Achtung Baby, the album that changed us
2021 saw Achtung Baby reach its 30th anniversary. Thirty years on it still sounds uniquely fresh. Spawning classic tracks such One and The Fly, Achtung Baby still trades blows with The Joshua Tree as many fans favourite U2 album. In this U2start ‘Original’, 12 essays from forum members dissect the 12 tracks of Achtung Baby, breaking down their origins, interpretation of lyrics and personal attachment to some of the band's greatest ever songs. Enjoy.
On November 18th 1991, millions of U2 fans arrived back from their local record store in the early hours of the morning eager to hear what happened since Rattle and Hum. Questions in the opening ten seconds: “Is my CD player broken?” Comments: “I think this CD is defective.” Mind you, Adam Clayton once said, “When people put on the record, we wanted their first reaction to be either ‘this record is broken’ or ‘this can’t be the new U2 record, there must be a mistake’. So there is quite a dramatic extended intro where you just don’t know what you’re listening to.”
That marimba-esque opening, reminiscent of an old grandfather clock tick-tocking or even morse code, and that apocalyptic industrial guitar throws you off completely. If you’re listening to U2 for the first time out of curiosity in a chronological order, you’d think the journey had wrongly deviated to Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine. Maybe it’s only right that they covered Zoo Station in the 2011 cover album to commemorate its 20th anniversary.
But that’s one of the many acts who U2 tried to emulate when piecing Achtung Baby together. One of the three songs to derive from Lady With the Spinning Head, it parades the drastic sonic evolution they were seeking before they set out to record the album. The vocals through the megaphone, the Einstürzende Neubauten percussion and groovy bass for what is quite a dense and abrasive track.
"Zoo Station is four minutes of a television that’s not tuned into any station, but giving you an interference and ‘shash’ and almost a TV picture." - The Edge
It took 12 years to return to the live stage, in all its glory during Vertigo Tour. Whatever you thought about that tour, Zoo Station and its appearance at the start of the encore for many shows maintained the show’s momentum. When it didn’t appear in the set, along with The Fly and other Achtung Baby tracks around that segment, the energy was lost. The song gained a new lease of life during Vertigo Tour.
After that tour, you would never have expected the song to come back to the live stage again. It made that unexpected and wonderful one-off return in Berlin - of all places - during the Innocence + Experience Tour in 2015, for it to suddenly disappear again.
But many of us and myself can sit here and say that we’ve witnessed Zoo Station live when they decided to wedge it into the set for the last 19 shows of the Experience + Innocence Tour. For all of us who didn’t see ZooTV, couldn’t see ZooTV, weren’t born yet to see ZooTV, it was a mere flavour of what the experience was like. But if you were there in 1992 or 1993, you were ready for what’s next. And honestly, the band never looked back.
Even Better Than The Real Thing ( The “wheel” thing)
As far as I’m concerned, this second song from the Achtung Baby album has a life of its own when released in June 1992 as the forth single from the album. I am talking about its “life” on MTV as a quite spectacular video clip, shot with rotating cameras and mixed with a variety of images and television footage in “ZOO TV” style. But rather than describing and naming all the things and images shown, I would like and try to take you back to these MTV days. If only just for a little bit.
To me this “Wheel Thing” video had an enormous sense of urgency. It pulled me in right from the start and there was just no escaping from it. Already the sound and music seemed even better than just listening to it on my SONY Discman, travelling or lying in my low-lit room. Now the song was in-the-world and so much more real than it ever was in my head. Because this was also MTV: you were never the only person watching. It was real-time television broadcast. It was my generation watching, and U2 was “ON”! Maybe superfluous to explain, but back in the early nineties there was no YouTube, no publicly available internet, and cell phones still in their infancy.
