31 January 1983
JD Considine in Rolling Stone
'Complementing U2's lyrical growth is a newly developed dark sense of humour, which the band uses to striking effect throughout the album...'
With their third album, War, U2 have found just such a perspective, and with it, have generated their most fulfilling work vet. War makes for impressive listening, but more important, it deals with a difficult subject in a sensible way. That subject is the sectarian strife in Northern Ireland, or what the Irish call "the troubles." U2 are not the first group to play soldiers with this topic: Belfast's Stiff Little Fingers have dealt with the problem explicitly, the Clash somewhat more obliquely. But no one has caught the paradox between stance and action so accurately.
Unlike the Clash, who wrestle with imperialist foreign policy, or the Gang of Four, who try to transfer a Marxist dialectic to the dance floor, U2 don't pretend to have the answers to the world's troubles. Instead, they devote their energies to letting us know that they are concerned and to creating an awareness about those problems. And not only is that refreshing, but it makes sense, because U2 understand that it's the gesture, not the message, that counts.
Complementing U2's lyrical growth is a newly developed dark sense of humor, which the band uses to striking effect throughout the album. "Seconds," for example, opens with a sleepy funk riff driven by a cheerful toy bass drum. It's a pleasant juxtaposition, but as the song's subject matter becomes clear - the insanity of nuclear blackmail, where, as Bono Vox puts it, "the puppets pull the strings"-you realize that this jolly noisemaker is no more an innocent plaything than is the one in Gunter Grass' The Tin Drum. Similarly, "New Year's Day" includes the wisecrack, "So we are told, this is a golden age Gold is the reason for the wars we wage" - a remark far wiser than it at first seems.
Generally, the album's musical strengths are largely the product of well-honed arrangements and carefully balanced dynamics. Even as the Edge spins increasingly sophisticated guitar lines, he maintains the minimalist bluntness that sparked Boy. And while bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. have swung to more dance-oriented rhythms, their songs hurtle along with the sort of brusque purposefulness more frequently associated with punk.
U2 may not be great intellectuals, and War may sound more profound than it really is. But the songs here stand up against anything on the Clash's London Calling in terms of sheer impact, and the fact that U2 can sweep the listener up in the same sort of enthusiastic romanticism that fuels the band's grand gestures is an impressive feat. For once, not having all the answers seems a bonus.
(condensed from original review)