Sunday, May 18, 2008

U2 At Their Best

(Unfortunately I will not have internet access until late Monday, but feel free to comment anyway and I’ll respond when I can.)

In my view, the 1990s gave us U2 at their artistic peak (there, I said it).

Here’s why I think so….

If U2 had done what many wanted them to do (and what many bands in fact did), namely, kept doing what made them famous by recording The Joshua Tree Part II, Part III, Part IV, and so on, then today when we heard the name “U2” we would say: “Oh yeah, U2. Weren’t they that Scottish band from the eighties with the singer prancing around waving that white flag? What ever happened to those guys anyway?”

But by reinventing themselves and seemingly repudiating their former earnest selves (remember: Bono described the sound of their then-forthcoming 1991 album Achtung Baby as “the sound of four guys chopping down The Joshua Tree”), they really did breathe new life into a career that they were all pretty bored with anyway.

The best album of their ‘90s threesome was, of course, Achtung Baby. It was dark (it works best at night, you know, unlike The Joshua Tree, which should be listened to in broad daylight), it was sensual, and it was very European. Everything changed with this album, especially Bono’s songwriting. Instead of overt attempts at beauty, it was all about irony: “Every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief. All kill their inspiration, then sing about the grief” (The Fly); “She wears my love like a see-through dress, her lips say one thing, her movements something else” (So Cruel); “To touch is to heal, to hurt is to steal; If you want to kiss the sky, you’d better learn how to kneel” (Mysterious Ways).

I’ll narrow things down even more. There was a night when U2 actually reached their zenith, a high point that I doubt they’ll ever reach again. That night was August 28, 1993 (and yes, it depresses me that this was 15 years ago). That night they played the RDS Stadium in Dublin, and speaking as someone who owns scores of U2 bootlegs, this was the best show they have ever played. Bono’s voice was perfect (remember those days?), the setlist was almost ideal, and with the exception of one screw-up by Edge during One, the band was spot on.

On that night more than any other, being U2 fan was the coolest feeling in the world.