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.