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Rock - Released January 1, 2011 | Universal-Island Records Ltd.

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography - Sélection du Mercury Prize
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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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War

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

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
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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 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.

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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, 2011 | Universal-Island Records Ltd.

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

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

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Rock - Released January 1, 2006 | Universal-Island Records Ltd.

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Rock - Released January 1, 1988 | Universal-Island Records Ltd.

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 January 1, 2009 | Universal-Island Records Ltd.

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 November 18, 1991 | Universal-Island Records Ltd.

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Rock - Released January 1, 1993 | Universal-Island Records Ltd.

The bright, digital-looking album artwork alone hints at U2's intentions on Zooropa: to take the group's electronica-laced approach on Achtung Baby to the next level. While ambient music pioneer Brian Eno had a strong presence on the former album, here he's practically a fifth member, contributing synthesizers and keyboards to most of the disc's ten tracks. Fans looking for vestiges of the old, Joshua Tree-era U2 are essentially left empty-handed, though the gorgeously spare and melancholy "Stay (Faraway, So Close!)" does touch on their earnest, earlier sound. Zooropa truly gets going with the fascinatingly droning "Numb," which features the Edge on lead vocals and stands as the most adventurous single that the Irish quartet has ever released. From here, the album hits its stride, careening through the giddy, Euro-disco of "Lemon," the aforementioned "Stay (Faraway, So Close!)," the heavily percussive "Daddy's Gonna Pay for Your Crashed Car," and the funky, chiming "Some Days Are Better Than Others." Wrapping up the quirkiest outing in U2's discography is an appropriately strange, yet inspired song, "The Wanderer," where Kraftwerk-like synths and dreamy backing vocals support the unmistakable voice of the legendary Johnny Cash. Although, Zooropa is often overlooked, it's an ambitious record that marks a crucial point in U2's evolution. ~ Eric Schneider
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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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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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U2 in the magazine
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