|1. Sunday Bloody Sunday|
|3. New Year's Day|
|4. Like A Song...|
|5. Drowning Man|
|6. The Refugee|
|7. Two Hearts Beat As One|
|8. Red Light|
You might suspect that Jenny cut an imposing figure, but she was actually short, pale, and thin. She did, however, have an alarming affinity for spending her free time cutting and burning herself, hobbies which allowed her to achieve a sinister aura despite her diminutive stature. To avoid harassment from teachers at school, Jenny covered up the damage wrought by knife and flame by regularly donning a studded black leather jacket featuring the word "Siouxsie" etched on the back with what appeared to be white-out. Three musical artists mattered to Jenny - one you can already guess, the other two were Kate Bush and U2. Now, I had little interest Siouxsie and the Banshees or Kate Bush, but U2 seemed a little more compelling. I'd heard "New Year's Day" on the radio and found it utterly entrancing. As much as I disliked Jenny, I had to admit she might be onto something. I discussed this hunch with my friend, Chris, and he seemed to be of like mind. In fact, he went so far as to pick up U2's War and a few weeks later kindly leant it to me.
From the first drumbeats of "Sunday Bloody Sunday", I was hooked. After several years of happily listening to great songs without much lyrical substance from albums like Van Halen's Fair Warning and Boston's Boston, War was the first overtly political album I'd heard and I loved it. Whereas Fair Warning made me want to chase girls and Boston made me want to learn to play guitar, War gave me the urge to change the world or at least be more informed about what was going on in it. Even if you completely ignore the lyrics on War, the anthemic sound of many of these songs just makes them feel important. In hindsight, although The Joshua Tree moved more units and Boy was a better overall album, no album represents what U2 were all about in the 1980s better than War. Songs like "Sunday Bloody Sunday", "Seconds", "New Year's Day", "Like A Song" and "The Refugee" touch both mind and heart.
After War, Jenny felt U2 began to lose the faith. I'll never forget how betrayed she felt by The Joshua Tree, which was released at a time of even greater social upheaval than usual for Jenny. Her torrid affair with a 25-year old Marine was coming to a close and she had begun looking forward to college at Columbia where she would come to embrace the love that dare not speak its name. New York appeared to agree with Jenny and from what I've heard, she became far less angsty and self-destructive once she arrived there. After a brief stint in grad school at Vanderbilt, Jenny dropped out to toil in the health food industry, met the love of her life, and got married in the Pacific Northwest. Since we certainly don't keep in touch, your guess is as good as mine as to whether Jenny ever pulls out her early U2 albums or how she feels about All That You Can't Leave Behind which in some ways represents a return to U2s early sound. Call me crazy, but I'm kind of curious to know.
When it first came out 20 years ago (yes, it's been that long!) it struck the musical scene like a bolt of incandescent lightning. It wasn't just the anger or the political activism, but the fact that there was actually a level of extraordinary significance to the music. This wasn't just some nihilistic self-indulgent plaint (Prog), or some anarchistic primal scream (Punk). It was four young men filled with righteous anger, but who chose to express that anger intelligently, thoughtfully and even compassionately. This expression was wrapped up in a talent that borders on the transcendent.
Let's remember how old the boys were when they created this little gem. A few years out of their teens, still filled with piss and vinegar, with their fists up and ready to set the world back on its ear. Most guys that age can't get beyond indignation over the high cost of their car insurance. These guys tackled sectarian hate, xenophobia, refugees and spirituality.
Today, this album may seem somewhat naïve, but that is due to the distortion of hindsight. It's not fair comparing this album to genre defining masterpieces like The Joshua Tree, Achtung Baby and All That You Can't Leave Behind. Those were more mature works simply because they were written with the benefit of more years. Had the band not subsequently produced such definitive works, where would we place this album? Right up there among the greats.
The songs on this album have been the staple of classic rock anthologies for years. Listening to them today, I remember what it was like to be young again, half filled with hope, fear and anger at the injustices in the world, and determined to do something about it. It was a heady time in life and we owe the boys an incalculable thanks for giving us an alternative to the values of the Me decade.