Music was not available “on demand” other than from your own CD and record collection (and what you borrowed and/or taped from friends). And while radio was still a huge force in music industry, there was nothing like MTV (Music Television). Maybe also good to note: back then MTV played music videos 24/7, only alternating with short commercial breaks and funny and/or “artsy” animation clips featuring the MTV logo. At least this was what MTV Europe more or less looked like around 1992. It might have been somewhat different in the United States, but I assume the impact of Music Television must have been similar. Anyway, if one would have liked to watched the clip of “Even Better Than The Real Thing”, one had to wait until it was played and there was no knowing in advance when exactly that would be. In fact there was a big element of chance (or “surprise”, if you like!), whether you would catch it or not. Too bad if the phone would ring, or mom calling for supper; there was no pause button to stop the show and watch it later at you convenience. When it’s on, it’s on, and you might have to risk a fight viewing it!
EBTTRT is a very conscience song and the video clip is nothing less. Starting off with a number of words beginning with SUPER: SUPERMAN, SUPERDRUG, SUPERFLY, to name a few and, last but not least, SUPERFICIAL. “We’ll slide down the surface of things,” suggesting the true realness lies beneath. Not to been seen with eyes, but rather with the mind.
"At some moment in my life that song, that video clip was my entire universe and I felt I was right in the middle of it all!"
Joyce (aka BigGirl)
Write a short piece about One. That was the brief. How though? It’s bloody One! Two hundred and sixty-seven words spread over four minutes & thirty six seconds make up U2’s career defining song on the album which will likely remain their most coveted amongst fans like us.
The song was conceived in Hansa studios in Berlin where U2 cooped up with Lanois & Eno in late 1990 to ‘dream it all up again’. Recording sessions were said to be fractious. Edge was dealing with his breakup, Larry felt his input was being diminished by the use of drum machines and the underdeveloped underpinnings of song ideas bore no fruit. Then One happened and quickly fuelled the creative embers into a flame that sparked Achtung Baby. I urge you to watch the scene in ‘From the Sky Down’ where Edge plays the demo tape from a work in progress called ‘Sick Puppy’ (later becoming 'Mysterious Ways’. Familiar sounding chords emerge as if they had always existed, some bongolese is added and in the blink of an eye this song that has become a permanent fixture in all of our lives just came to be. It is a frisson inducing piece of film. Bono’s lyric has been interpreted in several ways and it is a credit to his writing that the song holds up to scrutiny from several points of view. Edge describes it best as a ‘bitter, twisted, vitriolic conversation between two people who’ve been through some nasty, heavy stuff’ [U2 by U2] and it does not take a great leap to draw parallels to his recent separation. The other widely discussed theme is that of a conversation between a father and his HIV-positive son and scanning the lyrics with this in mind holds up as well. Those that choose not to dig deeper into the lyrics buy the song as a tale of togetherness and oneness resulting in the rather hilarious irony of couples using it as their wedding song. Might they revisit the song years later when fractures appear in their marriage and see it for what it really is?
The song became a mainstay in the band's setlist from the first night of ZooTV. Mirroring its position on the record it came early in the set and those early performances during the first few months of the tour still remain the finest. They were heavier with Bono featuring prominently on his black Gibson and Larry hit the pots and pans hard.
"Johnny Cash broke the song down to its bare bones in an achingly gorgeous cover while Mary J Blige gave the song a jolt and thrust it back into the mainstream."
One saved Achtung Baby,
One saved U2,
One will live on in perpetuity,
One resides in the U2 temple,
One is the higher law ruling over all other U2 songs,
Until The End Of The World
Ask any U2 fan and they will say that one of the best live tracks is Until the End of the World. For a non-single album track, it’s pretty impressive. It’s impressive that any band can make a back catalogue of exceptional non-single tracks that end up holding their own and become a regular live behemoth.
Everyone lauds the live version of Until the End of the World like it’s the far superior version, no matter which tour. I remember in my infinite youth, my brother and I were obsessed with U2. Obsessed after Beautiful Day and All That You Can’t Leave Behind, and the irony here is that I’d happily drop Beautiful Day over Until the End of the World any day of the week. But we received Elevation Live from Boston as a gift on DVD in 2001 and it was the Achtung Baby tracks that blew my little mind. Never mind the earth-shattering version of The Fly, it was Until the End of the World that had me captivated only three songs in. The duel between Bono and The Edge, that guitar riff, that drum intro! It’s remained in my top 10 U2 songs forever.
