded so direct and personal. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Pop - Released January 1, 2009 | Mercury

Distinctions 3F de Télérama
A rock & roll open secret: U2 care very much about what other people say about them. Ever since they hit the big time in 1987 with The Joshua Tree, every album is a response to the last -- rather, a response to the response, a way to correct the mistakes of the last album: Achtung Baby erased the roots rock experiment Rattle and Hum, All That You Can't Leave Behind straightened out the fumbling Pop, and 2009's No Line on the Horizon is a riposte to the suggestion they played it too safe on 2004's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. After recording two new cuts with Rick Rubin for the '06 compilation U218 and flirting with will.i.am, U2 reunited with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois (here billed as "Danny" for some reason), who not only produced The Joshua Tree but pointed the group toward aural architecture on The Unforgettable Fire. Much like All That You Can't and Atomic Bomb, which were largely recorded with their first producer, Steve Lillywhite, this is a return to the familiar for U2, but where their Lillywhite LPs are characterized by muscle, the Eno/Lanois records are where the band take risks, and so it is here that U2 attempts to recapture that spacy, mysterious atmosphere of The Unforgettable Fire and then take it further. Contrary to the suggestion of the clanking, sputtering first single "Get on Your Boots" -- its riffs and "Pump It Up" chant sounding like a cheap mashup stitched together in GarageBand -- this isn't a garish, gaudy electro-dalliance in the vein of Pop. Apart from a stilted middle section -- "Boots," the hamfisted white-boy funk "Stand Up Comedy," and the not-nearly-as-bad-as-its-title anthem "I'll Go Crazy if I Don't Go Crazy Tonight"; tellingly, the only three songs here to not bear co-writing credits from Eno and Lanois -- No Line on the Horizon is all austere grey tones and midtempo meditation. It's a record that yearns to be intimate but U2 don't do intimate, they only do majestic, or as Bono sings on one of the albums best tracks, they do "Magnificent." Here, as on "No Line on the Horizon" and "Breathe," U2 strike that unmistakable blend of soaring, widescreen sonics and unflinching openhearted emotion that's been their trademark, turning the intimate into something hauntingly universal. These songs resonate deeper and longer than anything on Atomic Bomb, their grandeur almost seeming effortless. It's the rest of the record that illustrates how difficult it is to sound so magnificent. With the exception of that strained middle triptych, the rest of the album is in the vein of "No Line on the Horizon", "Magnificent" and "Breathe," only quieter and unfocused, with its ideas drifting instead of gelling. Too often, the album whispers in a murmur so quiet it's quite easy to ignore -- "White as Snow," an adaptation of a traditional folk tune, and "Cedars of Lebanon," its verses not much more than a recitation, simmer so slowly they seem to evaporate -- but at least these poorly defined subtleties sustain the hazily melancholy mood of No Line on the Horizon. When U2, Eno, and Lanois push too hard -- the ill-begotten techno-speak overload of "Unknown Caller," the sound sculpture of "Fez-Being Born" -- the ideas collapse like a pyramid of cards, the confusion amplifying the aimless stretches of the album, turning it into a murky muddle. Upon first listen, No Line on the Horizon seems as if it would be a classic grower, an album that makes sense with repeated spins, but that repetition only makes the album more elusive, revealing not that U2 went into the studio with a dense, complicated blueprint, but rather, they had no plan at all. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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War

Rock - Released January 1, 2008 | Island Records

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
Opening with the ominous, fiery protest of "Sunday Bloody Sunday," War immediately announces itself as U2's most focused and hardest-rocking album to date. Blowing away the fuzzy, sonic indulgences of October with propulsive, martial rhythms and shards of guitar, War bristles with anger, despair, and above all, passion. Previously, Bono's attempts at messages came across as grandstanding, but his vision becomes remarkably clear on this record, as his anthems ("New Year's Day," "40," "Seconds") are balanced by effective, surprisingly emotional love songs ("Two Hearts Beat as One"), which are just as desperate and pleading as his protests. He performs the difficult task of making the universal sound personal, and the band helps him out by bringing the songs crashing home with muscular, forceful performances that reveal their varied, expressive textures upon repeated listens. U2 always aimed at greatness, but War was the first time they achieved it. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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War

