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Rock - Released March 3, 1987 | UMC (Universal Music Catalogue)

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Rock - Released January 1, 2014 | Universal-Island Records Ltd.

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Rock - Released November 2, 1998 | UMC (Universal Music Catalogue)

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Rock - Released November 18, 1991 | Universal-Island Records Ltd.

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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 Worst of all, anytime U2 flirted too closely with either dance or electronica has been replaced by mixes that attempt to give these tunes the sound of neo-classicist U2 à la All That You Can't Leave Behind.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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Boy

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

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War

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

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
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Rock - Released January 1, 2009 | Universal-Island Records Ltd.

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Rock - Released November 18, 1991 | Universal-Island Records Ltd.

Distinctions Stereophile: Record To Die For
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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 March 3, 1987 | UMC (Universal Music Catalogue)

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

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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, 2006 | Universal-Island Records Ltd.

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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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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 December 1, 2017 | Universal-Island Records Ltd.

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

Booklet
"I shouldn't be here because I should be dead" sings Bono on "Lights of Home," the second track on Songs of Experience, the long-delayed sequel to 2014's Songs of Innocence. It's not merely a turn of phrase. Two months after U2 unleashed Songs of Innocence on the world, Bono injured himself in a bicycle accident so severe he suspected he may never play guitar again. He recovered, but his misfortune derailed plans for the band to wrap up Songs of Experience swiftly, so U2 decided to take their time. A version of the record neared completion in 2016, but that year's twin elections of Brexit and Trump spurred U2 to revise the album, as they decided they couldn't release a record that didn't address such cataclysmic political events. Retro-conning the existing Songs of Experience material to suit the political climate wasn't the easiest task and the album often shows its seams, particularly when Bono decides to tackle the crisis head-on: the line "Democracy is flat on its back, Jack" arrives with a thud on "The Blackout," but it's nothing compared to "American Soul," an ode to real America where the singer and the band engage in a battle of hams. "American Soul" also features a line -- and no more -- by Kendrick Lamar, the rapper who is on the vanguard of popular music in 2017 (no less of an authority than David Bowie cited Lamar as an influence on his final album, Blackstar), but Kendrick gets buried in the mix in a fashion that's sadly indicative of the tentative nature of Songs of Experience. Bono may wrestle with big themes in his lyrics but his ambitions are reined in by a production that seems afraid of alienating any constituent. Typical to many modern records, Songs of Experience is the result of too many cooks: Jacknife Lee and Ryan Tedder claim the main production credits, with Andy Barlow, Jolyon Thomas, and old friend Steve Lillywhite responsible for additional production, whatever that may be. With all these hands, it's not much of a surprise that Songs of Experience feels diffuse, its modernist moments -- like Bono embracing pitch-shifted vocals -- counterbalancing feints toward U2's arena rock past. It all feels so familiar, it takes a moment to realize that the echoes of the Edge are muted, that the rhythms are sometimes constrained by tight sequencing, that the glossy surface can sometimes recall Ellie Goulding, or how when the tempo slows, it feels like U2's greatest aspiration is to be as graceful as Coldplay. All this adds up to an album that feels vaguely desperate. Say what you will about the muddled Pop: at least it had an ethos. Here, U2 feel trapped between their history and the pull of the year, and they wind up seeming diminished. For the first time, they seem smaller than life. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Rock - Released December 3, 2007 | Universal-Island Records Ltd.

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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U2 in the magazine
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