The Unforgettable Fire
REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/04/2007
Such is the case of this 1984 breakthrough album by U2, The Unforgettable Fire. Unforgettable is the perfect word to describe it, especially when they performed a gloriously extended version of the song “Bad” to millions of people around the globe at Live Aid the following year. That single memorable performance catapulted the band from semi-obscurity to full-blown superstar status practically overnight.
As good as “Bad” is, it was never released as a proper single. Neither was the album’s first track, “A Sort Of Homecoming,” which is the only song on the album to have lyrics printed on the sleeve. Due to such tragic oversights, U2’s new 18 Singles compilation isn't quite complete.
Aside from those two classics, there is a lot here to appreciate over and over. The title track has a similar style, with ringing guitar licks that don't overwhelm the sultry mood and keyboard flourishes for a haunting but still pop-esque atmosphere. It takes the U2 trademark sound to places it has never been.
The other classic is the anthem “Pride (In The Name Of Love),” which I used to like until C&C Music Factory got a hold of it and turned it into a dance track. You can't do that to rock classics. On the original, it is the sonic power of lead singer Bono’s voice that sells the song and grabs the listener more than any other musical element or hook ever could. That is the frontman’s job, after all, to captivate you and hold you in a virtual trance for the duration of an album or live performance.
Drummer Larry Mullen Jr. also gets his chance to shine on the rhythmic “Indian Summer Sky” and the melodic “Elvis Presley And America,” which almost hides the fact that Bono ’s vocal delivery starts to sound garbled and rambling at this point of the record. Bono does recover, however, in time for the soul-stirring closer "MLK," which sends chills up my spine every time I hear it. It is the one song that really should have been longer and replaced the filler of the redundant ambient instrumental "4th of July" and the meandering tone poem “Promenade.”
This was the perfect album to prepare the world for U2's big-time classic The Joshua Tree, and was more consistent than its predecessor War. This marks the point where U2 came into their own and set the groundwork for their ascendancy as one of the most globally popular bands of all time. And to think, they're still going strong and getting better with age.