on July 16, 2004
Many great bands achieve perfection on one album, a high point of epiphany and clarity that is so obvious that it can't be denied - though that band's avid fans often like to. Be it the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper, Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon, Led Zeppelin's fourth album or Elton's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road - all of these albums transcend time and genre, and are immediately and eternally accepted as classics by almost everyone, far beyond the bands' fan base. That happened for a record number of artists in 1991 - perhaps the greatest year rock had since 1973. Guns n' Roses had their Use Your Illusion; Red Hot Chili Peppers had Blood Sugar Sex Magik; Nirvana scored with Nevermind, and the list goes on - Pearl Jam, Temple Of The Dog, Spin Doctors. And U2. U2 achieved perfection on Achtung Baby both in their songs and in their sound. Much of the thanks should go to the production team; Achtung is the last U2 album produced by Daniel Lanois, but Brian Eno's (the master-producer who worked with David Bowie, Talking Heads, Bryan Ferry, Robert Fripp and Devo, among others) influence is at its strongest here, and with the help of Mix-artist Flood (techno-wizard who helped Nine Inch Nails and Smashing Pumpkins to the top) he creates a new sound for U2, a sound that is rougher, harder and more electric, but also more captivating and more powerful than they ever were before. U2 dragged themselves kicking and screaming out of the 80s, emerged out of pop-rock and into the alternative and the avant-garde, and created an album that is at once catchy and groundbreaking.
From the very first sounds of the album's opening track, 'Zoo Station', it's clear that this will be a very different experience from The Joshua Tree or anything else they released before. The song is by far the heaviest and hardest track on the album, which makes for a great opener and a great introduction to the 'new', more produced, more experimental U2. That is not to say that the band mates' celebrated skills are nowhere to be seen; in fact, The Edge's guitar sounds better than ever, but he abandoned the clean tone that made him famous during the Joshua Tree / Rattle & Hum period for a much harsher, more distorted sound. What attracted me to U2's music was always the sound rather than the songs, and on Achtung Baby the sound is all around perfect. That can be felt on the album's catchier, mellower pop tunes, like the hit ballad 'One' and the successful single 'Mysterious Ways', as well as on the more experimental pieces - 'The Fly', 'Love Is Blindness', or 'Even Better Than The Real Thing'. U2 made a completely new band out of themselves in 1991, in terms of both music and subject matter; politics are nowhere to be found on Achtung Baby, and even the love songs have become more complex and sarcastic. U2 and Bono are darker here than they ever were.
But all that does not mean that they lost they skill for making catchy tunes; on the contrary. Each song on Achtung Baby is a perfect pop song, and it produced a number of hit singles that equals its massively successful predecessor. Thus the ideal balance is struck between the qualities of each member of the band and the production team - Bono's pop poetry, The Edge's explosive guitar, Eno's always expanding experimentation, Flood's electronics. That balance will not - could not have - lasted for more than one album; Eno would take over on Zooropa, then Flood would have his own on Pop, and Bono would reclaim the group on All That You Can't Leave Behind. All of these albums are great for their own reasons, but not one of them could be compared to the inspiration of Achtung Baby. Even the most cynic of U2's haters should give it a listen; it really is one of the masterpieces of its time.
on June 23, 2004
Berlin, 1990. U2 are months removed from the end of the "Lovetown" tour, and they are struggling to figure out what to do, as the recording sessions for the untitled new project began. For the first time in their career, they were getting nowhere, and fast. Add this to the fact that there were massive disagreements about the creative direction they should take, and the fact that The Edge was going through a difficult split from his wife at the time, and you have one very tense, very uncertain atmosphere for these recording sessions. It was a breakdown of sorts, and U2 nearly broke up. Were it not for one song, they may have never released anything together again.
Fortunately, that song did come to be, and the rest is history, as it quickly led to U2 finding their groove and figuring out what they wanted to do. Achtung Baby was a much darker, much more techno and dance-oriented then anything they had ever done. Bono's lyrical fortes have always been politics and sexual innuendo, and after a decade of political music, this album is straight a love-sex-relationships-loss record, which is no surprise as The Edge was going through his own marital split at the time and Bono was also having some problems(which have since been resolved) concerning touring and being away from his family for so long. This record captures all the different ways love can manifest itself, and, in contrast, the different ways it can be lost. Highlights include chart hits 'Even Better Than The Real Thing', 'The Fly', and 'Mysterious Ways', live favorite "'ntil The End Of The World'(which has generated so amazing performances), unknown gems 'So Cruel', "'Ultraviolet', 'Acrobat', and 'Love Is Blindness'.
