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"The Latin Americans have the sexy end of Catholicism. They have carnivals, which we don't have in Northern Europe. We have all of the denial but none of the celebration." — Bono

U2's Edge and Adam Clayton Look Back on Two Decades of Hit Albums with Few -- If Any -- Regrets

Revolver magazine
U2 is one of the few bands in rock history to survive more than two decades with their original lineup and creative vitality intact. "We know that it's quite a strange thing to be doing at this stage, to still be working together," admits bassist Adam Clayton. "But we all know that we belong here. We treat each other with respect and generosity, and it works pretty well."

"We're lucky in that we've grown up together and there's still a lot of trust and genuine friendship there," says the Edge, U2's guitar alchemist. "I think that's really what makes U2 special. We may not be the best group, but we're more of a group than anyone else out there, and have been for quite a few years. We really don't want to let that go. In the end, the work justifies all the difficulties of being in a band in your late thirties or forties. The work makes it worthwhile."

U2 have built up a mighty body of work over the years, and Clayton and the Edge kindly agreed to comment on the nine studio albums that preceded All That You Can't Leave Behind.

Boy (1980)

Clayton: Boy was our first time in a studio, and it was such an effort -- learning our instruments, trying to play in time. In retrospect, Boy actually sounds like a well-rounded record, and the material absolutely represents the adolescence that was such a part of the band. I didn't realize at the time how unique it was.

October (1981)

Edge: We made Boy and went on the road -- that was a real eye-opener for all of us, seeing the world for the first time. Then we had to get back in the studio and make record number two. Basically we had two weeks to come up with music, and Bono was trying to work on words because he'd lost a lot of his lyrics -- somebody robbed his briefcase out of a dressing room in Seattle. He claims he lost 24 completed lyrics. I somehow doubt it [laughs] -- it was probably just a few scribblings. There's a lot of energy here -- "desperation" is a word that comes to mind -- and an incredible feeling of willpower: "This will happen."

War (1983)

Clayton: This was where we started to find our agenda -- it was a record about being taken seriously. "Sunday Bloody Sunday" was a song we needed to do. As we went around the world, we were being asked, "What about the war in Northern Ireland?" and we needed to know what our position was. We felt that was a valid subject, as opposed to happy, shiny pop music.

The Unforgettable Fire (1984)

Edge: On War we'd taken our sound to a certain place we now wanted to pull back from, a bare-knuckled sound we'd had enough of. We wanted to get into something more atmospheric and textural. We thought about different producers, and I was a fan of Brian Eno's solo work -- Before and After Science was an album I'd listened to a lot and we all loved his work with Talking Heads and Bowie. We brought Brian over to Dublin and at first you could tell he was pretty noncommittal. But by the time he left Dublin, we'd got him.

The Joshua Tree (1987)

Clayton: In a way, what started on War really came together on The Joshua Tree. "Bullet the Blue Sky," for example, was a culmination of looking at the wider political picture. The fact that The Joshua Tree was a big record for us was something I'm not sure we were ready for. That was our first taste of success on that scale, and the ground moved a bit.

Rattle and Hum (1988)

Edge: This was conceived as a scrapbook, a memento of that time spent in America on the Joshua Tree tour. It changed when the movie, which was initially conceived of as a low-budget film, suddenly became a big Hollywood affair. That put a different emphasis on the album, which suffered from the huge promotion and publicity, and people reacted against it.

Achtung Baby (1991)

Edge: We were listening to a lot of industrial music and heavy techno dance music. Going to Berlin was important -- the wall was down, and change was in the air. It was a tough record to make because there wasn't complete agreement within the group as to the direction our sound should take. Bono and I were writing on our own, and Adam and Larry were not sure about what we were doing. It wasn't until Brian arrived and was quite positive that everyone started to get behind what we were up to.

Zooropa (1993)

Edge: Zooropa was inspired by Zoo TV, the experience of taking the Achtung Baby show around the world. We had some time off and thought we'd do an EP. Pretty soon we had a bunch of stuff we were excited about, and we said, "Maybe this could be a full record." We went back on the road before finishing, though, and for maybe the last 10 days of working, we'd do a show in Europe, fly back to Dublin at, like, one or two in the morning, go straight to the studio and work 'til five or six. Then we'd go home, sleep until two in the afternoon, get up, go to the airport and fly to another show. It was a bit mental. But when we finished it, it felt like stolen time.

Pop (1997)

Edge: At one point we had a plan to make a real dance album. But halfway through we found that what was missing was a sense of the band. So, midstream, we changed the direction. When it came out, there was a sense of, "What are these guys doing?"

Clayton: I thought we had a record of quite extraordinary music, but I accept that a lot of people didn't get it. What can I say? We made a mistake. But it was a grand mistake!  

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