Achtung Baby 20

November 19, 2011 by staff 

Achtung Baby 20, The famous quote from Bono about Achtung Baby chopping down The Joshua Tree is an accurate one — I’m just not in the camp that believes it was necessarily a good thing.

I’ll fully admit to being dazzled by Achtung when it first came out. It was just so different! Such a departure! So un-like U2! And that’s why it’s dulled considerably over time.

I remember many critics and fans comparing it to The Beatles’ game-changing Sgt. Pepper album. I agreed with that observation at the time and I still do. There is no question that Achtung Baby was revolutionary both for the band and for rock music in the early ’90s, just as Pepper was in the late ’60s. But Sgt. Pepper didn’t capture The Beatles in their prime; nor did Achtung Baby capture U2 in theirs.

Both albums, when listened to from start to finish without interruption, are indisputable masterpieces. It’s when you start plucking out songs individually that the genius fades.

Take, for example, “Zoo Station,” the once-powerful opening track of Baby. At first listen, it was an electronic wonder that built tension and introduced Bono’s mechanically altered voice. Now, I remember it instead for its contribution to a hilarious scene in the romantic comedy About A Boy. “Even Better Than The Real Thing,” which appeared on MTV every few minutes in its era, is barely memorable today, save for the spinning video, which sold the world on Zoo TV.

Yes, U2 learned how to master a successful dance beat with the bewitching, radio-friendly-to-this-day “Mysterious Ways,” but even that still feels weirdly out of place for the foursome. Like a team of football jocks crashing the drama nerds’ party.

Songs like “Tryin’ To Throw Your Arms Around The World” and “Acrobat” meander like wandering lost souls, wondering where all of the complexity went. “Love Is Blindness” feels like a contrived haunting at best; a church hymnal at worst.

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