But you know what? I’ve seen Until the End of the World quite a few times live. We probably all have. It’s been played at virtually every tour bar on an anniversary tour and it’s one of the few tracks to maintain its vigour after all these decades.
It must have been two years ago when a fellow U2start member mentioned how great the studio version is. Yeah, I love the song but never really paid attention to the intricacies of the studio version. We all listen to Achtung Baby now like it’s sonic muscle memory. We know every word, every note but never put the pieces together. You can float through the 55 and a half minutes and before you know it you’re just consciously tuning into the final falsettos of Love is Blindness. It was at this moment after sitting down to study the album very carefully that a revelation happened; perhaps an epiphany. I studied every song, but particularly Until the End of the World.
Why? That fellow member mentioned how every member plays an astonishingly equal and brilliant part in Until the End of the World. I mentioned the exceptional drum intro and one time I even uploaded a picture to the U2start gallery with Adam and Larry both playing the song, giving it the title ‘Bass and Drums’, not really considering how vital they are to the final product. The bass on that track flaunts into another dimension - so eloquent, so sexy, so alluring. Adam’s bass tracks on Achtung Baby genuinely hits seductiveness and Until the End of the World is no exception.
Bring Larry’s drums into the equation and it’s amazing how he and Adam follow each other. Every bass note and every snare stroke flow and weave beautifully, almost like they’re playing two completely different tracks. Before the idea of Achtung Baby was devised, before they set off for Berlin to sort out a creative direction, Larry was listening to classic rock and learning how to “play around the beat”. That really helped him bring out his technical playing on Achtung Baby. And while Until the End of the World isn’t the only track to exhibit that, it’s probably the most masterful on the entire album.
"Every bass note and every snare stroke flow and weave beautifully, almost like they’re playing two completely different tracks."
That curiosity is in Bono’s lyrics, which can be interpreted in whatever mood the song takes you. Whether it’s about temptation or catharsis - or even both - they sound deeply desperate and despondent, yet Bono manages to bring out the unperturbed, nonplussed demeanour in his delivery. It’s the opposite of what Patti Smith, God bless her, did in her cover version - finding the, as Q put it, “bottom-of-the-barrel desperation” in the lyrics. Again, however you perceive the lyrical content you have to admire the way Bono turns adversity on its head. Something discernible in many of his prose.
Some people think Until the End of the World is half the song in the studio because of how tame it is in comparison. I don’t mean tame as in dull, I mean subdued. It’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s artistry. Take a song that’s restrained and develop it into a monster to completely beguile an audience. That alone confirms how underrated a live act U2 are.
I think about Until the End of the World like how the band described their creative differences in Hansa Studio during the From the Sky Down documentary - those sketches that depict their challenges. The one that springs to mind is the four of them, as cartoons, playing and the walls dividing each and every one of them. I’ll redesign the metaphor.
This was a band who weren’t speaking the same language for a large part of the creative process. They would bash stuff out for hours and it wouldn’t make sense. It was “gobbledygook”, as Bono said after the Salome tapes were stolen. Until the End of the World feels like four musicians coming from a completely different place individually, yet the product pieced together is sheer genius. It’s possibly the most ‘complete’ U2 have ever sounded, live and in the studio.
Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses
I don’t remember becoming a U2 fan. It happened way before I could tell. One of the first memories I have of my life, around 4 years old, is asking my mother to play “the lemon album” again. Yeah, the Zooropa vinyl fascinated me so much. And I can outright recall scrutinizing the Achtung Baby record, roughly 6 years old, and learning my first English lessons thanks to the Spanish edition of the album which includes the original lyrics in English on one side of the booklet, and the Spanish translations on the other. I’ve always said that I learnt most of the English I know thanks to Achtung Baby, and particularly with Horses which has always been among my 3 favorite songs off the album. It’s funny because I adore Achtung Baby so much for all that it meant to the band, the radical change in sound and aesthetics, and yet Horses is the most classic sounding song of the lot. In my opinion it’s one of the best songs this band has ever put out, and I am yet to find a U2 fan that dislikes it.
Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses is one of the most bitter tracks of the Achtung Baby album, and I dare to say, of U2’s career.
"The kind of song you’d write while drinking a bottle of wine after breaking up with your 15 year partner. Pain, sorrow, rage and impotence all come together and all that’s left is wondering who is going to drown in your blue sea."
From a musical standpoint, Horses is fairly normal, with a pretty simple chord progression (G-D-C, the same as Knocking On Heaven’s Door for example) and a standard verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure. The big, big moment comes after the second chorus. Then comes what’s probably the most inspired middle-eight of any U2 song, which is actually a double bridge: first the "the deeper I spin" part which is in A minor key (bringing the listener to a very dark place, following the lyrics), which then goes into the incredible C major > F major > D major shift ("Hallelujah, heaven's white rose..."). That leads us to the post-bridge-pre-chorus part ("Don't turn around"), which then discharges at the very pinnacle of the song: one of Bono’s highest chest notes ever, in the “come on now love, don’t you LOOK back!”. From a musical and lyrical point of view it's just magic, masterful.
It was released as the fifth and last single of the album, but the single version (the Temple Bar remix) was substantially different to the album version. The live versions have always been swinging between the heavier album version and the more stripped down single version (a change that happened both in 1992 and in 2005). But for me the song hit its peak really, really early: in March 1992! Back when the band was still working their way through the live versions of the AB songs and fitting them into the Zoo TV madness, Horses was the only song that allowed them for improvisations. Some of these early Zoo TV concerts featured extended solos by The Edge, often having Bono conducting the band into repeating the bridge and/or last chorus and improvising lyrics or impressive falsetto segments to go along with Edge’s guitar. Tip: check out the Horses versions from 1992-02-29 Lakeland, 03-05 Atlanta and 03-09 Uniondale. So much greatness.
Even the band regards it as one of Bono’s finest moments, which is ironic since they’ve also spoken about how hard it was to get it right (even saying that they actually did not get it right!). They even had a completely different set of lyrics during the recording, which would then become quite revealing 25 years later: instead of the opening verse of “You’re dangerous ‘cos you’re honest”, this alternate version started with “You’re innocence, I’m experience”. So different and yet so great! In case you haven’t done it yet, I strongly recommend you to have a listen to the Kindergarten version of Horses (often called “Baby” version). You won’t regret it!
When asked to write something about an Achtung Baby song, I knew it had to be So Cruel. So Cruel is the song on this album that probably means the most to me and is part of my all-time favourite U2 songs. As a U2 fan I am always most attracted to the lyrics, maybe part of that also got me into U2 to begin with. Or music in general. My kind of music is poetry-like music, lyrics with ambiguity and lyrics that you can relate to from different perspectives. So Cruel stands out in that regard, with some of the best lyrics seen in any song. Combined with it's almost-haunting music it's a song I often play and have probably played more than any other song on this album.
Despite being the longest song on the album (clocking 05:49, the Kindergarten version even at 06:07), So Cruel never feels like a long song. It's a story, where the singer takes you with him in his feelings of love and desperation. Using poetic lines such as "I gave you everything you want to have, it wasn't what you wanted", the singer describes a relationship with someone that is given all the things one wants in a relationship such as love and care. But this is not what she wants, she wants lies and pain.
Times in life when I had to deal with love sickness or a break-up, this song would always rise up to bring comfort. The song is sang by someone who sounds frustrated, who feels a bit of anger which makes him express his feelings in a sarcastic way. "I'm only hanging on to watch you go down".
"I often find myself alternate to the Kindergarten version of this song, which lyrics are somewhat less subtle but still very powerful."
