Like everyone else born of the 1970s, U2 were my 1980s. Specifically, The Joshua Tree was my 1980s. It’s one of those albums. It looms large, much like Nevermind. It colours an era. It’s a fine album, a great album. It’s just this one, out the ashes of a newly reunited Germany and a band nearly obliterated by its own expectations, is far superior. It was a massive hit as well, but it came out in 1991. As we know, 1991 is not considered the year of U2.
Maybe it should have been. At the very least, they produced the third best album of 1991. I think it holds up better than other 1991 albums on this list. I certainly listen to it more. “One”, the gorgeous non-love song that has reached wedding song iconic levels, has never, EVER, left my iPod. After being at weddings and engagement parties where the song is used as the big moment, I just have to resign myself to the fact that people just cannot discern love from the loss of love. The lyrics are not lovey-dovey. The song is a heartbreaking tale of love falling apart, just because. My God, if I ever get married it’s staying far, far away from my playlist, as much as I love it.
But once you remove the obvious, you are still left with a wonderfully complex, diverse album. A song like “Mysterious Ways”, for instance, features one of Adam’s better bass lines and some kick ass bongos amidst the Edge’s funky guitars and some fine Bono vocals. A song like “Zoo Station” sounds completely different. Mechanical, industrial, and rather soulless musically, it’s combated by Bono’s natural expressiveness, even if it’s buried under distortion. You can’t hide U2’s passion and earnestness, though you can try.
Then there is the forgotten “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses?”, one of my favourite U2 songs. Built on a wall of shimmering guitars, with Bono delivering one his very skilful vocal performances, complete with Van Morrison’s “sha la la”s, it gets me in the gut every time. I know the band prefers the remix, but I, for one, never though the album version was all that bad. It remains on of the songs I love best in the world.
My ex-fiance and I only agreed on one band, and it was U2. He, though, preferred the album closer “Love Is Blindness”. He thought it a great statement of love. I saw it, with its lyrical hints of love as terrorism, as anything but. Like “Every Breath You Take”, “The One I Love”, and “One”, expressions of all-consuming love are taken to mean deep passion by those who don’t get it. Love is not about being scared. It is, however, about being able to walk away when you need to.
Other highlights are the sharp-edged “The Fly”, the memorable guitars on “Even Better than the Real Thing”, and the biblically influenced “Until the End of The World”. There isn’t a single misstep, no matter how unsettled you may feel at times.
It’s not as aspirational an album as we have come to associate with U2. It’s not deeply political, but it is deeply spiritual. It’s an album about love. It’s an album about loss of love. It’s an album about the absence of love.
It’s an album to love.