'The album revealed they were more than a successful rock band… they were Artists.'
In the run-up to the the twentieth anniversary re-releases of Achtung Baby
we're inviting a series of 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 as a fan of the band.
First up, Dutch writer Caroline van Oosten, author of 'U2 Live – A Concert Documentary', who's been listening to the album again and thinks that 'Twenty years after the release of Achtung Baby, I’m finally ready for it.'
'My U2 journey began during the Unforgettable Fire tour. I was drawn in by their notion of Irish romanticism and Judeo-Christian mysticism fed through The Edge’s Vox amp, all given a good Northside kick up the arse by Larry Mullen’s bass drum. I rolled my eyes at their infatuation with Americana, but my love of them survived. But by 1991 my interests had changed. Led off the path by Gavin Friday’s Each Man Kills the Thing He Loves, I was exploring my European roots and listened to Brel, Weill and Eissler.
I enjoy change in a band, I think it’s essential. I like singers adopting personas, it elevates them from frontmen to performers. Achtung Baby had all of that and more: while U2 had shown promise as craftsmen with The Joshua Tree, Achtung Baby was the true start of them becoming serious tunesmiths. The album revealed they were more than a successful rock band… they were Artists. Even the press couldn’t deny it. It was a rare moment in U2 history: universally loved and artistically appreciated, while raking in the money. So I appreciated the album as a many coloured document of U2’s development as musicians. But it didn’t speak to me.
When I reviewed Achtung Baby for Collectormania Magazine (issue 5, 1992), the title of my article was ‘Love is Danger’. I spoke of its romantic, religious and profane themes. The problem was, the subject matter went right over my head. I didn’t know relationships, let alone break ups and betrayal. I didn’t feel it. Achtung Baby arrived at the wrong time and the wrong place in my life. So I dismissed it, its ‘design by committee’ artwork and the subsequent tours – which I wasn’t that keen on until ‘Macphisto’ arrived on the scene.
This week, to aid me in writing this piece for U2.com, I listened to Achtung Baby for the first time in at least 15 years and was surprised at how good it sounded, its layers and depths finally revealed to me through my iPod and Sennheiser headphones. I was also surprised at how much it affected me emotionally. Even the songs I used to hate, even the ones that have become ubiquitous and worn. Now I’m afraid to listen to the albums I said I preferred: Zooropa and Pop. They might disappoint.
Twenty years after the release of Achtung Baby, I’m finally ready for it.'
Caroline van Oosten de Boer
Founding editor of U2log.com (2000 – 2011), author of U2 Live – A
Concert Documentary (Omnibus Press, 2003)