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Rock - Released January 1, 2004 | Universal-Island Records Ltd.

Ever since the beginning of their career, U2 had a sense of purpose and played on a larger scale than their peers, so when they stumbled with the knowing rocktronica fusion of 1997's Pop -- the lone critical and commercial flop in their catalog -- it was enough to shake the perception held among fans and critics, perhaps even among the group itself, that the band was predestined to always be the world's biggest and best rock & roll band. Following that brief, jarring stumble, U2 got back to where they once belonged with All That You Can't Leave Behind, returning to the big-hearted anthems of their '80s work. It was a confident, cinematic album that played to their strengths, winning back the allegiance of wary fans and critics, who were eager to once again bestow the title of the world's biggest and best band upon the band, but all that praise didn't acknowledge a strange fact about the album: it was a conservative affair. After grandly taking risks for the better part of a decade, U2 curbed their sense of adventure, consciously stripping away the irony that marked every one of their albums since 1991's Achtung Baby, and returning to the big, earnest sound and sensibility of their classic '80s work. How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, the long-awaited 2004 sequel to ATYCLB, proves that this retreat was no mere fling: the band is committed to turning back the clock and acting like the '90s never happened. Essentially, U2 are trying to revirginize themselves, to erase their wild flirtation with dance clubs and postmodernism so they can return to the time they were the social conscience of rock music. Gone are the heavy dance beats, gone are the multiple synthesizers, gone are the dense soundscapes that marked their '90s albums, but U2 are so concerned with recreating their past that they don't know where to stop peeling away the layers. They've overcorrected for their perceived sins, scaling back their sound so far that they have shed the murky sense of mystery that gave The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree an otherworldly allure. That atmospheric cloud has been replaced with a clean, sharp production, gilded in guitars and anchored with straight-ahead, unhurried rhythms that never quite push the songs forward. This crisp production lacks the small sonic shadings that gave ATYCLB some depth, and leaves How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb showcasing U2 at their simplest, playing direct, straight-ahead rock with little subtlety and shading in the production, performance, or lyrics. Sometimes, this works to the band's detriment, since it can reveal how familiar the Edge's guitar has grown or how buffoonish Bono's affectations have become (worst offender: the overdubbed "hola!" that answers the "hello" in the chorus of "Vertigo"). But the stark production can also be an advantage, since the band still sounds large and powerful. U2 still are expert craftsmen, capable of creating records with huge melodic and sonic hooks, of which there are many on HTDAAB, including songs as reassuring as the slyly soulful "Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own" and the soaring "City of Blinding Lights," or the pile-driving "All Because of You." Make no mistake, these are all the ingredients that make How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb a very good U2 record, but what keeps it from reaching the heights of greatness is that it feels too constrained and calculated, too concerned with finding purpose in the past instead of bravely heading into the future. It's a minor but important detail that may not matter to most listeners, since the record does sound good when it's playing, but this conservatism is what keeps HTDAAB earthbound and prevents it from standing alongside War, The Joshua Tree, and Achtung Baby as one of the group's finest efforts. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Rock - Released January 1, 2008 | Universal-Island Records Ltd.

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Pop - Released January 1, 2002 | Universal-Island Records Ltd.

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 November 2, 1998 | UMC (Universal Music Catalogue)

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Rock - Released December 1, 2017 | Universal-Island Records Ltd.

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Pop

Rock - Released January 17, 1994 | Universal-Island Records Ltd.