Rock - Released January 1, 2008 | Island Records

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
Opening with the ominous, fiery protest of "Sunday Bloody Sunday," War immediately announces itself as U2's most focused and hardest-rocking album to date. Blowing away the fuzzy, sonic indulgences of October with propulsive, martial rhythms and shards of guitar, War bristles with anger, despair, and above all, passion. Previously, Bono's attempts at messages came across as grandstanding, but his vision becomes remarkably clear on this record, as his anthems ("New Year's Day," "40," "Seconds") are balanced by effective, surprisingly emotional love songs ("Two Hearts Beat as One"), which are just as desperate and pleading as his protests. He performs the difficult task of making the universal sound personal, and the band helps him out by bringing the songs crashing home with muscular, forceful performances that reveal their varied, expressive textures upon repeated listens. U2 always aimed at greatness, but War was the first time they achieved it. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Pop/Rock - Released January 1, 2007 | Mercury

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
Using the textured sonics of The Unforgettable Fire as a basis, U2 expanded those innovations by scaling back the songs to a personal setting and adding a grittier attack for its follow-up, The Joshua Tree. It's a move that returns them to the sweeping, anthemic rock of War, but if War was an exploding political bomb, The Joshua Tree is a journey through its aftermath, trying to find sense and hope in the desperation. That means that even the anthems -- the epic opener "Where the Streets Have No Name," the yearning "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" -- have seeds of doubt within their soaring choruses, and those fears take root throughout the album, whether it's in the mournful sliding acoustic guitars of "Running to Stand Still," the surging "One Tree Hill," or the hypnotic elegy "Mothers of the Disappeared." So it might seem a little ironic that U2 became superstars on the back of such a dark record, but their focus has never been clearer, nor has their music been catchier, than on The Joshua Tree. Unexpectedly, U2 have also tempered their textural post-punk with American influences. Not only are Bono's lyrics obsessed with America, but country and blues influences are heard throughout the record, and instead of using these as roots, they're used as ways to add texture to the music. With the uniformly excellent songs -- only the clumsy, heavy rock and portentous lyrics of "Bullet the Blue Sky" fall flat -- the result is a powerful, uncompromising record that became a hit due to its vision and its melody. Never before have U2's big messages sounded so direct and personal. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Rock - Released January 1, 2009 | Island Records

In many ways, U2 took their fondness for sonic bombast as far as it could go on War, so it isn't a complete surprise that they chose to explore the intricacies of the Edge's layered, effects-laden guitar on the follow-up, The Unforgettable Fire. Working with producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, U2 created a dark, near-hallucinatory series of interlocking soundscapes that are occasionally punctuated by recognizable songs and melodies. In such a setting, the band both flourishes and flounders, creating some of their greatest music, as well as some of their worst. "Elvis Presley and America" may well be Bono's most embarrassing attempt at poetry, yet it is redeemed by the chilling and wonderful "Bad," a two-chord elegy for an addict that is stunning in its control and mastery. Similarly, the wet, shimmering textures of the title track, the charging "A Sort of Homecoming," and the surging Martin Luther King, Jr. tribute "Pride (In the Name of Love)" are all remarkable, ranking among U2's very best music, making the missteps that clutter the remainder of the album somewhat forgivable. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Rock - Released January 1, 2008 | Island Records

