Turn That Noise Down - U2

So many well-known albums turn 30 this year and Steve Taylor-Bryant and Susan Omand travel back to 1991 to revisit some of the sounds of their youth that made parents shout "Turn that noise down!" This week, Susan yells Achtung, Baby...

If I was going to add a social media status about my relationship with U2’s music it would say “it’s complicated.” I loved the Irish band U2 way back in the day, ever since I first heard their debut album Boy when it first came out in 1980 and I was 12. The next year saw October, followed a couple of years after by the seminal album War in 1983, with incredibly powerful songs like Sunday Bloody Sunday and New Year’s Day, then the tremendous live album Under a Blood Red Sky and the literally unforgettable Unforgettable Fire. In fact, it was U2’s style aesthetic around this time that made me buy my flying jacket. I idolised them and their ideals. I was addicted. And then…

Well, then came Live Aid in 1985. And Bono started to believe his own hype as the media got behind him. The band went from politically motivated grounded folk-rock heroes to stratospheric stadium messiahs in the eyes of the world. The Joshua Tree signalled a turning point for me as the band crossed a line when they crossed the pond, as they seemed to forget their Celtic roots and sold out to Corporate America. I bought 1988’s Rattle and Hum, just to have it (a lot of it was covers of American folk-rock standards like All Along the Watchtower) but the shine, the obsession, had tarnished. They weren’t “my” band anymore.

Fair enough you might think, everyone grows out of musical phases. BUT here’s where it goes a bit weird [to be fair the 90s were weird for a lot of people - Ed]. Even though I’d stopped buying their music, I started going to those huge U2 stadium gigs. The Zoo TV/Zooropa tours were incredible set ups and the Popmart tour staging and execution blew me away as I stood in a huge crowd and sang all the words to songs that, on their own, I didn’t really like. So, yeah… complicated. And that’s kind of where Achtung Baby fits in.

Even more than Rattle and Hum, Achtung Baby was, for me, a sell out of an album. Flippant hyper commercialism replaced the earnest politicism that I had grown up with, so that it would appeal to their newly cracked American market. There were five huge hit singles on the album, from the abrasiveness of The Fly to melodic Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses. But it was all shallow and meaningless. The irony, if there was any, was lost on me. Instead of using their new-found global platform to get a powerful, political message across, U2 were now, to me at least, in it purely for the fame and the money, churning out palatable pap that fitted in with what “their people” wanted more and more of. They pretty much became the fast food of pop music. But, like fast food, the pap they were churning out was very much addictive. And I was still addicted, it just wasn’t fun anymore.

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