Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



Rock band formed in Dublin in 1977 by schoolfriends influenced by punk: vocalist Bono (b Paul Hewson, 10 May 1960), guitarist The Edge (b David Evans, 8 August 1961), drummer Larry Mullen (b 31 October 1961), bassist Adam Clayton (b 13 March 1960). Their debut was an EP '79; 'Another Day' and 'Stories For Boys' were singles in Ireland only. Their debut London gig '79 was a disaster (nine people turned up to see them at the Hope and Anchor), but another visit '80 was more successful, landing a record deal. The album Boy '80 produced by Steve Lillywhite included the anthemic 'I Will Follow'; October '81 included minor UK hits 'Fire' and 'Gloria' and they made their USA debut the same year; War '83 included 'New Year's Day' (top ten UK) and the political 'Sunday Bloody Sunday'.

By then they numbered Bruce Springsteen and Pete Townshend among fans; growing confidence saw them become the biggest rock act of the '80s: ideologically sound, devoted Christians, they communicated care and loyalty to their audience; their sweeping, epic-style rock'n'roll found favour in USA, especially with the release of a live mini-LP Under A Blood Red Sky '83, largely recorded in the USA. They were regarded as an outstanding live band, Bono possessing that mysterious (if ultimately meaningless) rock brand of charisma and The Edge on his way to guitar-hero status. Brian Eno produced The Unforgettable Fire '84, their second no. 1 UK album after War; 'Pride (In The Name Of Love)' was a global hit '84, their first US top 40. The EP Wide Awake In America '85 was a stopgap, with live tracks and out-takes from the previous album. Bono and Clayton appeared on the Band Aid record '84, were a Live Aid highlight '85; Bono appeared with Bob Dylan at his '84 Dublin concert and guested on Sun City '85 with Keith Richard and Ron Wood on 'Silver And Gold', duetted with Clannad on Macalla '85; The Edge supplied a soundtrack to film Captive '86. Their hit The Joshua Tree '87 focused on feelings as much as issues; its aimless atmosphere made it no. 1 in USA for nine weeks (which entitled it to a Grammy as Album of the Year), single 'With Or Without You' also no. 1, their sincerity and audience identification compared to that of Springsteen.

Their Dublin-based Mother label helped other Irish bands such as Tua Nua and Cactus World News (U2 records were on Island elsewhere). Rattle And Hum '88 was a soundtrack from their film/concert; the film was panned but the album was no. 1 USA for six weeks, guests including B.B. King; they had started out, they said, writing their own material because they couldn't play anyone else's, and David Sinclair in The Times described Rattle And Hum as 'a brilliant patchwork ... the hottest rock'n'roll band in the world on a belated quest to acquire some roots'. Achtung Baby '91 and Zooropa '93 were also no. 1 albums. Rock'n'roll having been reduced to background music for a whole generation, Original Soundtracks 1 '95 on Island by 'the Passengers' was a collaboration of U2 and Eno, a pretentious attempt to get away from their stadium-rock image, with guests Luciano Pavarotti and trip-hopper Howie B; this did not reach the top 75 USA. Mullen and Clayton updated Lalo Schifrin's 'Mission Impossible' TV theme for the '96 film. Of a song on their album Pop '97 Mat Snow in Mojo wrote that 'Bono acts it out with the self-consciousness of someone throwing shapes in his bedroom mirror. This credibility gap yawns unbridgeably for some ...' David Sinclair wrote in The Times that 'tunes are generally in short supply, a deficiency which the various production tricks do not altogether remedy'. The PopMart tour '97 began in Las Vegas, and seemed to be about the danger of terminal boredom in a consumer culture, dominated by a huge LED screen: no doubt U2 are sincere, but about what?

Bono became an international celebrity hobnobbing with world leaders for good causes, and for saying 'fuck' on a live TV awards show. Their later albums included All That You Can't Leave Behind (2000), How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb (2004) and No Line On The Horizon (2009).Of the latter, Jim Fusilli wrote in the Wall Street Journal that 'By the standards of of today's iPod shuffle mentality, No Line is a great album, though it has no consistent flow and no musical arc.' He then praised the album's 'experimental sound' at some length.