Since I am on a 20th anniversary mode at the moment, having talked about Nevermind, Metallica and Blood Sugar Sex Magik in my last couple of posts, I figure I owe another landmark recording from 1991 a tribute post as well. I remember listening to Achtung Baby when I was living in Kingston, NY as a summer student at IBM there. I was bored stiff and the album probably saved me from depression. It was such a radical departure from The Joshua Tree – far more pop oriented, completely different production values and mix – and was terribly addictive. Actually, if I recall, I think this album was out in early ’91 (I was in NY from January to May) and Nirvana kicked me in the ass when I got back to school. I also recall a friend of mine that had been a diehard U2 fan that rejected this album and subsequently the two before it – Unforgettable Fire and Joshua Tree as he pined for the “old” U2 of Boy, October and the incredible War. I think it had to do with school and nursing a wounded heart but I never saw U2 on the Zoo TV tour that followed this album, perhaps that was a mistake.
In any case, this album has perhaps U2’s greatest single ever, One, and loads of pop classics – The Fly and Mysterious Ways. I have always loved the sensuality of So Cruel and Acrobat. The unique sound of Zoo Station, Trying to Throw Your Arms Around the World, and Ultraviolet still rocks me out. There is no real weakness here other than the baring of Bono’s soul on nearly every track. It is clearly the most intimate portrait he had offered up to this point in his albums and somehow it totally clicks. The other two poppy tracks, Who’s Gonna Ride Your White Horses and Even Better than the Real Thing haven’t really worn out for me and Love is Blindness is still as haunting now 20 years later.
To be honest, all the albums after this one sound really bland. Yes, kind of like the Chilis after BSSM. I guess some bands exhaust their creative powers after a particular recording (and tour) and have a really hard time reviving that afterwards. That’s how I feel about post-Achtung U2 in any case. Yes, I think that ultimately, I’ll try to see them live again (I wrote recently how I saw them in 1985 and 1987) and I hope that their music will find another edge. But in the meantime, my playlists will stop at 1991 for the boys from Dublin.