Welcome to the latest edition of ‘Golden Vault’, where we delve into the annals of music to bring you a classic album. You’ll know some like the back of your hand and nothing of others. We hope to get you reacquainted with old friends and create new favourites. The album to be taken out of the Golden Vault for reappraisal this week is 'Achtung Baby' by U2.
If you consider ‘The Joshua Tree’, U2’s 1987 career defining masterpiece as the band simply climbing to the pinnacle of the success, then the follow up ‘Achtung Baby’ is U2 on the summit of that climb. They are enjoying the fame, basking in success without losing their initial creative drive.
The combination of quality control versus musical direction was daunting and almost tore the band apart, but they survived and accomplished what now can be looked back upon in legendary terms.
This change of direction sent shockwaves through the old school fans of the band, Bono had his own transformation, now appearing as a leather clad rock star with slicked back hair, part Lou Reed, part Mick Jagger. The lyrics now becoming more personal and more inspiring, looking inwards to find his muse. At the same time a more playful attitude entered the frame.
At this point in time U2 were never going to stay stagnant or follow the same methods they had done. Then, into the fold came the avant-garde supremo Brian Eno to add a touch of colour to proceedings.
A point of view would be a comparison to David Bowie and his transformation from glam rocker to synth and new wave forerunner.
To mention David Bowie in the same breath as U2’s ‘Achtung Baby’ is no coincidence, Bowie escaped to Berlin with Brian Eno for inspiration during his phase of electronic experimentation, as now did U2. Even one of the studios Bowie used, Hansa, was at the time their partial hold up. The inspiration of the Berlin Wall falling and the atmosphere in its wake fuelled the creative process.
The first taste of this new look U2 and indeed new sounding came in the form of The Fly, arriving almost one month before the album.
It was here Bono showed the public his egomaniac creation for the first time, a parody of sorts with a tongue-in-cheek flamboyance not seen before. An almost Led Zeppelin style riff opens the track, the half whispered, half sung vocal a different approach to what we had become accustomed to. Nevertheless, the song was an immediate number one hit across the globe, proving this new style was bringing acceptance.
On the 18th of November 1991 ‘Achtung Baby’ was delivered to society. Glorious noise drenched in industrial experimentation. The album opener, Zoo Station, a minimalist tapping until a huge distorted guitar sound erupts with crashing drums and the album breathes life. We are off as the song lifts and the album launches in full.
A second single Mysterious Ways was rush-released to build on the momentum, just a month after The Fly. The second single gave us another look into this new style with the aid of Brian Eno.
Again charting high globally, it resulted in a second number one single in Ireland, the third single and most inspiring One created the bands hat trick at home. Three number one singles in succession and a number one album - Ireland still loved one their most prestigious exports even when in other parts of the world the audience were struggling.
The single was crucial to the band as One presented the band as having the same humanitarian angle as in their previous work. It remained still a focal point in the electronic density, coincidentally all proceeds from the single going to AIDS research.
A further two singles found a release from the album, Even Better Than The Real Thing and the very personal Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses, by no way does that make the rest of the album filler, some of the best moments on the album are part of its structure.
The sublime Until The End Of The World, with its stuttering guitar and blazing melodic bass runs, creating the perfect landscape for Bono’s direct and subtle lyrics. It was so beloved it was released as a radio promotion single in the United States, the song hailed by both fans and critics at the time as a high point of the album.
“Waves of regret and waves of joy, I reached out for the one I tried to destroy”.
The other abstract gem is Ultraviolet (Light My Way), the religious elements of U2 still very prominent although with contrast, Acrobat, wanders off the albums edge slightly, then again it does serve a purpose in the collection as a song cycle.
Diversity is crucial to a bands longevity, what most bands strived to accomplish. U2 hit the nail directly on the head over a remarkable fifty-five minutes. It will always be one of U2’s finest moments, even if the cover did highlight Adam Clayton’s most prominent feature.