Musically, the music accompanies the song very well. The deep and lower piano notes are very moving and Bono's voice is simply incredible and perfect for this song. I often find myself alternate to the Kindergarten version of this song, which lyrics are somewhat less subtle but still very powerful ("what you can't find in anyone else, you won't find in me"). If I have to choose my overall favourite lyric of the song is probably "between the horses of love and lust we are trampled underfoot". That is some some amazing poetry. It comforts me that I can carry this song with me for the rest of my life, as I'm sure it will stand my test of time easily.
In October 1991, the new U2 single hit the airwaves and had people wondering if the radio station was playing the right song. The band had promised to the world to "dream it all up again" two years previous as the Lovetown tour drew to a close, and they sure delivered on that promise. Gone was the "traditional" U2 sound and in its place a beat-driven, industrial rock feel. The Edge in particular stood out on the song, deploying an arsenal of effects and incorporating a buzzing riff and killer solo. Bono's vocal approach for the verses of aphorisms was a distorted whispering, countered in the chorus by a falsetto that would be showcased more on the following album. Was this really the same band that recorded Sunday Bloody Sunday and With Or Without You?
"The Fly", along with another album track "Ultraviolet", spawned from a demo which became the b-side "Lady With The Spinning Head" and the similarities in structure, composition and tone are noticeable. Bono described "The Fly" as a phone call from hell and the guy likes it there.
The video for the song gave the world the first proper look at the new U2. Amidst the shots of flickering televisions it introduced Bono's "The Fly" character, an instantly recognisable persona which he would use for the opening section of the ZOO TV shows.
"The Edge in particular stood out on the song, deploying an arsenal of effects and incorporating a buzzing riff and killer solo."
With the opening segment of ZOO TV showcasing Achtung Baby heavily, The Fly had a permanent spot in the setlist at number 2, being played at every show. For the song's duration the audience faced a barrage of words and slogans flickering across the banks of monitors, a real sensory overload. The song was briefly retired after ZOO TV concluded but would return as a setlist regular for the first two legs of the Elevation tour. For this tour it was performed in a higher key and given a new, stripped back intro. It then reappeared in its original format on later tours as a regular for Vertigo, the final leg of 360 and the later shows of the Experience And Innocence tour of 2018.
Upon release "The Fly" hit a modest 61 in the US charts, but reached number 1 in the UK, Ireland, Australia and other territories. It proved in a big way that U2 was back and ready to divide the fanbase. Indeed it is a favourite for many, representing the beginning of a period where the band was unafraid to experiment and go against preconceptions and expectations. Speaking personally, it is the song that first got myself interested in U2, leading to 30 years of diehard fandom..
The sound of four men chopping down the Joshua Tree was appealing indeed…
A rumour goes that Mysterious Ways was born one afternoon when at Adam’s suggestion, the four band members disguised themselves as women. It is a song that invokes sinuous dance and psychedelia. It conjures images of love, submission, adoration and references desire, lust, sex and how we can be trapped by each. These powerful feelings run throughout Achtung Baby in songs such as Zoo Station, One, So Cruel, Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses and The Fly.
Bono says of Mysterious Ways ‘It’s a song about women, it’s not directed at one in particular, it’s about women in general and in the way they hypnotise and put us into a trance and then often dominate men’. Bono also says Ali has often refrained ‘For God’s sake, take me down from this pedestal!’.
We can each apply our own interpretation to the song but we can be sure that many of us on many occasions do terrible things for love, for romance and passion. Many times we fail to recognise that love is present without the need to do the things we do to chase that love.
"We can each apply our own interpretation to the song but we can be sure that many of us on many occasions do terrible things for love, for romance and passion."
Mysterious Ways was first played live on the opening night of the ZooTV tour on February 29th 1992 in Lakeland, Florida and featured a belly dancer on stage, invoking the music video for the song. One of the dancers became Edge’s wife.
Probably one of the best songs on Achtung Baby.