When one things "Achtung Baby", however, one thinks of one song. 'One' is often considered as being right up with "Yesterday" in terms of the greatest rock ballads ever written, and more importantly is the song that saved U2 from breakup. To quote Larry Mullen Jr., "I remember walking into the control room, and hearing this riff, it's the riff from One, and just thinking, 'that is IT, THIS is something special". For me the brilliance of "One" is that it has so many different meanings that no one has ever been able to pinpoint its original genesis lyric-wise. It could be talking about tolerance and acceptance amongst the human race, it could be talking about AIDS, it could be talking about a relationship gone bad, it could even be talking about the band itself, as in the band members are not the same but they have to carry each other in order to make the band work. Just a brilliant song, as are most of the songs on this record(come on, there are only three songs on it that I haven't mentioned).
What's perhaps even more brilliant than this record is the way in which U2 decided to tour it. I am convinced that no tour will ever be able to touch the spectacle that was, "ZooTV". The brilliance of this tour lies in its intent: on the outside, when you see Bono strut on stage in a leather outfit with fly shades and slicked back hair, the band with massive amounts of hardware behind them, the first reaction is that they're a band that has let superstardom go to their heads, a group of arrogant individuals. However, this is not the case. The intent of this tour is to, in fact, make fun of the importance the media puts on things like U2 by putting all those huge TV screens on stage, while at the same time using them to bring more important issues to the public's doorstep: the gulf war, the sarajevo linkups(in which Bono talked to young people in Sarajevo during its wartime, via satellite, during shows), etc.
The most amazing part of all this is that U2 were able to make such drastic changes, take such big risks for already being the biggest band in the world, and be able to not only maintain that title, but attract legions of new fans at the same time, while still being true to the music THEY wanted to make. That hasn't happened very often at all. Ever. Fans will argue over which of masterpiece #3("The Joshua Tree") or masterpiece #4(This) is better, but I say, just appreciate "Achtung Baby" for what it is: A great, groundbreaking rock record.
on September 29, 2005
This album marks the big change in direction the band went through after Bono declared at a concert on December 31, 1989 that they had to go away and dream it all up again. It contains the legendary song ONE (which many believe to be their best ever), which came out of a crisis situation in which the band might have been close to breaking up.
Thank God that didn't happen!
This album is one of the best of all time, and deserves to be a part of your collection.
on March 25, 2004
Although not as good as Joshua Tree overall, this album contains songs of such brilliance that anything else on the album wouldn't matter. The first four songs are beyond belief. Zoo Station's riff and swirly textures, together with Bono's alien voice make it the perfect opener: more of a statement of intent than a song. But it's damn groovy!
'Even Better Than the Real Thing' has nothing wrong with it. At all. It's totally driven by Adam Clayton's bouncing bassline, most notably near the end of the song where Edge and Adam battle for supremacy, vying with Bono's urge to 'take me higher!'
'One' is the best song ever written, ever. It's the harder, more cynical version of 'With or Without You'; keeping Bono's voals restrained, which makes it even more moving than its predeccesor.
'Until The End of the World': At first I didn't find the song to be melodic. But listen to more than the vocals. Edge's guitar is the real point of this song. Just see it played live and you will agree with me. Once the guitar grabbed me, I know love the tune itself, and the lyrics - from Judas himself!
But then the album goes boring for a second: 'Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses' is almost a spoof of the old U2. It's just too long and rambling. But 'So Cruel' is better: more of the new Bono, less of the old. To call it a work of art is somewhat over the top but it does grow on you if you let it (if you're not falling asleep, that is) and listen to it with headphones. But that's the case with all U2 songs.
'The Fly' rescues the album with an absolutely searing verse and a chorus like the island of calm in a crazy world. If you don't turn this up, you are crazy. It's divine.
'Mysterious Ways' follows suit like The Fly's naughty but sweet younger brother. Never have U2 sounded like this: sexy and sublime. The wall of sound technique is used well at the end. To see it played live is to witness utter genius. As it is, it's one of U2's finest pop songs.
After this, the album moves into darker territory, becoming more insular and bitter. But that's no bad thing. 'Trying to Throw Your Arms Around the World' is quiet, but effective for it. It'd never have been a single, but it works just as a small song. It's like having a friend sing to you on record. It's very soothing. Note the entrance of Adam's bass; one of the most effecting moments on the record.
'Ultra violet' is the only song I really would rather skip. The lyrics are among the best on the album if that's your thing, but for me, a melody is needed too. The chorus lets this song down, and being repeated again and again at the end just makes this song even more tedious. This and 'Wild Horses' seem strangely unlike U2. Usually U2 songs don't drag like this.
