I am reviewing the original 1987 release rather than the 20th anniversary edition, which more than doubles the album’s length and track count. The album opens with some very slow, deep electronic sounds with Where the Streets Have No Name and with one of the producers being Brian Eno, this is just what was expected. Above the synths climbs the strong regular drum beat and guitars, it blends and builds until Bono’s voice enters.
I’ll get this comment out of the way quickly; Bono does have a tendency to sing in a melodramatic way, almost as though every word must be heard; it’s not a bad thing on the whole but it does sound a little self-important. Maybe that’s just me seeing it my own way. It’s not wholly distracting but it does cause a minor wince here and there, especially if you’re listening for it.
Anyway – the track is good and a strong opener to the album. This strong feeling continues into I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For with its slightly more rural folk sounds, the wanderer on his journey. It’s no secret that the concept of the album is “America” and that’s in style, story and feel. The overall feel I get here, despite the “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”, is that everything is hopeful; we’ll keep on going and we’ll keep on trying.
With or Without You is, of course, the track that everyone expects to be mentioned. It’s a really catchy and heavy feel and lyrically, not just rich but loaded…
Through the storm we reach the shore
You give it all but I want more
And I’m waiting for youWith or without youWith or without you
I also love Red Mining Town, it’s chord sequences are great, and with the crystal vocals shining through, you once again think of crowds of people gathered to hear this band play; I don’t think it’s formulaic either, in fact, I think it’s my favourite track of the album and if you don’t know it, it’s immediately worth a listen.
The albums final track, Mothers of The Disappeared, can be used to sum up a few points of mine. It’s inspiration is from Central America, from groups of mothers whose children where taken from the South American dictatorships, it’s a poignant and reserved and pretty beautiful track, I like it I do.
It’s so badly placed in the album! The album literally started with a vibe of positivity and energy and by the time you reach the end you rather feel a sense of doom has taken over the writing. For some reason the tracks at the end are a little forgettable too. I don’t know, it’s almost as though I am hearing U2 but through a kind of phonic fog… I know that I can get so much more!
On all of the statements above, it should be noted that there are some real hidden gems there too. Of the lesser known tracks, one that is perfectly placed and written particularly nicely, you have Running to Stand Still; it’s a simple contemplative track which exploits lower range vocals (they don’t do this enough!) The harmonica outro is really pleasant too. Do check out the really chord rich One Tree Hill too. This one suffers more from the muted U2 but nonetheless is a pretty solid track, I won’t say too much more but its worth the listen.
The album is really good; good enough that any criticisms I have are outweighed by my feeling of praise. I just felt that the whole thing could just do with a little shuffle in track order, and that’s the album as a whole… it was as though the dust settled a bit is all.
Is this album for you?
Despite being an 80’s album it does not feel fixed in its time, it’s aged well and is a great example of well-written accessible rock! I have picked at faults but it’s definitely an album that belongs on one of those “100 albums you should hear before you die” things.
- Writing: 9/10
- Performance: 8/10
- Style: 8/10