Tryin' To Throw Your Arms Around The World
Many will consider this lighthearted song as one of the weakest tracks from Achtung Baby but it deserves more credit than it gets. It is a piece of upbeat frivolity on a record that is thick with heft and darkness delivered by the big hitters such as One, Acrobat and Love is Blindness. Contrast works.
The song was introduced on tour as a ‘new Irish drinking song’ (often by Larry or Adam). During a show in LA Adam described it as ‘a story about a man who’s been out one night drinking, and when he gets home he can’t get the key in the door’. Anybody who has been a few pints too deep (guilty your honour) can identify with that sentiment and it plays out in the lyrics. From falling off sidewalks and losing the power of speech to the pain of sunlight and the sore head the following morning. It’s a song about drinking for sure. It goes a little further though. The strain on the relationship caused by this poor chaps drinking is touched upon. The partner speaks ‘nothing much to say I guess, just the same as all the rest. . . A woman needs a man, like a fish needs a bicycle’ hints at the males tendency to drink to excess and the warning shots she fires should he not get himself together. The chorus refrain ‘I’m gonna run to you, run to you’ is his pledge to shape up and come back to her.
"It’s a song about drinking for sure. It goes a little further though."
Throughout ZooTV the song was a bit of a set piece moment. It saw the first proper use of the b-stage catwalk (still a new concept at the time) and took Bono right into the middle of the crowd. A young (and often pretty) young lady was plucked from the crowd (sometimes too young if the rumours for its exclusion from the Sydney film are to be believed) to dance with Bono and formed a literal champagne moment each night. The handicam footage was beamed live to the big screens creating a somewhat immersive experience that crowds absolutely lapped up night on night.
The song remains the only track from Achtung Baby that was played on ZooTV never to feature again on a subsequent U2 tour (So Cruel and Acrobat didn’t feature on ZooTV). It was rehearsed in 2010 but didn’t make the cut. I don’t think it would have been a great fit on 360 but the meerkat slot in 2015 would have been a great opportunity to try it again. It would have been in almost perfect symmetry to ZooTV but I’m sure this would have been too much of a look back for our band (Joshua Tree Tours of 2017 & 2019 say hello). Perhaps we will see the song return in the coming years as U2 continue to Try and throw their arms around their glory years with a ZooTV anniversary tour.
Ultra Violet (Light My Way)
Did you ever felt like you don’t know? Like checking out? That you can’t always be strong? I did. It happened short after the 360 tour. I saw that show in Amsterdam, and one of the most iconic moments of the show for me was Bono taking the stage for the encore in his laser jacket. Of course to sing Ultra Violet.
As I addressed before, soon after the 360 Tour I became depressed. Imagine a seventeen year old boy, downloading the bootleg ‘The Port Of Amsterdam’ while weeping away the tears of anxiety. Only downloading it because it is that exact moment which I could name the last time I really felt joy.
I was at that concert, my 3rd ever U2 show. Doing the whole package, queuing, running towards the stage. Well, I did, my dad screamed he was too old for that kind of stuff. So we ended up in worse spots than the numbers on the back of our hands would make us believe in the first place. But, no time to complain, I was where I wanted to be, in the inner circle with my dad.
Well, time to get back to Ultra Violet. As I watched the whole show again, I almost fainted during Ultra Violet. All the reason for me to listen more closer to music, but even more to the lyrics. Imagine sitting there, with so much grief and desperation. When suddenly a voice spoke:
Sometimes I feel like I don't know
Sometimes I feel like checkin' out
I want to get it wrong
Can't always be strong
And love it won't be long
It felt like a collision of two worlds. On the first hand a band which I loved, who touched me in a way I could not define, I loved them but I couldn’t point out to the exact core of why.
Is U2 responsible for me breaking free of that depression? No, but U2 showed me the way to pure joy by giving me the feeling of attention and being understand.
Ultra Violet starts with describing the exact feelings I felt at that moment. To continue with a letter of hope, a gathering of words to give me the courage to go on and on. When I was all messed up, and I heard an opera in my head. It was their love that was a lightbulb hanging over my head.
