War is the first time U2 ever mattered, taking everything that was good about Boy and making them even better (straight down to the covers). Which also means the first time people started to hate them. Who are these assholes who use an alphanumeric combination in their band name instead of just letters? Why is the lead singer’s name ‘Bono?’” Does he know it’s Latin for “Good?” Oh, it’s only the first part of his nickname. It’s “Bono Vox,” you say? As in “Good Voice?” Why, that’s not narcissistic but at all. Why is the lead guitarist’s name “The Edge?,” with a capital ‘T?’” Does he know that’s Douchebag for “Douchebag?” Why didn’t the other two members of the band get superhero nicknames? Bono donates money to charity? I don’t believe in charity. Why does Bono wear sunglasses that make him look like an extra from a cheesy 80’s science fiction film? Alright, I think I’ve covered it why U2 sucks, so now we can talk about why U2 are good.
“Sunday Bloody Sunday” is fantastic; the best U2 song ever. There are two noticeable qualities that distinguish “Sunday Bloody Sunday” from other great U2 that followed. The first is the fact that this one’s title harkens back to tragedy of Northern Ireland (despite the fact that the band asserts that the song is about something greater than just that event) and the band acknowledges their Irish roots instead of flat out rejecting them in their quest to be the most American band as on Rattle and Hum, half a decade later (their inclusion of “The Star Spangled Banner” on that album basically rode the ridiculous train straight to pretentious plaza).
But the more important distinction is the sound. While I spun it into a joke in my opening paragraph, it’s basically true that very few people remember the names of the bassist or drummer in the band. But the driving mechanism of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” rests on the post-punk energies created by both bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen, especially the latter. Thank Steve Lillywhite, maybe the most underrated producer of the 80s, who was able to make rock bands rock years before Steve Albini came along to help the Pixies. Mullen provides an unstoppable martial drumbeat while Clayton provides a guttural roar of a bass. In a few years’ time, both these people will be overpowered by the dominating personalities of Bono and The Edge, with Clayton being completely replaced / buried by Brian Eno. I’ll even posit that the following track, “Seconds,” is all Clayton; the way his bass line is introduced and then disappears for two whole bars was a fantastic idea to show just how good that bass line is – our imaginations recreating it regardless.
Back to “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” The Edge – the most important member on this album – is the least important instrument on that track. It’s certainly doesn’t compare to the use of that electric violin, because that might be one of the finest uses of that instrument on a rock song; the way it screeches when it first appears suggesting the turmoil that the song’s lyrics tackle, and after Bono’s command “LET’S GO!” it’s staccato melody just ties everything together, doesn’t it? And of course, there’s Bono. True, he only has one aesthetic – anthemic (ie. obligatory quiet closer “”40″” is practically useless other than tying things together, both on the album and in live shows), but most of these songs are anthems and he delivers; successfully spinning every line on “Sunday Bloody Sunday” into a hook in its own right.
Elsewhere, other big single “New Year’s Day” contains the album’s most memorable melody, courtesy of the relatively simple keyboard line. On the other end of the album, “Two Hearts Beat As One,” features some impressive guitarwork from The Edge; the guitar scratches are surprisingly simultaneously melodic and danceable (reminds me of Jerry Harrison’s work on Talking Heads’ “Found A Job”), while at the same time being just great rock music. Listen specifically the Bono’s vocal performance starting at the 1:40 mark followed shortly by The Edge’s guitar, as if they were competing with each other. And though the bridge of “Seconds” might be a ham-fisted way of creating an “Onwards!” march (and ironically detracting from the song’s overall forward momentum), the bridge on “Red Light” does the opposite – a rallying horn that’s joined in by female vocals and later, Bono’s yelping.
After this, they’ll ditch making rock songs to making anthemic rock songs. Make of that what you will.