September 29, 2009

Remastering a Masterwork

In October 1984 U2 released its fourth album, titled The Unforgettable Fire. It was a huge departure for the rock combo; featuring atmospheric soundscapes, layers of echoing guitars, and a collection of rather unconventional songs.

Gone was the bombast and three-chords-and-the-truth, in-your-face rock solids. In their place was a melodic, moody, poetic, and ambient recording. It was their first collaboration with producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, and it was a bold risk for a band known for its heart-on-their-sleeve-guitar-drum-bass elements.

Music critics have always been hard on U2, typically seen as an average band for the common man rather than for the in-the-know cognoscenti. The Unforgettable Fire confounded their base audience and brought in a new listener. It was the first time U2 made a wider audience take notice, largely on the back of the accessible hit single "Pride (In the Name of Love)" and the exquisite "Bad". When U2 would perform a 15-minute version of the latter at Live Aid it was their turning point from hot college radio band to global presence.

The Unforgettable Fire remains an important album for me, as it represents the first time I heard U2. 25 years later it is a pleasure to listen to the album in its entirety; I am particularly fond of "A Sort of Homecoming", "Promenade", and the bizarre stream-of-consciousness "Elvis Presley and America". Plus, the aforementioned "Bad" remains my overall favourite U2 song.

Next month a remastered 25th anniversary edition will hit the stores. In the meantime let me leave you with what I think is the album's choice cut, "Wire". It represents the band at a wonderful stage in their evolution and craft.

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