Island Records, 1983


REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


Novice U2 fans may see War as being one of the trio of "white" albums from U2: the early batch of U2 albums where all of the black-and-white covers looked alike. With October and Boy, U2 were generating a huge buzz from critics and the college rock circuits. What they were lacking was a breakout album.

War was the breakout album U2 needed. Pete Townshend reportedly said he considered hanging up his guitar strap after hearing The Edge's guitar work on War. As good as The Edge's guitar is on War, the most prevalent instrument you hear throughout War is Larry Mullen Jr.'s relentless, militaristic drumming. The urgent drumming hammered the impression that this was an "important" album, filled with warnings of apocalypse, odes to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and, of course, a chick magnet song ("Two Hearts Beat As One").my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

With all of the changes U2 has gone through over the past two-plus decades, it's always a kick to come back to War. In the early-90s, U2 buried their emotions in blips and ironic rock star posturing (even though some of their most sincere songs came from that decade). With All That You Can't Leave Behind, their sentiments rang slightly false. For its flaws, the much-lampooned "wear your heart on your sleeve" sentimentality the band displays on War is actually admirable. They want so much to be soulful. And for the most part, they succeed.

If there is a signature sound of early U2, much credit can be given to Steve Lillywhite. Unlike the Daniel Lanois-era U2, Bono's vocals are not in the forefront. Like Boy and October, Bono sounds like he's singing in an aircraft hanger. The Edge lays some of his best buzzsaw attacks on "Like A Song…" and "New Year's Day." And Mullen Jr. sounds like he's auditioning for Keith Moon's vacancy. Unfortunately, Adam Clayton's bass work is oftentimes overpowered by Mullen Jr. and The Edge's sonic assault.

You've heard "Sunday Bloody Sunday," "Two Hearts Beat As One" and "New Year's Day" countless times. It's the other seven songs that keep War from losing that Led Zeppelin IV-played-to-death feeling. "Surrender" is an extended jammer, complete with female backing vocals. "The Refugee" sounds like total early-80s retro, complete with Clayton's new-wave bass line. Even though it's a fun listen for nostalgia purposes, it's the weakest track on War.

War was a hit for U2. While mainstream America was watching Def Leppard and Michael Jackson battle it out for chart supremacy, college kids were being wooed by these earnest boys from Dublin. And like Pyromania and Thriller, War has aged relatively well, considering its "for the moment" feeling it had upon its release. And with War's accomplishments, U2 was able to ride a wave of momentum that lasted nearly a decade.

Rating: B+

User Rating: B+



© 2004 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Island Records, and is used for informational purposes only.