25 October 1980
I find Boy touching, precocious, full of archaic flourishes - NME
I find Boy touching, precocious, full of archaic flourishes...
As is common with most debut LPs these days, 'Boy' is a compilation of life-time best. (Hopefully a beginning. U2 have a long way to grow.) The opening 'I Will Follow', a song about losing warmth and safety, is immediately grand. 'Twilight', a precociously clear vision of growing up, is effectively restrained and harmonious, tripping guitars typically bursting out over a trim rhythm. 'An Cat Dubh' is florid but fluent. The sensitive and wilful naivety of 'Into The Heart' crystallises the soft disillusionment of 'Boy': U2 don't yet know enough to be totally pessimistic. A new 'Out of Control' is a fleeting meeting with the disregarded straight pop: the old breathlessness with their new precision.
Side two's racy, reflective 'Stories For Boys' drops into the slight impressionistic 'Ocean'. The Edge's guitar work is constantly a highlight on this LP. His pattern-work on 'Day Without Me' i slight and striking. The excited tenderness of 'Another Time, Another Place' shows that U2 will be flamboyant, but they won't lose impact. The Edge's guitar swarms all the way through 'Electric Co.', almost toppling the song over, and the final acoustic-based weepie 'Shadows and Tall Trees' will truly test dissenters' patience for U2's evocative pop.
Musically, then, the word is sophistication not spontaneity. It's left to Bono to carry an abandon and passion. He sings heartfelt, beautifully observed lyrics of innocence, failure, sadness with a fearless sentimentality -- something else that upsets the non-believers -- and poignant urgency. A mixture of the ordinary and the bizarre, a series of shadowy, menacing, lyrical vignettes that are sung as if they're dear, dark secrets being wrenched away. They are songs of emotional uncertainty and extreme insecurity. The title 'Boy' refers to Bono, his boyish rapt imaginings, to the recurring use of the word 'boy' in the songs, as Bono symbolises his confusion and reflects, beneath the music's meticulous presentation, the essential innocence of U2. (A decaying of innocence.) The sense of wonder. It mixes peculiarly with the music's obstinate melodrama.
I find 'Boy' touching, precocious, full of archaic flourishes and modernist conviction, genuinely strange. It won't eradicate the grey feelings people have about U2, but it reinforces the affection I have for their character and emotionally forceful music. It's not radical, in many ways it's traditionalist, but it's honest, direct and distinctive communication with not a sign of complacency or foolish certainty. I love U2. You may worry about me loving U2. Don't.
(condensed from original review)