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Old 03-23-2009, 07:46 PM   #11 (permalink)
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Boy [Island; 1980]


U2 hit the ground running with their debut, waiting absolutely no time to release their first grand album, packed to the brim with an 8 minute rock epic and unforgettable soaring melodies. You don’t often hear much about Boy - except (maybe) for the opening track “I Will Follow” that re-appears in their first greatest hits compilation – and that’s unfortunate because it’s just as immediate as War, their third and often considered most energetic album.

But here’s why you don’t hear about Boy: it’s not hosted by big enough hits unlike War and every U2 album thereafter (and even if they don’t, the band will be too popular for the albums to fly this low off the radar again). It was also too rock and naive for punk but also too lo-fi for rock. As such, you don’t know what to make of it, not really, but goddamn it sounds good. There aren’t many choruses here, the emphasis is often on the song progression and development, giving Boy enough density to warrant a few serious listen-throughs.

The band had already gotten a grip around the sound that they would be known for throughought the 80s: Edge’s chiming guitar, Mullen and Clayton’s underappreciated rhtyhm section, and Bono’s passionate vocals. It’s a good start… nay, a great start, but not an essential listen. U2 could have skipped Boy and its successor, October to start with War and they would still be the same band we know today. If you want War before War was War, listen to Boy, otherwise move along.

8.2/10
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Old 03-24-2009, 04:24 PM   #12 (permalink)
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October [Island; 1981]


October is the most overlooked album in U2’s discography. It’s so “tucked underneath the carpet” that no track was included in any of their greatest hits packages, not even “Gloria,” the album’s best track.

The reason this is so is mostly due to Bono having nothing to say, at least nothing profound, after the band lost a briefcase filled with lyrics. As a result it wasn’t as brave as Boy, nor as energetic as War. It is, however, subtler, trading lyrics for more complex song progression. But complex does not always mean better, and October is a perfect example of this. There are more surprises, but the album just isn’t as engaging as anything they released before or after. It also makes less sense as an U2 album as the years go by, as we continue to associate U2 with hooks and choruses.

Despite its short comings, October does have some amazing tracks within it, namely the first three tracks. The album also has a better sense of momentum than its predecessor, cooling down for two tracks, “Tomorrow” and “October” before firing the canons again. You can tell that the band tried to make this another great album, but its short comings do outweigh its strengths, making for a relatively impressive first listen but you never feel like going back to it again, especially when the ideas explored within are presented better from then onwards.

6.9/10
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Old 03-24-2009, 05:52 PM   #13 (permalink)
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I loved the review of Boy. Unfortunately their early work gets forgotten amidst the constant Bono bashing (which is deserved) but it is a shame that their early stuff doesn't get talked about more. They were an angry young band with something to say.
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Old 03-24-2009, 06:02 PM   #14 (permalink)
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I also like your reviews and I wish I could think of something else smart to say, but I find myself agreeing with just about everything you write. Looking forward to War.
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Old 03-24-2009, 06:38 PM   #15 (permalink)
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Great reviews. God I hate Bono more than almost anybody, but their early stuff is ace.
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Old 03-24-2009, 09:23 PM   #16 (permalink)
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War [Island; 1983]


War is U2’s most powerful album, no matter what decade is considered in the comparison. The band will never be this electrifying and naked again. Its successor and virtually every album afterward will be produced by Brian Eno, who gave the band too much density, giving with it weight and stage power, but before Eno (and Flood, and a billion others) there was only Steve Lillywhite, Mullen’s underrated drumming, Clayton’s funky bass, Edge’s fantastic guitar and Bono’s soaring voice, which will coincidentially never sound this young and unlidded again. There are no synths to add mood nor a guitar mixed to become so predominant that Bono’s voice takes the back seat. It’s just the band and the listener, and that’s why War is so powerful. Every rhtyhm aims at your spirit, hoping to grip a nerve and sticking to it with all its might, and they often succeed.

