Achtung Baby: U2’s latest masterpiece turns 30

U2 beyond the sound barrier. On the rubble of the monument-symbol of the Cold War, in a Berlin liberated but still inhabited by ghosts and anxieties, Bono and his associates built their latest masterpiece thirty years ago. Achtung Baby. A title that is a cry, both premonitory and hopeful. But above all the manifesto of a radical turning point: buried the Celtic psalms and the post-punk suggestions of the beginnings, the four Dubliners also break the American roots of their predecessor, as Bono anticipates by announcing «a record that sounds like four men who tear down The Joshua Tree “. It is a technological turning point that greets the new 1990s and takes on Berlin as the “Zoo Station”: a new Babylon of modernity, as exciting as it is chaotic and overloaded with stimuli, which translate into voices, sounds, noises. With electronics in the foreground, under the skilful direction of Daniel Lanois, already a trusted collaborator of the band, backed by the undisputed genius of Brian Eno productions. And the location cannot fail to be the Berlin mecca of Hansa Studios, where David Bowie recorded, again with Eno, his “Berlin trilogy”. To seal the operation, the graphics of another guru like Anton Corbijn, who signs the cover-collage, built on the images of a trip to Santa Cruz and Morocco.
The difference with respect to the previous works of the Dubliners lies precisely in this: Achtung Baby is their first (and perhaps last) total album, a patchwork of unbridled creativity in which music, theatricality, poetry, graphic arts and cinema converge: not surprisingly Wim Wenders will adopt one of the songs, Until The End Of The World, in the soundtrack of his eponymous film. A postmodern show that U2 bring back on the grooves of the record even before on stages all over the world, where the ZooTV Tour will be celebrated. Here then is the industrial din of Zoo Station, with a prophetic Bono singing with a filtered voice to say that I am happy to be alive », before reciting the heartfelt and universal prayer of One, which will also remain the great hit of the album. And then space for the cutting riffs of The Edge in the poignant Until The End Of The World, to frame a hypothetical dialogue between Jesus and Judas, set in a turbid and blasphemous atmosphere; the romantic ballad of Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses; to the left hum of The Fly to accompany a Bono more Mephistophelic than ever; to the wild funky of Mysterious Ways. It is a sonic progression without respite, which crosses the frenzy of Acrobat and the bittersweet tenderness of Ultra Violet (Light My Way) until it dissolves in the disenchanted reflection of the final Love Is Blindness (“love is blind”) with The Edge struggling with organ and keyboards.
Achtung Baby will win a Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance and will remain one of the cornerstones of U2, destined for a slow and progressive decline in the following decades. To celebrate its 30th anniversary, the 30th Anniversary Special Edition will be released tomorrow, on Standard and Deluxe vinyl, while a digital box set with fifty tracks will be released on December 3. And to remember it will also be “his” Berlin, with a special installation at the legendary Hansa Studios in Kreuzberg.

Last updated: Thursday 18 November 2021, 06:25


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Achtung Baby: U2’s latest masterpiece turns 30