Is it profitable or reasonable or desirous to embark upon such an odd task as to create a hierarchy of the greatness of the discography of the Greatest Band of All Time? Perhaps not, but in response to an internet friend’s own adventure down such a road I decided that a reply would be appropriate.
The album which one puts upon the top of the U2 hierarchy instantly places one into a “fan” bracket. The hardcore fan instantly becomes skeptical of anyone who puts the beloved “Joshua Tree” on top. This is because even the non-fan knows most of the songs from this album. “If they were really a fan” says the U2-snob, they would say “Zooropa.” Indeed the “true fan” believes that it is of paramount importance that they put one of the much maligned 90’s albums atop the tree. This will, they assume, demonstrate to other fans that they didn’t stop with the early stuff.
I am a self-professed U2 fan. That is, I regularly include the entire discography in my listening lists and I am just as happy to sing to “Numb” as I am to “Where the Streets…”
I am such a fan that I am completely and totally unbiased and objective in my viewing them. I have no point to prove and shall list accordingly.
#1 – Joshua Tree – That’s right, I put it at the top. I relate to the hipster aversion to widely popular music. In some circles I might be considered a hipster, though I scorn the label (as all good hipsters should). But let us be honest; can there be a more spectacular opening to an album than the seeming immortal opening of “Where the Streets Have no Name?” One gets the feeling that the song has already been going on for eternity and we are transported to the place where it has been taking place. From there we are hit again and again by songs which go to parts of us much deeper than other artists are capable of taking us. We all of us “Still Haven’t Found What We’re Looking For,” we have had conflicted feelings of love that we could live “With or Without,” etc….
Moving lyrics aside, the album was also a bomb dropped on the guitar world. Delay had been used before this, but nobody had even come close to contemplating where Edge took an inspired combination of overdrive, reverb and delay. Have you ever just listened to the guitar work on “Bullet the Blue Sky?” Where did he come up with that?!
For all the other great work, Joshua Tree deserves to be on the top of this list.
#2 – Achtung Baby – Achtung Baby has a similar reputation amongst some U2 elite. Being well known as another “classic” or “breakthrough” album it suspect as a favorite. Too many people have sung “One” to make the album cool.
Yet again I shall break with such self-righteousness. The band themselves described the sound as “Four men chopping down the Joshua Tree” and it came right on the heels of the resoundingly distained “Rattle and Hum.” What we got was a sonic masterpiece which somehow (magically?) retained a sort of U2 essence but moved the band into a completely new musical direction. From the bright opening tunes of “Zoo Station” and “Even Better than the Real Thing” to the dark and moving “Love is Blindness,” this album is another of the greatest albums of the last 30 years.
#3 – All That You Can’t Leave Behind – Whatever else positive that can be said for the other albums, 2000’s ATYCLB marked what was, in my opinion, a third sound for this decades’ spanning band. The first sound was immortalized in Joshua Tree; the second was begun with Achtung Baby and moved along with Pop and Zooropa; and ATYCLB announced that the Irish foursome still had the ability, not just to put out an album, but create a truly great album, worthy to stand alongside the aforementioned records. In a sort of fusion of the spacious guitar and melodies of the “early” U2 and the pop groove from the “90’s” stuff, ATYCLB is creation of considerable worth.
It opens with “Beautiful Day,” an aggressive pop anthem and ends with the subtle ballad “Grace,” which personifies Grace as a world changing lady. In between we get rock solid guitar work on such songs as “Kite;” immortal pop-rock tunes like “Walk On;” a hard rocking tribute to their favorite city “New York” and much besides.
With these three albums one gets a taste of three decades of U2’s work and gets the best of that work.
The listing of other albums may seem arbitrary. Especially since they display a range of creative colors and are not easily compared. Still we shall give it a shot
#4 – Zooropa
#5 – The Unforgettable Fire – “Bad” is one of the greatest songs of all time
#6 – War
#7 – Pop
#8 – October
#9 – No Line on the Horizon – really this and Rattle & Hum get a tie
#10 – Rattle and Hum
#11 – Boy
#12 – How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb