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Monday, 10 September 2018
U2 - The Unforgettable Fire (1984)
Released October 1984
Recorded at Slane Castle and Windmill Lane Studios, Dublin
I have always felt this album to be a sort of bridging, transitional one between the still raw-is authentic post-punk edginess of "War" and the polished, commercial "The Joshua Tree". This album saw Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois brought in to produce a different type of sound, that retained the trademark guitar riffery and the anthemic delivery but also explored more abstract, ambient sounds. The feel was intended to be more serious, reflective and, oh dear, "arty". There had always been underlying airs of pretentiousness about the band, but after this I went into overdrive and U2, thereafter became a "Marmite" type of band. Love them or hate them.
Personally, despite the reputations of the producers, I have always found the sound to be a bit muddy and muffled on the album. I have to say, it is not an album that has given me as much enjoyment as either "War" or "The Joshua Tree". Or the first two albums in their career, for that matter.
The opener, "A Sort Of Homecoming" is one which suffers a little from a murky, undefined production. Musically, it has a typically anthemic, rousing style to it and lyrically starts to express thoughts of Irishness and identity. Then we get one of the two true U2 classics on the album - the iconic typical U2 uplifting rock of "Pride (In The Name Of Love)", the band's tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. Everyone knows it. It's great. "Wire" is an unsung hero of the album. A track that harks back to the post-punk vigour and guitar attack of the first three albums. It has some excellent guitar work and a good vocal too, a great atmosphere to it. The title track manages to merge both the glory of the old sound and some of the ethereal, mysterious airs of the new in a beautifully evocative yet at times inscrutable song. Some deep cello orchestration is introduced as the production gets "big" for the first time.
"Promenade" is one of the first of the "ambient" tracks that float around this album - airy vocals, throbbing bass, swirling keyboard sounds and those recognisable high-pitched repeated guitar notes underpinning. "4th Of July" continues in the same vein. Even more stark and mysterious. I remember at the time thinking these two tracks were a bit of a waste of time. I can appreciate them a bit more now, but still feel they were a bit superfluous and that there was better material that could have replaced certainly the latter track.
So, something special needs to happen. It did. "Bad" is my favourite U2 track of all time. Majestically and slowly building up with that guitar sound, the bass, the slow regular thumping drums and Bono's finest vocal performance. Then there are the beguiling, perplexing lyrics. U2 never bettered this, even after any more years trying.
"Indian Summer Sky" is an interesting one. It has definite hints of Talking Heads' "Remain In Light" album, also produced by Brian Eno. The "so wind, blow through to my heart" line is the one that brings the Talking Heads comparison, for me. It is a good song, another of the lesser known but impressive ones. "Elvis Presley And America" is interesting in its insistent, understated way, but I have always struggled to know just what the heck it is about. It tries to "out-"Bad" "Bad" at the end, though. Certainly it is a track that demanded repeated listens. "MLK", another King tribute, is another somewhat throwaway, ambient track with the feel of unrealised potential about it. Its mournful synthesiser sounds hum deeply over Bono's haunting vocals. It is over too soon, however. Overall, despite the sporadic brilliance contained within this album, I feel it just slightly comes up a bit short.
- September 10, 2018