U2 got themselves a big hit by going back to the basics, so their next album was built from the same approach. And once again, while How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb played it safe, perhaps they played it a little too safe.
“Vertigo” was the best choice for both album opener and single, with a driving beat and a count-in that translates as “some, two, three, fourteen.” The sweeter “Miracle Drug” builds to a big chorus featuring the same drum patterns that drove “Beautiful Day”. Another tug at the heartstrings comes with “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own”, written for Bono’s dad’s funeral. “Love And Peace Or Else” is a bombastic yet hollow threat, but “City Of Blinding Lights” nicely brings back some of their mid-‘80s vibe via Edge’s matching piano and guitar parts.
“All Because Of You” is another attempt at a big anthem with big Who chords, but you have to get past that percussive effect at the beginning that sounds like Fred Flintstone running across his living room. The mostly acoustic “A Man And A Woman” brings to mind the lesser half of the last album, and the lyrics are just plain wimpy. “Crumbs From Your Table” is a little better, a good arrangement masking a dark subject. The atmospheric “One Step Closer” discusses death again, but it’s not clear what “Original Of The Species” is about, except three or so musical ideas shackled together. The closing “Yahweh” is an imperfect prayer that would be more effective if Bono hadn’t come up with a better chorus than the title.
How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb has its moments, and it’s not “bad” in the slightest, but again, the ingredients weren’t adding up to something great. No fewer than six—six!—producers were credited on the album, from the stalwart Steve Lillywhite, Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois and Flood to newer entrants like Chris Thomas and Jacknife Lee. Maybe they didn’t want to leave an era untapped?
The album, of course, was a huge hit, no doubt helped by the subsequent tour. Coinciding with its release, the boys partnered with Apple Computer to market their own branded iPod, preloaded with a “digital box set” called The Complete U2. As the title would suggest, it included each of their albums, as well as every single, B-side, bonus track and EP. Of course, that meant that some songs got repeated across several singles, album tracks and hits collections. But what made it especially enticing were the true rarities: a disc each of Early Demos and Unreleased & Rare tracks, and two complete concerts. Live From The Point Depot was the band’s last appearance before they regrouped to record Achtung Baby, while Live From Boston 1981 was a fantastic club show that fueled some early B-sides and deserves to be available on its own.
U2 How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb (2004)—3