U2’s ‘Achtung Baby’ Turns 25: Looking Back on Their Surprisingly Sexy, Satirical Masterpiece

11/18/2016 by Kenneth Partridge

For the first 10 years of its career, U2 was precisely the monolithic rock band the world needed. The Cold War was raging, Africa was starving, and pop stars were speaking out. It was a time for flag-waving and pontificating. Bono was ready for duty.

But then the world changed. After the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, politics got murkier, and the future took on new types of uncertainty. At the same time, dance music and alternative rock were making dinosaurs of pop’s old guard — the ranks of which U2 had seemed determined to join with 1988’s album-film combo Rattle and Hum.

U2 sidestepped obsolescence with Achtung Baby, released 25 years ago today on Nov. 18, 1991. Produced by longtime collaborators Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, the album was a sonic shift coupled with a change of character. Suddenly, rock’s most strident group was getting down with Euro-sexy dance beats and distorted guitars. Bono morphed from mulleted cowboy hero to mischievous trickster, and the group verged on cool — not just popular — for the first time ever.

U2 <em>Achtung Baby</em>
Courtesy Photo
U2 Achtung Baby

Even so, the foursome still maintained many of their sonic hallmarks. A good example is lead single “The Fly,” one of the songs born in Berlin, where the band initiated sessions that ultimately wrapped in Dublin. In the verses, Bono sings with atypical suspicion about friendship, honesty, and originality, while the Edge co-signs his cynicism with grimy riffage. Then the chorus hits, and it’s classic U2 uplift. “We shine like a burning star,” Bono sings in glorious falsetto, like there’s something noble, even beautiful, about man’s shortcomings.

The song “The Fly” birthed the character The Fly, who Bono played in black leather and wraparound shades throughout the 1992-93 Zoo TV Tour. On a stage loaded with television screens, U2 riffed on media saturation and rock n’ roll excess, amping up the looseness and humor only hinted at on Achtung Baby. As Bono has said, the record is actually fairly dark, what with its songs about deteriorating relationships, some inspired by the Edge’s unraveling marriage. But in the absence of canyon-filling guitar chime and lyrics about mountains and fields, the music feels lighter. It doesn’t hurt that Bono begins the album by professing, through a layer of vocal effects, “I’m ready for the laughing gas.”

On songs like “So Cruel” and the unhappy finale “Love Is Blindness,” U2 forget big issues and focus on the little wars lovers wage. There are few absolute truths on Achtung Baby. On the single “Even Better than the Real Thing,” Bono flips an old Coke slogan to praise artifice in a way that U2 circa Live Aid never would have. The flamboyance and arrogance in the performance matches the sentiment. The groove doesn’t quite match the freaky dance-rock then emerging from Manchester’s “Madchester” scene, but this is hedonism U2-style.

A true highlight of U2’s catalog is “Ultra Violet (Light My Way),” a sparkling lover’s plea that presents Bono as refreshingly fragile. And then there’s the centerpiece, “One,” an all-in monster ballad whose brilliance lies in its ability to mean many things. It’s about German reunification, U2 overcoming internal tensions, and lovers saying nasty things to each other, depending on what interviews you read.

A similar ambiguity shapes “Until the End of the World.” It’s apparently about Jesus and Judas, and yet the band hardly treats this booming rocker like a Bible story. They mix up sex and religion even more effectively on “Mysterious Ways,” which reached No. 9 on the Hot 100, becoming the disc’s biggest hit. It’s U2 getting funky and, with that line about dropping to your knees to achieve transcendence, a little dirty.

Achtung Baby bought U2 another decade of relevance, and to its credit, the group used that time to push even further against expectations. If experimentation overshadowed songwriting on Zooropa and Pop — the latter promoted under a golden arch on the cheeky PopMart Tour — U2 had nevertheless found an unlikely new niche as costumed electro-rock satirists.

Then the world changed again, and fans needed U2 with the earnestness and electric guitars of 1987. All That You Can’t Leave Behind arrived nearly a year before 9/11, but songs like “Walk On” and “Beautiful Day” took on extra meaning after the attacks. Bono was once again the man for his place and time.

With humanity once again at a critical juncture, Bono, Edge, Larry, and Adam get another shot to reinvent themselves and try to throw their arms around the world. Gee, think they’ll take it?

After ‘Joshua Tree’ Tour Sells 1.1 Million Tickets in 24 Hours, U2 Adds Shows

One in my bucket list: u2, Green Day, Pearl Jam again.

1/23/2017 by

“I wish we could go everywhere,” manager Guy Oseary tells Billboard.

U2 has sold a staggering 1.1 million tickets in 24 hours for its 30th anniversary global tour of The Joshua Tree. The trek kicks off May 12 in Vancouver before hitting the U.S. and Europe, and features openers Mumford & Sons, OneRepublic and The Lumineers in North America and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds in Europe.

The run also includes U2’s first ever U.S. festival headline appearance at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival  as well as a hometown show in Dublin’s Croke Park on July 22. Following the sell-outs, the tour added additional dates — May 21 at the Rose Bowl in Los Angeles, June 29th at MetLife Stadium in E. Rutherford, and June 4th at Soldier Field in Chicago — as well as additional performances in London, Rome, Paris and Amsterdam.

U2 performs onstage at the 2016 iHeartRadio Music Festival at T-Mobile Arena on Sept. 23, 2016 in Las Vegas.

Says U2 manager Guy Oseary: “With U2, I’m a fan first and manager second. I’m really happy that after all the sell-outs, we could add a few more shows so more fans can have the chance to experience this once-in-a lifetime tour. I wish we could go everywhere.”