U2 sounded so confident and assured on their debut that perhaps it was inevitable they would stumble slightly on its follow-up, October. The record isn't weaker than its predecessor because it repeats the formula of Boy. It's because the band tries too hard to move forward. Bono, in particular, tries too hard to make big political, emotional, and religious statements, but the remainder of the band isn't innocent. In general, the music is too pompous, with the sound overwhelming the actual songs. But when U2 do marry the message, melody, and sound together, as on "Gloria," "I Threw a Brick Through a Window," and "I Fall Down," the results are thoroughly impressive. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Rock - Released January 1, 2008 | Island Records

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Rock - Released January 1, 2006 | Island Records

U2's first two greatest-hits albums neatly divided themselves by decade, with the first covering the '80s and the second summing up the '90s. Their third hits comp, 2006's U218 Singles, is at once more ambitious and more concise, offering an overview of their first 26 years on a single disc comprised of 18 tracks -- and since two of those are new songs, that leaves just 16 songs to tell their whole story. That's not much space for a band with a career as lengthy and ambitious as U2, so it's inevitable that some painful cuts have been made. Nothing from October, Zooropa or Pop is here, and unless you're buying various import editions that have "I Will Follow" as a bonus track, there's nothing from Boy, either. There's only one cut each from The Unforgettable Fire and Rattle and Hum -- and bucking conventional wisdom, none of their three widely accepted masterpieces -- War, The Joshua Tree, or Achtung Baby -- provide the most songs here. No, out of all their albums the one that dominates U218 Singles is All That You Can't Leave Behind, their 2000 comeback from the depths of the misguided Pop, and one of two records that they've released since their last hits compilation, The Best of 1990-2000. The other record they've released since then is How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, which provides two songs here -- or, as many as there are from War and Achtung Baby. What this means is that this compilation skews very heavily toward latter-day U2 -- eight out of 18 tracks, a full 44 percent of the collection, are from 2000 on, which means that U218 Singles presents the classicist version of the band, featuring the anthems from U2 at their peak, plus the highlights from when U2 were trying their best to sound like U2 at their peak. They did it quite well, of course, from both a commercial and artistic standpoint, sometimes writing songs that stood proudly alongside "Pride (In the Name of Love)" and "Sunday Bloody Sunday" (as in "Beautiful Day") and sometimes not ("Elevation"). When it's all mixed together, it paints a portrait of a band that's a little slicker and streamlined than it often was, and it's hard not to miss the big-hearted yet moody band that made "Bad," "Gloria," and "A Sort of Homecoming," not to mention the middle-aged Euro experimentalists responsible for "Numb" and "Stay! (Faraway, So Close)," two essential components of the band that has been forced aside by the arena rock pros on display here. Then again, U2 always were the best arena rockers of their generation, and for those who love the spectacle and sound of the band in full flight, U218 Singles serves up that side of the band quite well, along with two new entries that find the band continuing the assured, even-handed sound of Atomic Bomb: a cover of the Skids' "The Saints Are Coming," recorded with Green Day and rewritten to vaguely address the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and "Window in the Skies," an anthemic pop number that relies too heavily on synth strings yet is saved by the band's sturdy songwriting and reliable performance. As such, it might not cover all the bases, but it covers enough of the major ones to be a good summary for fellow travelers who just know U2 from the radio, and it's also a good one-stop introduction to the basics for neophytes. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Pop - Released January 1, 2002 | Universal Music Division Barclay

