War is U2’s third album, and it takes quite a different direction from the previous two. Boy was very much the band finding their feet, October was about their religion, and War, by the title, tells you what it was about. It was harder rock, much louder sounding, much more confident music from the band. Many people think of War as being the album that caused their career to take off, and in many ways it is. Oddly enough, although comfortably ahead of October in my ratings, I don’t rate it as highly as Boy. In fairness, the peak is higher, but the tail is longer.
War took on the themes of the day, the early 80s when the world seemed to be on fire and heading toward nuclear war. I was in my early teens at the time, and much of it passed me by. If I were to look back now I would call myself naive, little aware of the major stories of the day. It wasn’t until a few years later that I really got politically involved, and that was probably largely due to listening to The Joshua Tree, then switching back and herding these earlier songs. Stuff like War and The Unforgettable Fire were really triggers for me to follow through and find out what was going on in the world.
Now that I look back it does seem like that year, 1982, was probably the closest point to being the trigger of a global conflict. Britain was at war with Argentina in the Falklands, which I do remember, because I remember it as being a televised war and to my eternal shame I will admit that I had a kid’s excitement at seeing the action and reading the news. I remember collecting the set of magazines that documented the war. I suppose you could say I was seeing the glory of the revolution.
As I said, the peak of this album is very high. Sunday Bloody Sunday is an all-time classic song, one of the greatest songs ever written, not just by U2 but by anyone. You add in New Year’s Day and you’ve got a great one-two punch. But after that you start to slip, going down to 40, which fell among the U2 crowd favorites, and then further down to another set of songs that fill out the album but don’t last too well. Of the ten songs on the album, I have three rated as threes and two rated as twos, and you’re not going to end up with a classic album with ratings like that. This is fairly typical of the early U2, all of the albums before The Joshua Tree (and several after) tend to have a few songs that seem to have been worked on hard, and end up sounding great, but then you also tend to get some songs that sound like they were knocked together in an afternoon in the studio, and end up becoming album songs by default. Although having said that, if you’ve listened to some of the deluxe versions of the albums, you’ll have heard some of the songs that were left off the album, and realize that what made it wasn’t too bad after all.
Perhaps the best thing War did - apart from being a U2 album - was to bring the band back together. There are all kinds of stories about how they were on the verge of breaking up around October, but they pulled together to get that album out and then kept going and did War. By that time they were touring a lot, and figuring out how they worked, and how they liked each other, and then things began rolling. They got a lot of notice during War, enough to push them ahead into Under A Blood Red Sky and The Unforgettable Fire. And by then they were starting to become an unstoppable force.
My rating for War: 4.7 / 10