U2 has taken interesting unique and sometimes stylistic turns way later in their 30 year career. But the band’s passionate, urgent and anthem-inspired rock can be traced to its first three albums, all produced by Steve Lilywhite, and now gloriously repackaged each with a bonus disc of rarities and unreleased tracks. More than The Joshua Tree or Achtung Baby, the real essence of the band is found on these three important albums.
Tackling the themes of adolescence and growing up, Boy definitely draws on the post-punk sound of the time. “I Will Follow,” which kicks off the album, contains the template of the U2 sound: Bono’s soulful lyrics, the Edge’s ringing guitar, Larry Mullen’s thunderous drumming, and Adam Clayton’s steady, deep bass lines. The influence of the previous punk era really permeates on Boy such as on “Out of Control,” “The Electric Co.,” and “A Day Without Me.” It’s a high-spirited debut that was offered a taste of what’s to come.
Unfortunately October had to be the difficult second album—by the Edge’s own admission in the liner notes, it was an album that marked the band’s “confused and desperate inner dialogue.” I certainly would rank this album better than Pop but in comparison to Boy, it doesn’t have that ‘spark.’ But the album does have its highlights: the urgent “With a Shout, ““I Threw a Brick Through A Window” (featuring some amazing drumming by Mullen towards the end of that song) and “Gloria” (which I personally think should have been on The Best 1980-1990 compilation); “Tomorrow” and the title track provide some sobering moments.
On the other hand War is a brilliant record of such depth and passion—it’s both hard-hitting and poignant at the same time. U2’s sense of militancy and politics seems more pronounced here compared to the previous albums, especially with the classic Sunday Bloody Sunday and “New Year’s Day” (The lines: So they say, this is the golden age/And gold is the reason for the war we wage, still pierces the heart and mind). There’s a sense of fire on rockers like “Two Hearts Beat As One “and “Seconds,” and a little bit of funk on “Surrender.” The final track “‘40’” based on the 40th Psalm, kind of ends the album with a sense of hope, albeit an ambiguous sense, (with the line, “How long to sing this song”?).
See the video for “New Year’s Day”: