Wednesday, July 29, 2009

U2 2: October

A band’s second album is always a challenge, particular when its first is such a success. In U2’s case, the challenge became more daunting when Bono lost the notebook where he’d kept his lyrical ideas before the recording sessions began.
That could be the main reason why October doesn’t quite reach the heights of Boy. The lyrics Bono ended up singing may have been concocted under duress, but the most obvious theme through the album as that of the Christian spirituality with which the band soon became equated. Right from the get-go “Gloria” is not a nod to that other song by an Irishman, but rather an evocation of Latin from Sunday mass. “Rejoice” can’t help but evoke the same liturgical source, as does “Scarlet”, which is an atmospheric rumination on the same word over a track that predicts their future work with Brian Eno. Biblical references abound elsewhere, even on tracks not as overt.
Still, the album has some definite high points. “Gloria” is still a great single, and “Tomorrow” is an unsettling remembrance of a death in the family. The Edge’s usual guitar work has developed further, as has his use of piano, used so well on “I Fall Down” and the suitably autumnal title track. “Fire” was another hit single, but unfortunately, by the end of the closing “Is That All?”, listeners may be asking the same question.
The band hasn’t remained fond of October, undoubtedly remembering the tension that went into making it. In proof that they’d given their all during the sessions, the bulk of the bonus disc on the remastered edition is taken up by live versions from BBC sessions and previous B-sides. While a few songs are repeated, they show how much they were able to improve upon he songs on the road. (The CD also includes the first CD appearance of “A Celebration”, a standalone single the band also disowned for most of their career.) Still, one can’t help but wonder if the album would have been better had Bono not lost the lyrics. Amazingly, the briefcase containing them was returned in 2004, but to date there hasn’t been any suggestion that he’d do anything with them.

U2 October (1981)—3
2008 Deluxe Edition: same as 1981, plus 17 extra tracks

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