Axver (axver) wrote,
Axver
axver

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An unforgettable fire burns.

People say that U2's greatest change in musical style and direction was from Rattle And Hum to Achtung Baby, but they are quite clearly forgetting the change from War to The Unforgettable Fire. The band went from the fiery political rockers who released War to a group able to paint landscapes of sound through subtleties and control, and they did it in less than a year (the band were still touring the War album in December 1983 but were back on the road for UF by August 1984, compared to the almost two year gap between the end of the Lovetown Tour and the release of Achtung Baby). The Unforgettable Fire is sheer musical bliss, the best album ever made, and I cannot think of a single mood it does not suit. The magic of the Unforgettable Fire era runs deep, and it is probably true to say that if U2 had felt like it, they could have easily released an instrumental album in 1985. I wish they had. Songs such as Bass Trap, Boomerang I, and Sixty Seconds In Kingdom Come shimmer with an ethereal quality and conjure up stunning landscapes in the mind and heart through their music. I like to make my own playlists including all of the officially released songs from this era, and the following is what I have been playing today:

1. A Sort Of Homecoming
2. Pride (In The Name Of Love)
3. Wire
4. Indian Summer Sky
5. Boomerang I
6. Boomerang II
7. Love Comes Tumbling
8. Sixty Seconds In Kingdom Come
9. Elvis Presley And America
10. Bass Trap
11. Promenade
12. The Unforgettable Fire
13. Promenade [yes, again]
14. 4th Of July
15. Bad
16. MLK
17. The Three Sunrises
... And it perfectly loops back to the beginning.

There's nothing I don't like about this era. People speak of Achtung Baby as being U2's darkest era, but I think that Wire is right up there with Acrobat and Love Is Blindness as a nominee for U2's most bleak song ... and probably wins easily. The last minute is not only cathartic but probably the scariest minute of music U2 has made if you grasp the meaning and atmosphere of the song. "I give you hope/Here's the rope/Here's the rope/Now swing on it." If it weren't for Where The Streets Have No Name, Bad would be the best song ever made, and it's definitely the zenith of the minimalistic craft of The Edge where every note is expensive. The Unforgettable Fire closely follows as third on my ranking of best songs, featuring Edge on double duty while Bono sings hauntingly vague lyrics.

Bono's vocals were in their prime from The Unforgettable Fire to the end of the Lovetown Tour, as evidenced by Bad's "wide awake" and the incredible A Sort Of Homecoming "scream". In fact, everything about A Sort Of Homecoming is incredible. Edge's ringing guitar conjures up the landscapes of Bono's lyrics - "And you know it's time to go/Through the sleet and driving snow/Across the fields of mourning/Lights in the distance/And you hunger for the time/Time to heal, desire time/And your earth moves beneath your own dream landscape". This song was quite significantly adjusted for the live setting, and the adjustment worked perfectly, creating a song that was probably unfortunately overshadowed by Pride. Pride, of course, being the definition of all that is anthemic rock, and a fitting tribute to Martin Luther King Junior - with subtle allusions to Christ just to make it all the more interesting. The other tribute, aptly titled MLK, follows what I think is an overlooked gem on the album, Elvis Presley And America. People insult this song all the time, but it's their loss. The song was recorded in a single take and it shows Bono's awesome improvisational ability, inventing the lyrics on the spot. I always find the last line to be very haunting and eerie.

I've failed to mention three songs on the album. 4th Of July is the perfect linking song between Promenade and Bad - the three might as well be one song and they are simply inseparable. Call me strange, but I think Indian Summer Sky is a sort of prophecy, looking forward to what was to come in Where The Streets Have No Name and Bullet The Blue Sky. It just feels like an early cross of those two songs to me. And Promenade? All I will say about this one is that something very special attaches me to this beautiful and subtle song.

Look, I could go on all day about this album. The songs themselves are magic, and when you put them together, you have an album with intricate flow and an incredible atmosphere resplendent with sonic landscapes and beauty conjured within the listener's mind. It's not an album with catchy hooks and exciting solos - it is an experience. Put on your headphones, tune out to the world, hit play, and let its majesty wash over you. It's breathtaking and refreshing.
Tags: the unforgettable fire, u2
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