In War, U2 marry the punk spirit with rock grandeur to be the superheroes they were considered to be for such a long time. But unlike what's often considered punk and rock, War is a record you can listen to and rebel with without your parents knocking on your door, asking whose awful voice they hear.

The album’s short comings are only evident if you like the post Eno U2 better, which is the U2 most of us are familiar with. It takes a lot to discard Eno’s take on the U2 sound, and for those who hate the band, it’s tough to discard what’s arguably their most accessible sound. U2 detractors wouldn’t know what to think of War. I mean, it’s not sh!t, and that’s what they expect. They expect soaring hooks and choruses, like with “Pride” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “Mysterious Ways,” “Beautiful Day” – you name them, they aren’t here. They expect tracks their Danielle Steele reading wives will like and would love to get married to - they aren't here. War is catchy and accessible, and there certainly are hooks, but they aren’t produced the same way, so they don’t resonate with radio stations. That’s why you wouldn’t hear “The Refugee,” or “Seconds” on the radio. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” manages to be a huge hit thanks to its inarguably powerful rhtyhm and unforgettable chorus, and “New Year’s Day” is also popular because its reminiscent of Eno’s sound. If you do hear any of the other tracks on the radio, then count it as a rare occasion. Why play the rawer U2 that audiences today probably wouldn’t recognize (save for Bono’s voice) when their hits are still just as catchy as they have always been? It helps that the two aforemtioned tracks from the album were released as singles, but so was “Two Hearts Beat As One.” How many of you know how that song goes? Okay, now how many of you can sing along to it? There you go.

War is everything that Boy and October did but streamlined, refined, and put together better, making for a much more rewarding experience. Unfortunately, though you might love what it stands for, subsequent U2 albums will be easier to listen to, keeping War below The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby in terms of popularity. But as U2’s most powerful and alive album ever, it’s a blast to listen to, so do listen to it. You might just respect the band afterward.

9.4/10
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Old 03-25-2009, 02:13 PM   #17 (permalink)
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War & Boy are probably my favorite among the first 3 albums. I would hate to choose between them. "An Cat Dubh/Into The Heart" might be my favorite early 80's U2 song. I also think I might be one of the few who prefers the studio version of "40" to the live version. October has some great moments IMO, but it seemed a bit rushed, and I know Bono's lyrics were stolen. Don't forget many of the U2 B-sides and non-album tracks through out the 80's. Many of the tunes are better than some of the album cuts IMO.
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Old 03-26-2009, 11:15 AM   #18 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roygbiv View Post
War [Island; 1983]


My favourite of the first 3 albums this, and one I haven't listened to for years. Still a good album though - New Year's Day is probably my favourite track off it.

Great review, great thread. Keep this going man.
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Old 03-28-2009, 09:35 PM   #19 (permalink)
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I'm trying a new thing: Saying more by typing less. Hope it worked!

The Unforgettable Fire [Island; 1984]



The Unforgettable Fire is U2’s first plunge into experimentation. No longer settled for writing the rallying rhythms that were so effective in their first three albums, U2 hired ambiance master Brian Eno to add buoyancy to their sound. They also hired Daniel Lanois, but Eno’s influence is predominant.

As their first musical sharp turn, The Unforgettable Fire has it’s moments of brilliance (U2’s track-ography would be sorely incomplete without “A Sort of Homecoming,” “Pride,” “Bad” and the title track) but it’s often unimpressive. Eno’s contribution to U2’s sound often weighs the songs down, except for “Pride,” which wouldn’t be the same astonishing track without Eno. But songs like “Promenade” and “4th of July” just don’t work. They feel so awkward when considering how energetic and free the band sounded a year ago, and they are still weak links post Joshua Tree. Sure, Eno and Lanois will refine and perfect U2’s sound the next time around, but all they did in The Unforgettable Fire was tell Bono he was too old to be waving flags around – it was time to sell some records.

7.3/10
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Old 03-29-2009, 10:17 AM   #20 (permalink)
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I forgot how much I really like War until I read this. I'm being assaulted by the drums on "Like a Song" as we speak. It's probably my favorite U2 release that I've heard.
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