Ireland's greatest export is neither potatoes nor shamrocks, nor
even Guinness. The Emerald Isle's greatest export is a rock and
roll band: U2. The Dublin quartet has sold over 150 million
recordings in a career that's barely three decades old.
Drummer Larry Mullen, Jr., bassist Adam Clayton, guitarist Dave
Evans and singer Paul Hewson all came together as teenagers to form
U2 in a single audition get-together in late 1976. The band
developed its musical direction rather rapidly, building around the
unique echo-guitar stylings of Evans. By the end of the 1970s both
Evans and Hewson had changed their names (to The Edge and Bono,
respectively), and the band was already releasing recordings in the
Picked up for an international record deal in 1980, U2 unleashed
its debut disc,Boy, in the fall of that year, and the opening cut,
"I Will Follow", quickly caught the attention of New Wave fans and
radio on each side of the Atlantic. The new band's loud, dense --
almost watery -- aesthetic sharply distinguished it from anything
else on the scene at the time. The group further intrigued the
world on its follow-up LP, 1981's October, which thematically
explored various notions of spirituality and religion. Despite the
occasional in-your-face dynamic that courses through the album and
its messages, U2 further established its sound and its momentum
through songs like cathedral-rocker "Gloria."
U2 began to breach the mainstream with the strident LPWar,
appearing in early 1983. The martial snare counting out "Sunday
Bloody Sunday" goose-stepped uniformly with Bono's tale of
lamenting man's never-ending penchant for violent conflict.
Intentionally vague, the song pounded its way into the pop
conscience of the era as the group's pioneering political
statement. Followed by the appropriately cold and steely "New Years
Day" and the high-pitched mantra in "Two Hearts Beat As One",War
demonstrated a swift maturation for a band that was ascending in
the ranks of the music world faster than any critic could have
Building on its momentum, U2's poignant ode to Martin Luther
King, Jr., "Pride (In The Name Of Love)", trailered the quartet's
fourth record to tremendous effect. TitledThe Unforgettable
Fire(1984), the band actively moved into the realm of deploying
sequencers to further enhance The Edge's sweeping soundscape ideas.
The benefit of that technology's use became crystal clear on the
live anthem "Bad" -- a majestic dynamic quasi-ballad that leaned on
two juxtapositioned guitar licks, delicately ringing out across a
yearning melancholy lyric that could be woefully waxing about any
of a number of subjects.
The band captivated the entire planet with an extended rendition
of "Bad" at the worldwide-broadcast Live Aid African famine relief
concert event in July 1985. This triumph contributed mightily to
the massive build-up of anticipation for U2's next studio album to
come, and the group did not disappoint, effectively conquering the
music world with 1987'sThe Joshua Tree.
With the arrival ofJoshua Tree, U2 became arguably the world's
biggest music act. Lead-off single "With Or Without You" brooded
not unlike The
Police's "Every Breath You Take", and scored comparable
chart-topping success. "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For"
smiled through its optimistic message, also charting Number One for
multiple weeks. "Where The Streets Have No Name" channeled Pink
Floyd's "Run Like Hell" while depicting small-town America nestled
within its amber waves of both grain and sweeping guitar passages.
"Sunday Bloody Sunday"'s de facto sequel, "Bullet The Blue Sky",
was a tempestuous scorched-vinyl telling of Central America's
political chaos of the day; it's perhaps U2's most visceral musical
Possibly sensing that they were in the midst of their creative
and commercial zenith, the band decided to carry a film crew for
Joshua Tree's ensuing concert tour and writing sessions back home
in Ireland. The strategy paid off, as the group incorporated a
number of live cuts into its two-disc 1988 release, Rattle And Hum.
Originals "Desire" and "Angel Of Harlem" both charted Top Fifteen,
but the live-studio combo's greatest success was realized on both
AOR and college rock radio, which fueled the album's sales past the
five million mark. At once moody and brimming with emotion,Rattle
And Hum witnessed the occasional curtailing of The Edge's endless
barrage of echoing guitars, particularly on the Sun Studio tracks
(which included a duet with B.B. King on "When Love Comes To
U2 took a lengthy break after their watershed period of
dominance, and returned in late 1991 with Achtung Baby. The record
seemed to signal a wholehearted embrace of superstardom by the
group, who supported the album with a massive stadium tour and
figurative rock and roll circus tent full of interesting undercard
acts.Achtung trotted out an impressive stream of chart hits (the
huge ballad "One", the disco vamp "Mysterious Ways" and the
formulaic "Even Better Than The Real Thing" and "Who's Gonna Ride
Your Wild Horses"), but longtime fans of the band were mystified at
the band's sudden removal from its own innate humanity. 1993's
Zooropaonly seemed to affirm the band's new chosen direction, which
ironically resulted in the absence of any hit material in the US --
nonetheless, noth albums were worldwide chart-toppers.
The band stuck with its 1990s direction on Pop(1997), flaunting
its hedonistic side on Top Ten single "Discotheque" and continuing
its streak of Number One discs. 2000's return to more familiar
ground, All That You Can't Leave Behind, lacked the writing savvy
of the band at its peak, and even a saturating promotional campaign
couldn't get the bland "Beautiful Day" single to chart in the US
Top Twenty. Only the raw (and literal) echoes of the band's
earliest days in 2004's "Vertigo" delivered the band back into Top
Ten territory; both the single and its parent platter, How To
Dismantle An Atomic Bomb were ultimately showered in Grammies.
U2 soldiers on in the 2010s as a seasoned veteran of the rock and roll landscape. But
their creative viability remains a mere shadow of its 1980s heyday,
when the entire world marvelled at the efforts of Ireland's
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