However the last two songs, like 'Exit' and 'Mothers of the Disappeared' on Joshua Tree, provide a marvellously depressing end to the album, full of searing, bluesy guitar solos and lyrics like 'won't you wrap the night around me'. The melodies are much better than they might first appear, particuarly in the case of 'Love is Blindness'. This is bleak realism at its best, a marked contrast to the oddities of 'Zooropa' two years later. This is love portrayed in the same realistic, hard-hitting way Bob Dylan did on 'Blood on the Tracks' seventeen years earlier. If you liked that, this album is a step up, though really this should be remembered for being sonically perfect and the basis for some of U2's, if not the world's, best performances of songs in concerts ever. U2 from this became true geniuses, able to change their music style at will. However, to appreciate just how great this is, buy 'The Joshua Tree' and/or 'Rattle and Hum' first. And note the similarity between 'God Part II' and 'The Fly'. Or is it just me?
on July 27, 2000
This is where U2 began to lose me. The techno-grunge sound comes to the forefront on this disc, and while the band was given a big tip of the cap for experimentation, "Zoo Station" and "The Fly" are examples of how there can definitely be too much of a good thing. "Mysterious Ways" was a strong single, as was the ballad "One", but "Even Better Than The Real Thing" sounds like a pale ripoff of "New Year's Day." The sound seemed to be more important than the songs at this juncture, and the passion of the songs were what drove this band in the beginning.
on June 1, 1999
The album is a good one, but has a long way to go to be considered a classic. Some of the songs get old after a few playings such as mysterious ways and the end of the world. Other songs such as the fly and one are outstanding. Unfortunately, not a great deal of work went into making this album and it shows. To consider U2 to be in the class of rock masters such as the Beatles and Led Zepplin is short sighted to say the least. If U2 put more effort into their work and tightened up their playing they would be outstanding. But as this album shows they have not done that yet.
on January 6, 2000
It has that great song, "One" and maybe three other good songs, but the others are so-so and one memorable track, Ultra Violet, is IMHO just awful. I don't know how people can compare this to Joshua Tree, or War, or 1980-1990. Buy one of those 3 first, and also get the "One" single CD that comes with 3 others good tracks. Most of the people who gave this CD 5 stars wouldnt know a bad song from U2 if it slapped them in the face, probably because they are obsessed with living vicariously through this glamorized image of Being Irish, etc.
on December 7, 2011
Bought this set really for the rarities and there are not too many of those unfortunately.
A true fan will aready have the B-sides, videos, tv specials etc.
I bought it for the unreleased stuff.
Everyone has been harping on the ZooTV Live from Sidney show inclusion. I tend to agree. There must have been many more that could have been included other than this one. The Dublin show from 1993 for instance.
Anyway. I like the packaging and the documentary "From the sky down" gives a great insight in how this album was created.
First off U2 fans are a bit like Deadheads they don't like anything negative being said about there band. With that in mind I will try to be gentle. First off Actung Baby is in my opinion U2's masterpiece. Don't get me wrong I loved Unforgetable Fire and Jousha Tree but this is a perfect record. So we have established that I am huge fan of this record. I saw the Zoo TV tour three times and the Show at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto is still my all time favorite concert. It was even great at the much larger CNE stadium. But back to this box set. The First CD is the remastered album. I didn't know how much a difference remastering would do but I am glad to report the remastered CD sounds a lot better then the original release. The second CD is Zooropa the CD they put out in the middle of the Zoo TV tour. Nice remaster on that ad well. Now the problems start. The next two CD's are remixes. Do we really need two CD's of remixes. I didn't buy the CD singles unless they had unreleased songs on them. I also don't feel Band's have much input when remixes are done so I don't see the point. Disc 5 is b-sides and unreleased songs. Good disc but I am sure you like me have almost everything that's on it. The last CD is a different mix of the whole record. Not sure how I feel about that but I will give it good marks for that.
We now move on the DVD's. First we have "from the sky down" good documentary that was at this years Toronto Film Festival. Actually it opened the festival this past fall. The second DVD is the Videos. Haven't they already sold us these Video's a few times over already. So I really don't see the point of this disc. Next is the Bonus material DVD. It finally has a release of the Zoo TV television special. So two thumbs up there. But the last disc ticks me off. Zoo TV live in Sydney. Seriously how many of you don't already have this. But hey we get to buy it again.
It comes with a hard covered book that is mostly photos. Some text. We also get a bunch of photos in the style of the art work on the album. Again kind of useless. So over all it gets around 4 stars. This is one of the best CD's ever made and the more the better. I just hate buying stuff twice. In closing there should have been a 5.1 mix or at least a high resolution (96/24 or higher) of the album in the box. But I guess we will have to wait until it turns 30,
on August 5, 1999
Although AB has it's merits, I feel it has claimed a ledgendary status unfairly. You see, all they did was basically cop the sound from the English Acid House scene, something that groups like The Stone Roses and Primal Scream had done two years prior. If you want a great dance rock album skip this and get yourself The Roses debut album or 'Screamadelica' by Primal Scream. Far superiour.