Achtung Baby

20 years ago this month U2 released Achtung Baby! — the last of the huge albums (seeing as it was released after Nirvana’s Nevermind. Some will disagree with my assessment of this as one of the great albums in rock history or with my love of U2. They are allowed to be wrong — it is a free country and a free space for opinions after all. The above link is to a 20th Anniversary re-release with remastered songs and a second CD with B-sides and remixes.

Anyway… I was going to write something up but this piece from PJ Media Lifestyle pretty sums up what I would’ve said anyway…

This month marks the 20th anniversary of one of the last great culturally and musically dominant albums of the rock era — Achtung Baby by U2. The album introduced a wild new industrial wall of sound, rhythm, and psychedelic swirl to the world. It sat on top of the charts for months, won the Grammy for album of the year, and regularly appears on critics’ lists of the best albums of all time. It may be my generation’s Sgt. Pepper.

Not long after Achtung Baby dominated the airwaves, the radio and music industry changed forever. Market micro-segmentation and the diminished relevance of terrestrial radio meant that no single album would again capture the rock nation as did Achtung Baby, and Nirvana’s Nevermind did earlier that fall. Sure, musical acts still explode to riches and some fame, but culturally unifying musical dominance doesn’t occur the way it once did.

There are no more Michael Jacksons or The Beatles, or groups like U2. These days, it is difficult to name any single contemporary song that the vast majority of Americans are familiar with as they were with Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” in 1984 or U2’s “One” from Achtung Baby. Like our politics, our music has frayed apart.

24 comments to Achtung Baby

  • -fritz-

    I likes me some U2!

  • Matt Helm

    One o’ me Irish mates went to school with, and is good mates with, Willie Mannion, who was a sound technician on some tracks of Achtung and later albums. He did some work on the opening song of this album, Zoo Station. So when me mate and his mates refer to Willie, they call him, “Willie – (sound out the first couple of riffs of Zoo Station *while playing air guitar*) – Mannion.”

    • That is an awesome riff sound, too — very cool story!

      Recently revisited this and sister album Zooropa, whose overall collection of songs I’ve always preferred, just slightly — it’s Cash’s “The Wanderer” which tips the scales. Still absolutely holds up and landmark album indeed.

      Much more an impact on the cultural zeitgeist to be sure, but I’d still put the Chili Peppers’ Californication on the short list of albums (and the title track for song) which rocked the nation.

      • Matt Helm

        Willie Mannion was all over Zooropa … even The Wanderer.

      • Matt Helm

        Another friend of me Irish mate is in the the tile flooring business, in Dublin Co. He’s done members of U2’s houses, and their Clarence Hotel. He’s also done Jim Sheridan’s house. He did the floors for the Irish Cultural Film whatever, where all the above names hang out, and they gave him this huge projection TV back in the day, for free.

        • Love the Irish!

          For purely entertainment’s sake in the semi-connections department, my father-in-law used to install the shades, extra-heavy room-darkening vinyl with inside and outside trim as my wife likes to remind me, on Roy DeMeo’s house. He don’t know nuttin’.

  • goozer

    Floyd – there’s some mexican dude with a guitar who’d like to talk to you about the Supernatural


    • Niiiiiice. I’m not saying Carlos Santana’s not an amazing guitarist, most definitely is, but I still wish the phrasing on “Evil Ways” doesn’t always have me singing “Love Potion No. 9.”

      • Tink in Cali

        I am glad I am not the only one that thought that about “Evil Ways.” And great call on ‘Supernatural’, goozer; I listen to that album quite a bit. (Why no capital ‘G’, by the way?)

      • Loyal Goatherd

        Are you implying theft by a hispanic? Racist! What’s next? Jumper cables from the Chevy to hook up his guitar to his amp! Racist!

        I have MORE THAN A FEELING that this SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT. And I just met a girl named BLUE JEAN, if only she had a little Heart and could EVEN IT UP, everything would be okay. It’s all coincidence!

      • goozer

        Well, “Evil Ways” is originally a Willie Bobo tune (written by Clarence ‘Sonny’ Henry,) so you’ll have to take it up with them as to the similarity. :-)

        Now, to be honest, none of the three albums mentioned here were really ‘groundbreaking’ in the sense that they did something truly new. They just managed to catch the pop culture wave at the right moment, and the critics obliged with fawning press. Nevermind sounded better when it was called Rust Never Sleeps, and Achtung Baby was more of a trendsetter when it was called Scary Monsters. Both albums are great, don’t get me wrong, but they are hardly the unique genius that some believe they are. Cultural and generational touchstones, perhaps — but again, that has as much to do with aggressive promotion and relentless exposure in what is a paradoxically saturated yet exclusive media machine.

        Santana’s previous two studio albums (Spirits Dancing in the Flesh and Milagro) had already been guest-star laden efforts with the likes of Vernon Reid, Bobby Womack, Wayne Shorter, Tramaine Hawkins, & Larry Graham, among others…all who were just as pop culturally marginal at the time as he was. Clive Davis just took Carlos’ formula and made it work by using guests that were currently surfing the wave.

        And always remember – all taste is in the mouth! 😉

  • From the Sky Down …fantastic documentary on the making of Achtung Baby.

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