No matter which way you look at it, Pop doesn't have the same shock of the new that Achtung Baby delivered on first listen. Less experimental and more song-oriented than Zooropa, Pop attempts to sell the glitzy rush of techno to an audience weaned on arena rock. And that audience includes U2 themselves. While they never sound like they don't believe in what they're doing, they still remove most of the radical elements of electronic dance, which is evident to anyone with just a passing knowledge of the Chemical Brothers and Underworld. To a new listener, Pop has flashes of surprise -- particularly on the rampaging "Mofo" -- but underneath the surface, U2 rely on anthemic rockers and ballads. "Discotheque" might be a little clumsy, but "Staring at the Sun" shimmers with synthesizers borrowed from Massive Attack and a Noel Gallagher chorus. Similarly, "Do You Feel Loved" and "If You Wear That Velvet Dress" fuse old-fashioned U2 dynamism with a keen sense of the cool eroticism that makes trip-hop so alluring. Problems arise when the group tries to go for conventional rock songs, some of which are symptomatic of the return of U2's crusade for salvation. Pop is inflected with the desire for a higher power to save the world from its jaded spiral of decay and immorality, which is why the group's embrace of dance music never seems joyous -- instead of providing an intoxicating rush of gloss and glamour, it functions as a backdrop for a plea of salvation. Achtung Baby also was a comment on the numbing isolation of modern culture, but it made sweeping statements through personal observations; Pop makes sweeping statements through sweeping observations. The difference is what makes Pop an easy record to admire, but a hard one to love. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Rock - Released July 21, 2008 | Universal-Island Records Ltd.

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 November 5, 2002 | UMC (Universal Music Catalogue)

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, 2008 | Universal-Island Records Ltd.

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, 2006 | Universal-Island Records Ltd.

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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Boy

Rock - Released January 1, 2008 | Universal-Island Records Ltd.

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Rock - Released November 22, 2019 | Universal-Island Records Ltd.

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Rock - Released January 1, 2009 | Universal-Island Records Ltd.

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Boy

Rock - Released July 21, 2008 | Universal-Island Records Ltd.

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Rock - Released December 1, 2017 | Universal-Island Records Ltd.

Booklet
Elijah is Bono’s son. Sian is The Edge’s daughter. They hold hands on the cover of these Songs Of Experience. Two “children” to evoke the world of 2017 and above all the legacy their parents intend to leave them…Recorded over three years with the help of an XL casting of producers such as Jacknife Lee, Ryan Tedder, Steve Lillywhite, Andy Barlow and Jolyon Thomas, this fourteenth studio album had to be the loud hailer of a world that is running less and less smoothly. Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump’s presidency and the migrant crisis are a good fuel for the writing of Bono, who’s still an expert in revolts. U2’s leader has the merit of being rather gifted in this area. Except that here, his starting point is something else. He says he’s been influenced by a conversation with his compatriot, the poet Brendan Kennelly, who would have advised him to write as if he was dead! Therefore, Bono imagined these songs as letters sent to his relatives, family, friends, and fans but also to himself. As for sound, we unsurprisingly find the spectacular 80s guitars from The Edge, whose hand has entered the rock history of the end of the 20th century. With a touch of modernity (the Auto-Tune on Love Is All We Have Left and Kendrick Lamar’s voice on Get Out Of Your Own Way) and a true quality in the band’s fundamentals, Songs Of Experience possesses enough arguments to keep the early fans of the Irish quartet excited and charm the others. © CM/Qobuz
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Rock - Released January 1, 1985 | Universal-Island Records Ltd.

As U2 were completing the supporting tour for The Unforgettable Fire, they released the four-track EP Wide Awake in America. Comprised of two outtakes ("Three Sunrises," "Love Comes Tumbling") and two live cuts ("Bad" and a phenomenal version of "A Sort of Homecoming"), the record may be aimed at the hardcore collector. Even so, most U2 fans will find it necessary, since the two rejects are actually stronger than about half of The Unforgettable Fire, and the live cuts again demonstrate U2's undeniable talent for captivating concerts. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Rock - Released March 3, 1987 | UMC (Universal Music Catalogue)

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Dance - Released December 6, 2019 | Universal-Island Records Ltd.

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Rock - Released November 22, 2019 | Universal-Island Records Ltd.

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Rock - Released February 23, 2015 | UMC (Universal Music Catalogue)

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U2 in the magazine
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