Even when I’m in a stadium filled with 80.000 people, I feel like they play those songs for me. And that gives me nothing but pure joy. Is U2 responsible for me breaking free of that depression? No, but U2 showed me the way to pure joy by giving me the feeling of attention and being understand. And I’m sure that helped.
Oh and professional help, that helped as well. So if you are feeling down, please seek professional help.
Acrobat is a song about fighting in the dark. As I can’t help but see a sense of unitive narrative in Achtung Baby’s closing ‘dark triad’ I’m going to refer to the protagonist as ‘The Sufferer’. The character introduced to us in Ultraviolet is absolutely the same person who follows us to the end of Achtung Baby’s dark and winding road.
The first key to understanding the totality of the song is the time signature. 6/8 The beginning of Acrobat has always led me to the feeling of something being off. The use of the definitive time-signature as associated with Irish traditional does two things;
A - Show you the phenomenal skill of Lawrence Mullen Jr. B - Function as a near-demonic inversion of the nature and spirit of up-tempo Irish Traditional. Acrobat is a drinking song - but it isn’t the good kind of drunk. It is the kind of drunk where ink-black waves of the mind carousel and crash into and through each other as the drinker stumbles home on the stormiest night of the year.
"The first key to understanding the totality of the song is the time signature."
The appropriation of group struggle to that song to me felt both reaching, and disingenuous. “And I'd join the movement If there was one I could believe in, Yeah I'd break bread and wine If there was a church I could receive in 'Cause I need it now”. This vindicates my point. The song is about internal struggle - not external, that is a distinct secondary. The ‘acrobatics’ of hypocrisy and bewilderment occur in The Sufferer’s mind. Though that song is, in part, about fighting - it is more specifically so about the struggle of the individual, his will to overcome, and how that will can be usurped by pride and confusion. The song is micro, which relates to the personal, and the level of the subconscious and soul. It was my sword-and-shield as a 14 year old processing more than he could handle. My connection with the song is ever-present to the point where we share a space like two friends, or lovers, who can sit in a room and not need to talk. The potency is always there, and doesn’t need to be said. To attempt to make Acrobat a protest song was a sin, but one that can be easily forgiven, as the nature of its in-song narrative is definitively, insistently and intentionally mercurial. (I willingly, unabashedly love adverbs. IDGAF.) - “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” The icy blend of notes. The clarion call to the oppressed, the downtrodden, the bullied; the outcast… The U2 hallmarks are all there, but they’re not happy to be. This is a far cry from the jubilation of eras past. The distrust of self is evident. The end of a personal era of torment, and the seeds of a new beginning. “What are we going to do now it's all been said? No new ideas in the house and every book has been read” The inability to let go, and the refusal to see the end of the road leads, inevitably, to a crash. This is what makes the ending triad of Ultraviolet, Acrobat, and Love is Blindness so (I rarely use the word but…) ‘perfect’. It is impossible to analyse or write about Acrobat without acknowledging the song that proceeds, and follows it. Ultraviolet is about the recognition of spiritual truth. The danger of the song is to believe that love comes from veneration of the partner as form. To worship one’s own partner is by the metaphysical logic of the band espoused herein, the worship of a false prophet. Even the usage of ‘baby’ in the song functions as ironic meta-commentary on professions of enmeshment and wishful thinking masquerading redemptive love in pop songs, whilst simultaneously recognizing one’s own predisposition to do just that. This all happens inside of the epoch of Zoo-irony. In Ultraviolet the spiritual truth is revealed. In Acrobat, we cling to the physical form through which the vessel of revelation was espoused, and do so for deliverance from anger, from schism, as the singer alternates between encouraging and scowling his love. The hypocrisy of the ever-shifting Acrobat “to act like this, and talk like that…” In Love is Blindness, the time signature is kept - a permanent change has happened and the cycle is finished. Spiritual truth has been revealed but misunderstood, misappropriated, and has not been given the fertile ground upon which to grow and eventually bloom. - The last three songs of Achtung Baby, primarily, are a warning and in Acrobat we are given a direct and final warning from The Sufferer as he succumbs to his pain and fails his mission. Though tinged with irony, there is sincerity in the first utterance of U2’s ethos as a band “you can dream, so dream out loud”. The Sufferer took the cup and drank it slow, but he couldn’t let go. His wisdom is that of Terry Malloy in ‘On The Waterfront’. A man of great will, a prize fighter - but who succumbed to the storm. “I could have been somebody, I could have been a contender.” Heed the warning of The Sufferer.
