The album which propelled U2 into the stadium league has always seemed lop-sided to me, with most of its best stuff on the first half. The title track is one of U2's best songs, a sophisticated and slinky piece, with a perfect production by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. The famous "Pride" says what it wants to say with minimal means, and always sounds fresh. I don't think it's posturing, which U2 were often accused of - but if you want to be bashed over the head then listen to "Rattle and Hum"! "A Sort of Homecoming" kicks the album off with a fine example of how to be anthemic without being pompous. "Wire" builds a great nervous energy from a spidery guitar tangle.
I always found the second side more difficult. The shorter two-minute pieces are variously colourful, but I've never fully understood the drawn-out two-chord songs "Bad" and "Elvis Presley and America". "Bad" is the stronger of the pair, drawing a lot of power from Edge's signature guitar pinging, but "Elvis.." seems a less focused ramble. It's probably a Brian Eno thing, building up atmospheres with minimal musical means, but I'd prefer it if the atmospheres were built on slightly more distinctive tunes.
But overall I can't fault the sound that they make with this album. Bono's wrenching vocal performances, Edge's dense guitar textures, and just some fantastic playing and production make this a fine document of a fairly young band approaching their peak.
July 26, 2004