Stranger in a strange land....
Released October 1981
Recorded at Windmill Studios, Dublin
After an energetic, unique among post punk albums, debut from U2 in 1980's Boy, they repeat the formula with this album. It was, in effect "Boy Part Two". It had the same riffy, guitar-driven anthemic attack to it. It was quite inscrutable in places, with not a huge amount of fist-pumping rockers or obvious singles amongst material that I personally have always found a bit dark, atmospheric and brooding. For me. it has always been the least instant of the early U2 albums and the one that requires repeated listens. In many ways it is the band's most raw and edgy album, maybe their most innocently authentic, before the "stadium rock" stuff.
2. I Fall Down
3. I Threw A Brick Through A Window
8. With A Shout (Jerusalem)
9. Stranger In A Strange Land
11. Is That All?
The intricate guitar sounds of the upbeat Gloria (not the Van Morrison/Them song) kick things off in excellent, rousing fashion. I Fall Down is sombre-ish, introspective, almost the very antithesis of the preening "New Romantics" posturing all around them in 1981. This was no Adam & The Ants, Duran or Spandau Ballet. For that reason, it took U2 a while to take off. At the time, they seemed very like Echo & The Bunnymen. The beguiling, fascinating brooding atmospheric rhythms and guitar of I Threw A Brick Through A Window would seem to exemplify that. It is a piece of glorious post-punkery. A lively, more typical early U2 riff heralds in the choppy rock of Rejoice, which has a great pumping drum and bass guitar sound too. Larry Mullen is superb on this track.
Fire continues the same vein, with some of those dubby white reggae Police-style guitar lines that were so de rigeur from 1978-82 all over it. Tomorrow begins with some Celtic-style Uilleann pipes and has Bono at his most plaintive lamenting the loss of his mother, whom he lost as a child, although it develops into some post-punk style rock by the end. October is a brief piano-led virtual instrumental interlude with minimalist, brief lyrics.
With A Shout (Jerusalem) is one of the album's most rocky numbers, in that early U2 style. This was the period when U2 flirted with Christianity and indeed, many at the time claimed them as a "Christian group". This was reflected in quasi-religious songs like this. Indeed, internal strife regarding their religious direction nearly split the group at this time, apparently. Bono was beginning to express pretentions within his lyrics that would dog him for the subsequent years of his career. Sonically, there were some real catchy intricacies in this song, and also in the haunting and haughty Stranger In A Strange Land. Scarlet is instrumentally mysterious and at times beautiful, with a nice piano, laid back guitar and drum sound. Bono's vocal is perhaps a bit to ethereal and plaintive. Is That All? is a punchy, choppy guitar and drum-driven lively number to finish with more of this dubby guitars.
There is nothing really uplifting in this album, though, it has to be said. It is actually a very bleak piece of work. It suits the darkening early evenings of October quite appositely.