Monday, June 13, 2011

Blast from the Past: Achtung Baby

Title:  Achtung Baby (Amazon,, Wikipedia)

At the end of the Rattle & Hum tour, Bono famously said that the band had to go away for a while and “dream it all up again.”  The result of this dreaming was 1991’s Achtung Baby, a record steeped in electronica and highly influenced by KMFDM’s album Naïve.  Signs of this new direction were evident in the band’s cover of “Night and Day” for the Red Hot & Blue compilation album.  The lead single for Achtung Baby was “The Fly,” released a month before the album was described by Bono as "the sound of four men chopping down the Joshua Tree."  That description could actually be attributed to the entire record.  From the opening dance beat of “Zoo Station” to the closing darkness of “Love is Blindness,” fans knew that things had changed with U2. 

The album produced five singles – the aforementioned “The Fly,” the dancy “Mysterious Ways,” the powerful “One,” “Even Better Than the Real Thing,” and “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses?” a beautiful ballad despite its moments of lyrical weakness.  The rest of the album was equally good with standout moments including “So Cruel,” “Ultra Violet (Light My Way),” and “Until the End of the World” (which originally appeared on the soundtrack of the film by the same name, incidentally that soundtrack also included Lou Reed’s fantastic “What’s Good”). 

I’ll never forget the day that Achtung Baby was released.  I was a junior in high school and had planned on going right after school to get the tape.  When my mom picked me up she already had the tape and told me that one of my dad’s closest friends had passed away.  Needless to say my excitement over getting to listen to the new U2 album was diminished.  That was a sad time for our family and the darkness of Achtung Baby proved to be a good soundtrack for it.  I remember listening to the record for the first time and enjoying it but then being taken aback by an absolutely horrible lyric in the otherwise wonderful “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses?” --  “Well you stole it 'cause I needed the cash, And you killed it 'cause I wanted revenge, Well you lied to me 'cause I asked you to, Baby, can we still be friends.”  To this day, 20 years later, that verse still makes me cringe.  The band decided to start off their tour for Achtung Baby in Lakeland, FL, where I happened to be living at the time.  Sadly I was unable to get tickets (I even sustained a minor injury in trying to do so), but my friends and I were able to hang out around the stadium to listen to the band practice for the tour.  Those were some good times. 

Overall Achtung Baby is a great album and is often sited as one of the band’s best.  While it is not my personal favorite I would put it in the top 5 of the band’s studio albums.  When the record was released it reminded me a lot of The Unforgettable Fire, not because they sounded anything a like but because it was such a departure from their previous albums much like their 1984 classic.  Sadly though the rest of U2’s releases in the ‘90s left something to be desired and should probably be avoided.      

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