At first glance, these are two very different albums separated by 18 years from two groups with vastly different sounds. And yet, for each group the album represents the exact middle of their studio recordings and was both a milestone and a turning point in the bands themselves. For Pink Floyd, this is the first album without the ecstatic and undependable Syd Barrett which defines the sound and aura of Pink Floyd for their greatest achievements for the next decade: Wish You Were Here, Animals, and The Wall. The music is a radical departure from the psychedelic rock from Piper at the Gates of Dawn to Obscured by Clouds – all of which had moments of brilliance but none of which had the coherence and extraordinary production values of Dark Side (and Alan Parsons as a producer!). For U2, Achtung Baby is a radical departure from the visceral, politically charged Boy, October and War and the calm, reflective Unforgettable Fire. I’d argue that it is also quite different from The Joshua Tree in that the lyrics become far more personal and intimate and the music has a sort of U2 formula-rock sound to it that is replicated more or less on all their subsequent work in some degree or another from Zooropa to No Line on the Horizon. One big difference however, is that U2 has kept the same exact lineup since the very start of the band and continue to produce (despite the 4 year hiatus since No Line), whereas Dark Side triggered the beginning of the end for Floyd as Roger started to take tyrannic position in front of the band and created resentments that split them apart 10 years later (see this article). Perhaps, despite Bono being the clear spokesman and bandleader of U2, they found a more democratic management style within the band to keep tensions down. I find that thematically, the albums are also similar: Dark Side talks about the limits between Them and Us, Sane and Insane (Lunatic on the Grass), Poverty and Wealth (Money), and Light and Dark (Eclipse). Achtung Baby talks on a more personal level of the distance between two people (One, So Cruel) and between right and wrong (Acrobat) or east and west (Zooropa). Both albums are concept albums in their own way, with Dark Side being the first and probably most coherent single recording in rock-n-roll history and Achtung despite a very different texture, still maintaining a very common U2 signature throughout. I am not even sure that these are my favorite albums from these two artists (I’d probably choose War or Unforgettable Fire from U2 and Animals or The Wall from Floyd), but I think that these two albums are more similar than they first appear. Do you agree? Feel free to sound off in the comments 🙂
PS. I forgot to mention the winner: Dark Side of the Moon would edge out Achtung Baby for its musical perfection, the frightening brilliance of Claire Torry’s singing on Great Gig, and the eternal quality of it although it would be a very close fight.