Love Is Blindness
And there it is, the last song of the album, and the saddest of them all. Love Is Blindness is, just like One, more often than not misinterpreted as “just a love song” - when it’s much more than that. It’s one of the best examples of Bono’s ambivalent poetry. It obviously talks about love, but it is not necessarily a love between two humans. It also talks about the love for an idea, for a flag, for a fight. Humans’ love can turn them blind and blur the lines between right and wrong, between exciting and pernicious, between safe and deadly. For me, Love Is Blindness basically talks about the limits of what we do for love. Like betraying a loved one. Like hurting our partner. Like planting a bomb in a crowded street. Love can be messed up. Love is blindness.
Doing a brief musical breakdown, LIB links nicely with the former track, Acrobat. They’re both in a 6/8 time signature, shared by only a handful of U2 songs (these two, Drowning Man, Window In The Skies and Love Rescue Me), and both feature a somewhat similar chord progression (LIB being half a step higher than Acrobat). Nevertheless, where Acrobat is wild and berserk, LIB is restrained and subdued, as if the song wanted to go unnoticed… At least for the first half. Then the song explodes with two guitar solos, which according to Bono, were recorded in a single take by The Edge and involved several string breaking and Daniel Lanois and Flood freaking out. The Edge is usually a gentle, subtle guitar player that rarely goes beyond his usual delicateness, but during the recording of Achtung Baby he was going through separation with his first wife, Aislinn, and he poured all the rage and hurt caused by separation into the guitar solos, which are still quite restraint compared to the live versions: in a similar fashion to Bullet The Blue Sky, the live incarnations of Love Is Blindness featured a substantially longer and more intense solo than the studio version.
LIB was performed at most Zoo TV shows (it only missed three or four nights), and always as the last or second-to-last song. Many fans have argued it was a somber, almost anticlimax kind of ending but I consider it to be the best concert closer ever, even more than the classic 40 with the singalong. It’s a dark song, yes, and it contrasted so much with the sensory overload, joy and irony of the rest of the concert. Just like Achtung Baby, which is shiny and flippant on one side, and super dark and hopeless on the other.
"It was a bittersweet celebration day for the whole of Spain, and all I could listen to was Love Is Blindness, trying to understand why these people had turned a justifiable idea into a killing whirl."
This song has helped me through some dark times. I’ll always remember listening to LIB non stop when E.T.A. (the Basque terrorist group) declared, in October 2011, that their September 2010 ceasefire would be permanent and they were hereby giving up arms. It was a bittersweet celebration day for the whole of Spain, and all I could listen to was Love Is Blindness, trying to understand why these people had turned a justifiable idea into a killing whirl lasting over 40 years with over 800 deaths and thousands hurt… I still don’t get it. And then LIB was also a recurrent listen that helped me through my break-up with my 4 year partner in 2012, specially the live versions with Edge’s soaring solos. Why the hell do we do that? You’re in a dark place and, instead of listening to uplifting, happy songs you play one of the saddest songs in your band’s catalogue non stop, which brings you even deeper down. So absurd.
But time after time, and more often than with most U2 songs, I keep coming back to the gloomy, low-key album version. It has that incredibly dark atmosphere that gets me everytime… And it’s the perfect closing for the perfect record. A bittersweet, stirring album full of contradictions, just like this song. Long live Love Is Blindness! Long live Achtung Baby!
The article Achtung Baby, the album that changed us was published on U2start.com by Remy and last updated .
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