On “The Unforgettable Fire”

Ive already accepted that some people arent reading this because of the title. U2 have been my favorite band since I was a kid, and after sticking with them through Vertigo and all that, I realized that a lot of people just hate them for whatever reason. I dont have some deep explanation for liking them so much – my earliest memory of music is hearing The Joshua Tree when I was four or five, and I just never stopped listening to them. But as I get older, I keep coming back to The Unforgettable Fire, because its basically a post-rock album. (Ive been saying this for a very long time and it still sounds like a hot take.) Lemme explain: In 1984, U2 were just below superstar status, and were going through the kind of existential crisis endemic to young idealists who are suddenly given a lot of fame and money. So they called in Brian Eno, whose rock-production roster at the time consisted of Talking Heads and The Penguin Cafe Orchestra – not exactly the direction that Island was looking for them to go in. And yeah, their partnership with Eno was so successful that he produced most their records from that point forward (including The Joshua Tree), but The Unforgettable Fire still stands out as the most Eno-y. Its kind of what would happen if you took a super-melodic post-punk band (U2 ca. 1983) and stretched their songs out into near-formless jams, then let them marinate in some insane reverb and delay for a week. Pride (In the Name of Love) sounds like an art-pop band trying their hardest to write a standard U2 song, and it totally rips. Bad is sort of a tribute to the Velvet Underground tune Heroin, but its actually Explosions in the Sky 15 years before Explosions in the Sky. Theres even Enos trademark song-recorded-as-a-jam-while-the-musicians-didnt-know-he-was-recording! (4th of July.) Think about how rare this is: Mega-big rock band lets weirdo ambient producer take the reins of their album, he completely reshapes their sound, and it totally fucking works and they get even more popular. Thats what youve got on your hands here. More to the point though, its just beautiful. This is some of the most unique and life-affirming music youll ever get out of a rock band, and it never gets too cheesy or too out-there. Its perfect. A+. 10.0 BNR. (Side note: If youre reading this and you still hate this band, watch their performance of Bad from Live Aid and get back to me. Dont tell me you dont wish you were that girl.)

Ray Begleiter