Friday, November 11, 2011

Achtung Baby In Review

Kent was nice enough to get me the newest reissue of Achtung Baby.  This used to be my favorite album.  For years and years.  I like U2's entire body of work, but Achtung Baby came out when I was like 17 years old and I thought it sounded like the future of music.  Embarrassing, I know, but that's what I thought.

So in the years that followed, I gained some perspective on all this.  U2 got worse as a band, and I began to seek out a rougher aesthetic to my music.  I favored more do-it-yourself production. And music made from weird instruments. And lyrics about things less grandiose than who was going to ride my wild horses. 

Achtung Baby became something that represented a more naive time in my musical appreciation.  It was so sincere, and in some ways, a one-note album.  The same guitar is seemingly used throughout the album.  The Fly and Ultraviolet light are essentially the same song with different lyrics.  All those things seemed like sins to me.

I always knew I would love the album, but in the same way I love Star Wars.  I know it's flawed.  I like it anyways.  But the re-release on its 20th anniversary brought me a little deeper perspective on the album.

First, it made me feel old.  Everything seems to make me feel old.  Players I cheered for in college back then are all retired from the pro careers now.  They all look like old men.  Bobby Hurley looks like a gramps.  But I'm okay with this.  I'm old.  Whatever.

Second, I think I had a bigger appreciation for where this hit in U2's progression as a band.  I don't think I had any idea how much people thought they were dopes for putting out Rattle and Hum.  I loved that album, but failed appreciate how over-the-top it was in terms of U2 taking themselves seriously.  Whatever punk credibility they had going into that tour was gone by the end. They were dopes.  I had no sense of this.  I though Rattle and Hum was the best thing since sliced bread.  All that earnestness, all that Americana, all those duets with choirs.  I ate it up.

Thirdly, given the new-found appreciation for where the band was at when they made Achtung Baby, I am really impressed that this is what they came up with.  So many bands struggle to get back their magic after it's gone.  Few do so successfully.  I always hear that U2 decided to poke fun at their former image on this record, but more than that, they did so while making a really good album.  I would say their masterpiece "One" is on there, and some of Bono's best lyrics - which admittedly is not saying much.
Lastly, I think I have a greater appreciation for the overarching themes of the album, and I think it's solid.  It starts with all this appeals for the band to stop being so U2-y.  And then goes on this journey to find out what's there in the absence of being socially conscious nerd bottoms.  So the trajectory of the album goes from the sort of high-energy songs that explore love and religion and generally lofty pursuits. But it slowly bogs down again under its own weight.  Heaviness returns, but it's not the social injustice variety.  It's the heaviness of the aftermath of self-discovery.  The weight that follows those bursts of freedom.  Coming down.  I feel like Love is Blindness captures that aptly.  So it's journey into what happens when you set yourself loose, and find that you can't outrun your own demons.  That's pretty cool. 

So I just want to publicly apologize to U2 for turning my back on this album for so long.  They made a really nice album.  It was good when I was 17.  It's good at 37.  You made some real crap after Zooropa, but this here is a solid record. 

So far this month I have apologized to gutter punks and U2.  Who is next?

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