Monday, August 3, 2009

U2 3: War

Ah yes, the third album. The album where a band who made such an impact with their debut only to stumble on the follow-up has to really stretch to ensure that they’ll be allowed to make a fourth, fifth, tenth and so on. With War, U2 were under a lot of pressure, and luckily for them—and their fans—they succeeded.
There’s still plenty of so-called “Christian” content here, but it takes a back seat to the local and world politics with which Bono (mostly) would be known for stirring up. Twenty years after John Lennon wrote about “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, this band made it a household phrase, under a tattoo of drums and a riff so simple it’s amazing nobody else had come up with it first. “Seconds” is another anti-war tune, sung by The Edge in a voice that still sounds like Bono. “New Year’s Day” was suitably released as the album’s first single that January, and it still evokes images of the boys standing shivering in the snow from the video. While it’s the piano most people remember, the bassline shows Adam Clayton to be the band’s most consistently underappreciated member. Speaking of which, “Like A Song…” is a buried anthem that doesn’t get as much exposure. The side, while not quite perfect, ends with the much gentler “Drowning Man”.
On CD, the mood is killed by the tribal plodding of “The Refugee”, the one track on the album not produced by Steve Lillywhite, but rather a guy whose claim to fame would be unleashing Riverdance on pop culture. Luckily, “Two Hearts Beat As One” stabilizes the equilibrium with an actual love song. The female voices that start “Red Light” also seem out of place, but don’t they sound hot? “Surrender” is longer than it should be, but nods to the types of pyrotechnics The Edge would explore on future albums. And it all fades down with “40”, a reinterpretation of an actual Psalm that audiences would continue singing long after the band finished their final encores.
War resonated with fans old and new, some of whom actually took the time to study some of the political issues Bono was yelling about. Almost 30 years later it doesn’t sound dated, but retains a cohesive sound that we’d forgotten had been so influential. Now U2 had gained the clout to explore new sounds and ideas, but first they had tours to complete. (The bonus disc on the Deluxe Edition is unfortunately a disappointment, with too many remixes of the same two songs taking up two-thirds of the program. But at least the remainder included some elusive B-sides.)

U2 War (1983)—
2008 Deluxe Edition: same as 1983, plus 12 extra tracks

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