This album is why I didn’t do these reviews in chronological order, because I thought that if people were reading reviews of October for a few weeks they would never come back again. For those of you who haven’t heard the sports term sophomore slump, it refers to a player who had a great first season but doesn’t play as well in their second. Normally you talk about regression to the mean, where by definition someone who’s had a really good first year isn’t likely to hit those heights again in their second. Doesn’t mean they got worse, just means they started really well. In sports there are many players who go on to great careers who have suffered through a sophomore slump.
October is definitely U2’s sophomore slump, and I may not be breaking any surprises to tell you that it is by far U2’s worst album. In my ratings October is a full point worse than the second worst album (in my view), and to tell you how much that actually means, if you take the second worst album (no spoilers) and add a point to it, you’re going to cover six other U2 albums. So being a point below is really significant.
Nothing out of October has stood the test of time. Scarlet got a bunch of airplay during 360, but solely thanks to Aung San Suu Kyi, and ironically it got confused a lot with Rejoice, because of the lyrics. Gloria got a lot of playtime on the Vertigo tour, not sure why, but none of the rest of the songs have been played since the 80s. And simply put, they don’t stand up well. They are fairly generic rock songs and most of their sound is from that era. I was in fact quite impressed with Songs Of Innocence, because the goal of that album was to sound like the early 80s and they succeeded so well that I thought several of those songs could have fit on October, and made it a better sounding album.
So are there any redeeming features to this album? Well, I Threw A Brick Through A Window sounds like The Fly at times, so you could argue that there’s some inspiration happening there. Gloria is decent, although like I said it doesn’t get much time these days. No, perhaps the best thing that came out of October is the video for Gloria (on a barge in the middle of nowhere), and the photos of the band in both the album and elsewhere, which serve as one of the defining images of the band in the early 80s. Much more so than Boy, those photos are what people look at and think of when they think of young U2. Especially the ones where they’re out at the dock, standing around looking moodily at the world, you see those photos repeated any time someone is writing about early U2. Edge and Larry trying to look cool, Adam with his bizarre white fluff of hair, and Bono who by now has perfected the art of standing sideways and staring off in a different direction to the rest of the band. Okay, so I guess Bono’s sideways stare is one thing that has stood the test of time.
I haven’t touched on religion yet, this album is one of the more religious ones, and came at a time when three quarters of the band were leaning heavily into religion. There are clear influences, obvious things like Rejoice and Gloria, and numerous other references throughout. They tend to neither improve or detract from the album in any way, it can pretty much stand on its own without them. If I were to say it’s a bad album because of the religion I’d be totally wrong.
Overall I don’t tend to listen to October much. If it comes on I will just as likely listen as skip a song, unless it’s a live one. There’s no shame in being U2’s worst album, as I said in my discussion of ratings, the worst U2 song is still better than most anything that anyone else has ever produced. Although thinking about that there are a number of albums I have by other bands that I would listen to before I listened to October much.
My rating for October: 3.5