The band’s tour, management and Bonnaroo appearance are all vertically integrated under the vast Live Nation umbrella: U2’s tour is being produced by Live Nation Global Touring; Maverick’s Oseary took over the U2 management reigns in 2013 from the band’s longtime manager Paul McGuiness in a deal that merged their companies under Live Nation (and which has grown substantially since); and the world’s No. 1 promoter bought a controlling interest in Bonnaroo from regional promoters Superfly and AC Entertainment nearly two years ago.

U2 photographed in Germany in 1992. 

The Joshua Tree jaunt is U2’s first stadium tour since the 2009 through 2011 360 trek, which entered the history books with a gross of more than $736,137,344 and total attendance of 7,268,430, both the highest tour tallies ever reported to Billboard.

Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno produced The Joshua Tree, U2’s fifth studio LP and first U.S. chart-topper. The album contained such hits as “With or Without You,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “Where the Streets Have No Name.”

Imelda May Premieres ‘Black Tears’ Featuring Jeff Beck: Exclusive

First time to get acquainted with this artist through this news, but her album sounds promising to say the least with Jeff Beck and T Bone Burnett enlisting their contributions. Gotta listen to her.

The end of her long marriage to guitarist Darrel Higham gave Imelda May plenty to write about for her new — and decidedly different — album, Life Love Flesh Blood, which comes out Apr. 7. (Check out the premiere of the track “Black Tears” featuring Jeff Beck, below.)

“Life changes. You have to roll with it,” the Irish singer tells Billboard. “Certainly as an artist you have a good way to channel whatever’s going on. Songwriting, which I’m always doing, is almost like a diary.” And on Life Love Flesh Blood, produced by T Bone Burnett and recorded over seven days in Los Angeles, May took from that journal in the most unapologetically open and unvarnished way she ever has.

“On this album I didn’t want to hide anything,” May acknowledges. “I’ve always written honestly, but you get a good way of being able to hide things, like a secret code that only you know. I didn’t want to do that on this album. I wanted to write what I was feeling and not think about anybody else hearing it or listening to it. I didn’t think about anything other that how I felt.”

May chuckles as she adds, “God knows how I’m going to be able to perform it now…”

That raw emotion is certainly evident in “Black Tears,” which May co-wrote in Nashville with Angelo Petraglia. “I came up with the title first; It was after having a difficult goodbye and I came home and just caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and noticed my face was streaked with my mascara running,” May recalls. “I have a book I use for each album where I write ideas, and I just wrote ‘Black Tears.’ And when I showed it to Angelo he thought that was an interesting idea and we ran with it.” The concept also appealed to Jeff Beck, who featured May on his 2010 album, Emotion & Commotion.

“I asked Jeff if he would play on my album, ’cause he’s been so good to me,” May says. “He said, ‘Yes, send me some songs, ‘ so I sent him a few and he heard ‘Black Tears’ and said ‘I want to play on that.’ So I went down to his house and he played a few amazing solos. He was working on his 17th album at the time, so we had a great day having a few drinks and listening to each other’s albums.”

In addition to the lyrical shift, Life Love Flesh Blood also takes May in a new sonic direction, moving from rockabilly to the kind of rootsy Americana sound Burnett does so well with hints of blues and country noir. “I started with blues. That’s what I started singing as a teenager in Dublin,” May says. “It just sits well with me. So I wanted to go back to basics in a way. I said the other day it’s a fabulous mix of classy and badass — that’s the sound I wanted on this. I wanted it to be like velvet, but with a kick to it. That’s what [Burnett] does so well.”

Burnett teamed May with a small core studio band that included himself and Marc Ribot on guitars, Dennis Crouch on bass, Jay Bellerose on drums and Patrick Warren on keyboards. Jools Holland, meanwhile, contributes piano on the gospel flavored “When It’s My Time.” “T Bone and I met quite a few times before recording,” May remembers, “and when he heard the new stuff I’d been writing he said, ‘I’ve known of you. I’ve been keeping my eye on you, but you just weren’t ready for me. Now you’re ready for me.’ I completely agreed with him.”

May also had the counsel of U2‘s Bono, a good friend, while making the album. “I’ve been able to lean on him a lot. He steers me in the right direction,” May says. “He makes me make up my own mind, but he’s quite honest, which is great. He’ll say, ‘Drop that song, it’s no good,’ or he’ll say, ‘Work on that one you think is not working. It’s just not finished. Finish the bloody song!’ So he’s good that way.” Fellow Irish artist Gavin Friday, meanwhile, gave Life Love Flesh Blood its title.

May is currently planning promotional dates to support the album’s release, and she expects to tour as well on both sides of the Atlantic — and hopes her fans will embrace the set’s new sound. “I don’t know how people will take to it,” she says. “I might lose a few fans, gain a few. But it was the album I needed to make for this moment in time. And it’s not all a sad album. It’s not all about heartbreak. It’s about everything. It’s a life-change album. I think people will relate to that.”

Neil Young to Induct Pearl Jam Into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame | Billboard


1/27/2017 by

Pearl Jam will be inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by frequent collaborator and rock legend Neil Young this spring.

Young and Pearl Jam memorably joined forces to play Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” at MTV’s Video Music Awards in 1993. Pearl Jam regularly covers the song on tour. Members of the band played on Young’s 1995 album “Mirror Ball.”

The Hall also announced Friday (Jan. 27) that Jackson Browne will induct folk legend Joan Baez, and Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson of Rush will present fellow progressive rockers Yes at the April 7 ceremony in New York.

David Abbruzzese (center) with Pearl Jam on Feb. 14, 1992.

Presenters for other inductees Tupac Shakur, ELO, Journey and Nile Rogers haven’t been announced.