February 28, 2008

25 Years of War

25 years ago today U2 released "War", their third album, and one that solidified their status as a group to be reckoned with. In the influential music magazine NME Bono explained that "War" was as much a reaction to the music scence itself as it was a more political statement of the times: "People are growing disillusioned with pap, with the wallpaper music and the gloss. It's as if someone has eaten too many Smarties over the last couple of years, and they're beginning to feel ill as they look at all the wrapping paper strewn around the room."
"War" is certainly a product of its time, with references to the Troubles of Northern Ireland, the threat of nuclear winter, and the rise of Poland's Solidarity movement. It was made during the Falkland Islands conflict and, ironically, one month after the record was released Ronald Reagan announced his plans for the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). Latter dubbed "Star Wars" by a cynical public SDI never fully materialized, although the NeoCons kept the vision alive and well.
"Sunday, Bloody Sunday" is the album's most famous song but "New Year's Day" is probably the best, with a trademark bass line that has been sampled many times. The lovely final track "40" was the closing number of U2's live shows until well into the '90s. Thankfully, they started using it again on outside shows of the "Vertigo" tour.
Listening to "War" again really brings a rush of nostalgia. I was 11 when the record was released, and I only discovered it a few years later. The song "Seconds" features The Edge on vocals and is about the threat of nuclear war with Russia, a theme taken up by Genesis in 1986 with their song "Land of Confusion". Another gem is "Like a Song" with some great drum bashing by Larry Mullen, Jnr.
25 years on and "War" is still sadly relevant, if not slightly dated. It doesn't have the timelessness of "The Joshua Tree" (1987) but it has always remained necessary to yell and scream about the madness, banality, and horror of human conflicts. As for the boy in the iconic cover shot...he grew up to become a photographer.

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