In the run-up to the twentieth anniversary re-releases of Achtung Baby
we're inviting guest writers to reflect on what the album
originally meant to them, why it's so significant in the U2 canon and
how it fits with their own story.
Here Matt McGee, founder & Editor of @U2, recalls how the album demanded he make a choice - and the song that helped him decide.
'It had to be one of two things: Either my speakers were dying or my stereo was broken.
How else to explain the disturbing, foreign sounds when I gently placed Achtung Baby in the CD player on the night of November 19, 1991? Edge had never made a guitar sound like he did just three seconds into track one and, by the time I heard the singer’s voice almost a minute later … there’s no way that was Bono singing to me.
I’m pretty sure I double-checked the speaker connections and re-started the CD from the beginning. My head started spinning again. The second song sounded a bit more like my U2 and then, when the third song started, I was finally convinced that the stereo was working just fine, thank you.
I couldn’t tell you where I was when I first heard War or Pop, The Unforgettable Fire or All That You Can’t Leave Behind. But I’ll never forget the first night I spent with Achtung Baby.
The album wasn’t comfortable. It was demanding. It was raw. I sensed jeopardy in Bono’s lyrics and vocals, in the urgency of Edge’s playing. It was – and still is – the most challenging set of songs U2 has put out.
About the only thing that Achtung Baby had in common with U2’s earlier albums is that it took me on a journey. But this was different. If The Joshua Tree let me look out the window at a world of sepia landscapes, Achtung Baby forced me to close the curtain and look inside at life’s blood and guts.
I struggled with Achtung Baby for a long time. I didn’t like it at first. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. This album demanded a choice: Go along for the ride, even though there was no map for where U2 was heading? Or jump then and there, sticking with safer songs from some other band that knew exactly where it was going and how to get there?
Ultimately, I remember playing 'One' over and over again - the volume maxed so the sound could fill the room, then later in the quiet of a darkened room with headphones on, just me and the one song that made sense.
I made my choice. And I knew that, whatever being a U2 fan was like before, it was going to be something completely different from that point forward.
It’s cliché to talk about Achtung Baby being U2’s reinvention – how it marked a completely new direction, a new sound, a new version of the band itself. But there’s a flip side - Achtung Baby reinvented me, too.'Matt McGee is Founder and Editor of www.atu2.com and author of U2-A Diary (Omnibus Press, 2008)
In the first of this series
, Dutch writer Caroline van Oosten, thinks that 'Twenty years after the release of Achtung Baby, I’m finally ready for it.'