I know you’ve been waiting for this, and I’m going to start with the spoiler: I have Achtung Baby rated as the second best U2 album, a little behind The Joshua Tree. You may or may not be surprised by this, there are people who think that Joshua is the best U2 album, there are people who think it’s Achtung, and then there are some misguided folks who think it’s neither of those. But for me the best is Joshua Tree, Achtung just behind, and honestly a fairly big gap back to third place.
What do those two albums do that none of the others do? They have a short tail. By that I mean that while any album can get a song that’s a 9 or a 10, the best albums push their worst songs as high as possible. In this case, both Joshua and Achtung’s lowest rated songs got a 6, whereas there’s not another album who’s worst is better than a 4. That’s what I mean, if you care as much about that last song on the album as you do the first, it’s going to be good. I’m not saying that U2 haven’t cared in other cases (well, not all of them), but there are cases where there are songs at the end of an album that you think to yourself “wow, this is the best of what they had left at the end?”
So, Achtung Baby, right? You can’t go wrong, start to finish. It starts in with the weird sounds of Zoo Station, you immediately feel you’re heading into uncharted territory, especially after the Joshua Tree/Rattle and Hum pairing in the years beforehand. As Bono said, “the sound of four men chopping down the Joshua Tree.” And it is, it is wildly different. Even Better Than The Real Things follows, you’re starting to take off, then One hits, and that’s one of those instant classics we’ve talked about. Until The End Of The World, which is so light on top (believe it or not) but so deep and dark and mysterious underneath, it’s amazing. Then jumping back and forth between a slow cut like So Cruel to fast and wild like The Fly. And finally rolling downhill through the end, the last few songs slowing down (interestingly, just like The Joshua Tree did) to Love Is Blindness. Great stuff all the way through.
Of all the songs on Achtung, obviously One stands out as the best, but it’s two songs down at the end, Acrobat and Ultraviolet, which I actually rate as highly as One (they’re all 9s, although One is higher in the 9 list). I love both those songs, as do a significant fraction of the U2 audience, which is why we see pleas for them to play Acrobat (and the hilarious performance of the tribute band Acrobat the other day). I agree with all those hopes and dreams, and since we got Shine Like Stars yesterday, maybe we can push the envelope a little further and get Acrobat in the mix.
Wildly off-topic, most of this, I know.
My rating for Achtung Baby: 7.4 / 10