U2’s first album sounds like a first album: some good, some bad, but a lot of promise. They definitely sound raw at times, you can hear a difference between Boy and even just a few years later, that they grew up a lot and quickly. This is exactly how most first albums sound, the people who get to make a second album make a good enough record to get to a second.
There are two ways to look at Boy, as it was when it was released in 1980, and as it sounds now. Both ways are entirely valid, you should put it into the context of the time it came out, but also how well it has aged. For the sound from 1980, it sounds pretty good. You can say now that it stood out quite a lot compared to other bands, because U2 took off as they did. Does that mean this album defines a new beginning for music, getting away from the 70s style? In a way yes, but then when they tell you that they came out of the punk style, I can’t necessarily agree. I think it is a little more public-facing than punk, more commercial radio acceptable, which is probably something that U2 would be unhappy to hear.
As for the modern day, it has largely aged well. My overall ratings will give it a couple of really strong songs, one or two poor, but mostly average compared to the rest of their library. I think that’s a good thing, you wouldn’t want them to have peaked with the first release. On the other hand, you might want them to get better every time, but I don’t think that’s possible. Like I mentioned previously, listening to it now I hear the unpolished sound that they had then, and the voice of Bono is very unpracticed at times. There are a couple of songs where the drums dominate, which isn’t necessarily a good thing, and here and there the music doesn’t sound right. I’ve also already talked about An Cat Dubh and the trouble it had with the segue into Into The Heart.
To answer the question you will have without going through the entire year, the couple of songs that have lasted the test of time are Out Of Control and I Will Follow. Most of the rest show some kind of promise, although often sounding incomplete like they needed a little more baking or a little more experience. The weakest song on the album is The Ocean, which is just terrible. Most of the songs do have a beat or a feeling that can grab you, and do make me think of them every so often (every time I heard the word “electric” my mind plays the line “if you don’t know, Electric Co.”).
I don’t listen to Boy very often. It’s in my playlist, but I find myself skipping over many of the songs on a regular basis. It’s a good album, fun here and there, but I do get a mildly bland feeling from it every so often. The mood it puts me in is usually… meh. Now, I do have the live version of Out Of Control from U22 on my phone, and I have been known to play that one song over and over again. It was really good when it was released and it’s really good now. I have also played I Will Follow on the guitar regularly, it’s an easy song to get into and play, at least compared to many of their others. I can’t say I play it well, but I can say I enjoy trying it.
I want to point out that my ratings for albums will differ slightly from the rest of the ratings. I decided to make the album the average of all the songs on it, so it will not be a whole number. And as I go through the songs, I have been changing some of the original ratings I made, adding a point here or there as I think about them more. The album rating is based on the original rating though - for the simple reason that I may not be doing the last of an album’s songs until the end of the year, when I rated the album a long time before, and I don’t want to go back and update those numbers. Oh, and I’m going to do the albums in order, rather than randomly.
My rating for Boy: 5.2 / 10