Every listen to The Unforgettable Fire reveals a new layer or texture of the music; a new depth to a song, a new beauty to the guitar, a more powerful emotion to Bono's singing. It is, quite simply, a remarkable album of meticulously crafted atmospheres, and all the more remarkable in that it was released less than a year after the end of the War Tour! People often discuss how dramatic U2's change from Rattle And Hum to Achtung Baby was, but I personally believe that the shift from War to The Unforgettable Fire was far more incredible, and not just because it was swifter but because it was a shift from post-punk politically aggressive rock to a gorgeous form of atmospheric rock. You could see some hints of this other side of U2 in songs like October, Scarlet, and Drowning Man, just like you can hear the birth of Achtung Baby in God Part II, but these are subtle hints at best. It is incredible that the band that wrote the political anthems of Sunday Bloody Sunday and New Year's Day could just a year later release the epic Bad and seductive Promenade.
The album is filled with a variety of soundscapes portraying different emotions and feelings and yet they are cohesively linked. Quite frankly, the flow of tracks four to seven is pure genius. The title track is made to perfection, and it fades out to the ringing notes and sensual atmosphere of Promenade, which flows perfectly into the quirky and intriguing sounds of 4th Of July that provide the perfect prelude to the zenith of minimalism that is Bad. What's amazing is how you have something for everyone, from the stream of consciousness of Elvis Presley And America to the perfectly crafted anthemic pop-rock of Pride. The entire spectrum of emotions is covered - from the tender, soothing conclusion of MLK to the haunting and intense Wire, arguably one of U2's most bleak songs.
The entire Unforgettable Fire era was an amazingly creative period for U2 - The Three Sunrises deserved a place on the album with its soaring intro, and the instrumentals are simply gorgeous! It's a unique turn for U2, and a shimmering, soothing instrumental like Bass Trap is a joy to listen to. I personally think it's a shame that U2 didn't choose to further explore the instrumental road - sure, they did Race Against Time during the Joshua Tree era with its thumping drum beat, but a whole instrumental album may have been stunning. Edge's 1986 side-project Captive is almost wholly instrumental and the beauty of the music and its landscapes may have been even more well developed and lavish if it had been a proper U2 project.
I really cannot find any fault in the music of The Unforgettable Fire era. I think it is U2's best album with some quality b-sides and has not been topped by anyone before or after. If you want intelligent atmospheric rock, this is the place to go. The best part is that the following album, The Joshua Tree, was almost as good and would've been better if U2 had dropped Trip Through Your Wires in favour of Spanish Eyes and Heartland.