The story goes like this: poised on the brink of disappearing in their own earnestness in the wake of the Rattle and Hum, U2 revitalized themselves with Achtung Baby, embracing irony and modern music in a garish celebration of pop culture that effectively distracted attention from the wounded, broken heart at its center. Basking in the acclaim of Achtung Baby, U2 continued to release Euro-experimental music -- equal parts Madchester, Krautrock, and good old-fashioned prog rock, partially courtesy of longtime collaborator Brian Eno -- until their ambition imploded on Pop, leading them to a celebrated return to roots, All That You Can't Leave Behind. Through it all, they turned out singles that equaled their '80s work (and in the case of "One" and "Beautiful Day," surpassed it), providing the basic ingredients for a great hits collection, but The Best of 1990-2000 is botched, nearly fatally so, by a desperate attempt to rewrite history. Original mixes are replaced by recent remixes, while album tracks (why does "The First Time" close the collection?) and two new songs elbow out actual hits. Naturally, this highlights what's missing, which is quite a bit: "The Fly," "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses," "Zooropa," "Lemon," "Mofo," "Last Night on Earth," "Walk On," "Elevation," "Peace on Earth," to name a few. This wouldn't hurt as much if the new songs were good, but they're bland, particularly "Electrical Storm" (which, to add insult to injury, is presented not in the original mix, but in a William Orbit mix), an attempt to give the aesthetic of Behind a vague electronic gloss that doesn't work. Worst of all, anytime U2 flirted too closely with either dance or electronica has been replaced by mixes that attempt to give these tunes the sound of neo-classicist U2 à la All That You Can't Leave Behind. So, all the Pop material ("Gone," "Discotheque," "Staring at the Sun") is given new mixes, as is "Numb," none improvements and all undermining the actual career arc of U2 in the '90s. Then, these mixes, new songs, and hits are thrown out seemingly at random, with no regard for either chronology or musical momentum. Sure, there are great songs here -- not just "Mysterious Ways" and "Beautiful Day," but relatively rare items like the Passengers tune "Miss Sarajevo" (sounding more majestic than ever) and the Batman & Robin theme "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" (a glam rock pastiche that was the best thing about the film and remains a highlight), plus the underappreciated "Stay (Faraway, So Close!)" (as lovely as anything they've ever cut). And that may be enough for some listeners, but it's hard not to wish that The Best of 1990-2000 actually lived up to its title and presented an overview of this excellent era in a logical, accurate manner. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Rock - Released January 1, 1988 | Island Records

Functioning as both the soundtrack to the group's disastrous feature-film documentary and as a tentative follow-up to their career-making blockbuster, Rattle and Hum is all over the place. The live cuts lack the revelatory power of Under a Blood Red Sky and are undercut by heavy-handed performances and Bono's embarrassing stage patter; prefacing a leaden cover of "Helter Skelter" with "This is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles, and now we're stealing it back" is bad enough, but it pales next to Bono's exhortation "OK, Edge, play the blues!" on the worthy, decidedly unbluesy "Silver and Gold." Both comments reveal more than they intend -- throughout the album, U2 sound paralyzed by their new status as "rock's most important band." They react by attempting to boost their classic rock credibility. They embrace American roots rock, something they ignored before. Occasionally, these experiments work: "Desire" has an intoxicating Bo Diddley beat, "Angel of Harlem" is a punchy, sunny Stax-soul tribute, "When Loves Come to Town" is an endearingly awkward blues duet with B.B. King, and the Dylan collaboration "Love Rescue Me" is an overlooked minor bluesy gem. However, these get swallowed up in the bluster of the live tracks, the misguided gospel interpretation of "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and the shameful answer to John Lennon's searing confession "God," "God, Pt. 2." A couple of affecting laments -- the cascading "All I Want Is You" and "Heartland," which sounds like a Joshua Tree outtake -- do slip out underneath the posturing, but Rattle and Hum is by far the least-focused record U2 ever made, and it's little wonder that they retreated for three years after its release to rethink their whole approach. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Rock - Released February 4, 2014 | Island Records

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Rock - Released January 1, 2008 | Island Records

War turned U2 into arena rock stars, and the EP Under a Blood Red Sky captures the band on its supporting tour as the bandmembers adjusted to their larger audiences. Unsurprisingly for a band that always favored the grand statement, the group flourished in such a setting, as this mini-EP attests. Comprised of material recorded in America and Germany, Under a Blood Red Sky draws equally from the band's first three albums, and these live versions, while less textured, are considerably tougher than their studio counterparts and illustrate quite effectively why U2 were considered one of the best, most exhilarating live bands of the '80s. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine