Achtung Baby

U2

Island Records, 1991

http://www.u2.com

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/17/2004

The Beatles going psychedelic on Rubber Soul. Dylan plugging in the electricity on Highway 61 Revisited. Metallica embracing pop on Metallica. These are the moments that are called "great departures" for bands. For many fans, these are the moments that define fans as 'pre' -- (fill in the era) and 'post.'

It wouldn't be an understatement to say that U2's Achtung Baby represented one of the greatest departures for a mainstream band in rock music history. And what a departure it was: U2 was basically throwing away the modesty, sparseness and mostly traditional straightforward rock arrangements in favor of avant garde feedback, irony-rich lyrics and enough camp to set the stage for one of the greatest rock concert spectacles of all time. This was not your 80s-era U2. It was the dawn of the 1990s and U2 were one of the first major artists to try and define what they wanted the 1990s to mean.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

It was a humongous risk for U2. One of the most common praises said about The Joshua Tree was from fans saying U2 was bringing back "realness and authenticity" to mainstream music. Now, their hero was trading in his cowboy hat and a leather vest for wraparound shades and eel-skin-shiny leather jackets. Surprisingly, the uproar from most fans was relatively restrained. True, some fans did run for cover from the dirty opening riff of "Zoo Station," but for the most part, fans came to warm to this new alien baby after "Mysterious Ways" and "One" became singles.

Much of Achtung Baby was recorded in Berlin. Recorded around the same time of the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the band was letting German-style club beats and Middle Eastern riffs into its arsenal. In a time where the world was falling in love with Nirvana's stripped down aesthetics, it was welcoming to have an album with this grand of a spectacle. Achtung Baby was one of those time-spanning rarities in rock: a big, conceptual album that bled a very human heart.

"So Cruel" and "Love is Blindness" were some of U2's darkest songs. Even the more optimistic tunes, such as "Acrobat" and "One" had a black sheen of melancholy coated over their hopeful messages. Hell, the chorus of "Acrobat" was "Don't let the bastards grind you down." The Edge helped make this transitioning period easier for fans to digest with some of his finest work. "The Fly" and "Even Better Than The Real Thing" were irresistible air guitar moments for music geeks.

Achtung Baby yielded Zoo TV, a tour that still has the ability to bond Gen-Xers. Be it fans discussing what city they caught Zoo TV, who Bono called on the satellite phone during the concert or the opening act (The Sugarcubes, Disposable Heroes of Hiphopricy, The Pixies or Primus), fans seem to share their own stories about their experiences more readily than any other concert in the 1990s, including Lollapalooza.

Achtung Baby could have been a career suicide album for U2. Instead, it freed them up of the pretension that came to make them the butt of jokes after The Joshua Tree. Music-wise, the album absolutely rocks. The futuristic sounds that hit listeners were equally matched by tunes that could have been heard in pre-war Berlin. The result was a timeless piece of music that hasn't aged a bit.

Rating: A

User Rating: B-


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© 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.