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

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 /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 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 /TiVo
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War

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

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 /TiVo
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War

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

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

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 /TiVo
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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)

Island and U2 realized that longtime fans of the band wouldn't need The Best of 1980-1990. Unlike the proposed Best of 1990-2000, which would likely boast the non-LP "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" and the Passengers' "Miss Sarajevo," 1980-1990 contained nothing but material culled directly from the albums, which didn't exactly entice hardcore followers. So, the label and the band decided to pair the compilation with a collection of the group's B-sides from the '80s, none of which had ever appeared on an album before. For die-hard U2 fans, this is something of a godsend -- not necessarily a holy grail, which would have been a complete B-sides collection, including the long-missing early EPs -- since many of these tracks have been out of print for years. That's not to say they'll be entirely pleased with what they hear. The B-Sides is wildly uneven, fluctuating between a handful of lost masterpieces ("Spanish Eyes," "Sweetest Thing," "Hallelujah Here She Comes," "Silver and Gold," "A Room at the Heartbreak Hotel," "Trash, Trampoline and the Party Girl"), a momentum-crushing triptych of mediocre karaoke ("Dancing Barefoot," "Everlasting Love," "Unchained Melody"), and formless filler (pretty much everything else). Despite the uneven music, fans will need The B-Sides, not just for the handful of worthy contenders but for its sheer rarity. Not only have the B-sides themselves been difficult to locate, but the disc itself was designed as a collector's item: after the first week of sales, The B-Sides was pulled from the market, and Island shipped only The Best of 1980-1990. Clearly, this was a tactic to raise press awareness and boost sales, but that doesn't mean that fans shouldn't take advantage of its limited release. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Rock - Released March 3, 1987 | UMC (Universal Music Catalogue)

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

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

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

As one of the most popular bands of the '80s, U2 didn't quite fit into any particular category. They were a post-punk band that quickly found acceptance from a hard rock audience, a group that made fully formed albums but often made their best statements on individual songs, especially during the '80s. Consequently, they're a very hard band to anthologize. Since they were most effective on single songs, it seems that throwing all of them together on one disc would work. The problem is, each of the albums, from Boy to Rattle and Hum, has a distinctive flavor that doesn't necessarily blend when combined, especially in the nonchronological form of The Best of 1980-1990. There's little quibbling with the featured tracks on U2's first compilation -- a few important songs, such as "Gloria," "I Fall Down," "Seconds," and "Two Hearts Beat as One," may be missing, but everything else deserves to be here ("Pride," "New Year's Day," "With or Without You," "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," "Sunday Bloody Sunday," "Bad," "Desire," etc.). Even though the song selection is strong, the album winds up as less than the sum of its parts -- each song is pretty great of its own accord (even the single mix of the B-side "Sweetest Thing," which is, in truth, not much different at all), but the overall effect is a little underwhelming. On one hand, it may be a good choice for casual fans or nostalgia mongers, since it does contain everything they need to hear, but anyone who has more than a passing interest in the band will be better suited with individual albums. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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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 /TiVo
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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 /TiVo

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U2 in the magazine
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