U2’s ‘Achtung Baby’ summit turns 30 (2021)

U2’s ‘Achtung Baby’ summit turns 30 (2021)

U2 they locked themselves in Berlin and cut down the tree of “The Joshua Tree” with axes. The Irish group reinvented itself from top to bottom, consuming its masterpiece and riding the bandwagon of innovation. Escorted by the tandem Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, they delivered the most brilliant work of their career.

-Do you think that interviewing U2 is like interviewing Fary?

José Antonio Pérez told his boss that there was no way to contact them. No half-canary had managed to get a word out of them. U2 It was a tomb during the days they spent on the island, taking advantage of a break in the album sessions “Attention baby”. Bono and company had traveled to the carnivals in Tenerife in February 1991 to take some photos with Anton Corbjin, feel his festive atmosphere and, perhaps, use some images in future video clips. The result was translated in the iconic cover of the disc and also in the stills that dotted the video of “Even Better Than The Real Thing”, where a renewed group was shown, very different, in many cases the opposite, from the one that had become known in the 80s.U2 sounding like T. Rex? Seriously? In a stroke of luck, the journalist achieved a curious interview that was broadcast on the Radio club station of Los 40 Principales with a joking Bonus that said things like the following: “Ah, this is the Canary Islands? I thought we were in Madrid “.

In fact, they were in full metamorphosis. The story of “Attention baby” He hadn’t started at the Hansa studios in Berlin, as is often repeated over and over again. Tenerife was a stop along the way, a fun break, like a gas station with happy hour on a long journey. The genesis took place almost two years earlier, on December 30, 1989. They were saying goodbye to the decade with four concerts during the tour. Lovetwon tour in the former Point Depot in Dublin, the current O2 Arena. After bathing masses of ”The Joshua Tree”, went even further into the North American imaginary hand in hand with “Rattle & Hum” where they participated, among others, Bob Dylan and BB King. U2 they had been Americanized in such a way that they were not recognized. They had lost their identity between cowboy hats and cowboy boots.

During the intro of “Love Rescue Me”, one of the most conventional cuts of “Rattle & Hum”, Bono made a speech. It sounded strange, as if it were not relevant, a kind of long-premeditated farewell. “We have had a lot of fun the last few months discovering a type of music that we weren’t very familiar with and that we still don’t know much about. (…). I tried to tell people the other day, maybe the wrong way. But this is the end of something for U2. (…) It is not a big thing; we just have to leave and go back to dreaming it all again ”. 22 years later, the documentary “From The Sky Down” (2011, Davis Guggenheim) recalls the eventful recording of the album in Berlin with the whole group. Those prophetic words by Bono – in a clear wink to Luther King – made sense again: “Attention baby” It had lit up a new rock band, okay, but it also wound them up for a while. “It is the reason why we are still here”, recognizes the vocalist while in the background the solo of The Edge explodes in “The Fly”. It is the sound with which the tree that caged a mainstream rock group was cut down.

But U2 they were already others. They wanted to be other. After six LPs and having turned 30, they left in the autumn of 1990 to follow in the footsteps of David Bowie in Berlin during the 70s. The idea was to recruit the tandem formed by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois who had given them such good results in the past, especially in “The Unforgettable Fire”. Then, in 1984, they were also at a dead end and decided to let go and open up to other more pop paths. Since their post-punk beginnings, they hadn’t noticed the music that was playing around them that could be exciting. At the time, U2 wanted to be the new Joy Division: Martin Hannett produced his first single in 1980, “11 O´Clock Tick Tock”. On second thought, cloistering up made perfect sense. Who can be interested in synth-pop, indie, The Smiths or the revival garage when you sell records like churros and fill football stadiums?

The Edge had set its eyes on the music that was brewing in England. House and rock bases had merged over a sea of ​​ecstasy, giving rise to the Madchester sound. Between 1987 and 1990 a wonderful cocktail of 60s, indie and funk music gave rise to the debut of The Stone Roses and The Charlatans, New Order and Happy Mondays touched the sky with their most successful albums and the so-called second summer of love was developed in a city ​​of leaden sky with an industrial premises, now lofty myth, The Hacienda, as a witness. In less than a year Europe had ceased to be divided into two halves and Berlin, a paradigm of disunity, seemed like the ideal setting for the restart. “The idea of ​​filming away and going away from home had always been in the air and I think Hansa was our first candidate”says Paul MacGuinnes, the manager of U2 lifelong. “We wanted to go to a place where there would be a cultural collision”adds Brian Eno. “There is natural tension in Berlin”, Complete Bonus.

The first stone was laid, however, at home. The early models and versions of “Misterious Ways”For example, still a long way from their final version, they were recorded in Dublin in May 1990. It was the starting point. An absolute rarity like “Alex Descends Into Hell For a Bottle”, industrial sound of an instrumental nature, became the soundtrack of a version of “A Clockwork Orange” representing the Royal Shakeapeare Company. U2 Not only was he obscuring his sound, but he didn’t mind adding electronic overtones. The version of “Night and Day”, Cole Porter’s classic is a good example of the Irish reconversion and is often referred to as a preface to the LP. It’s the bridge song along with, let’s not forget, “God Part II”, which is not very clear what he painted in 1988 in “Rattle & Hum”.

Berlin, so far so close

Berlin is the city of Trabant cars in communist Germany, where Iggy Pop and Bowie became fellow raiders and a German named Wim Wenders filmed in 1993 one of the most beautiful videos of the Irish, “Stay (Faraway, So Close)”. The history of the recording of the album is full of disagreements, conflicts over the direction they should take and a rarefied air that almost jumps through the air with the breakup of the group. It is as if the cathartic environment of a new Europe had turned against him with the force of a boomerang. “Bono wanted to make a European rock album”, says Daniel Lanois in a famous interview granted to a radio station years later where he dedicates himself to reducing the whispers and the drama. He was there and saw the crisis with his own eyes, but decides not to delve into the wound. “When I go into a studio under my head, I try to be creative and I try to support the group’s philosophy. I do my job and stain as little as possible. I do not remember that it was neither more nor less hard than another disc of U2 who (Brian Eno and I) had worked with ”.

What really happened in Berlin, according to the renowned Canadian musician and producer, is much less morbid. The key to the entire Udosian revolution was a concept coined by him – flesh and machine – and which basically consists of lowering the epic of the creators of “Pride” until reaching a more restrained point by adding the necessary doses of experimentation. In 2015 he insisted on this idea in the newspaper El País: “I don’t know where the director got so many conflicts from [Davis Guggenheim], which even inserted metaphorical animations in the form of walls in the study. I don’t remember it like that, only the arduous nature of the different takes: you keep trying ideas and jabbing until you get it right ”.

“I learned to lie”Bono said in 1992. By then he had built a character antithetical to the one who waved the white flag at concerts in the 1980s. He put on dark glasses that would become a house brand, put on black ankle boots and got a black jacket. Bono was cool or that’s what he aspired to. He was playing rock star, heavily influenced by Lou Reed, Jim Morrisson, Elvis Presley and, of course, David Bowie. The ingenious, cheeky and cool Bono that was already sensed in the Tenerife interview was uncovered on the subsequent tour Zoo Tv tour. When asked why they did not play the great classics of the group in their concerts, he replied with a hook in the nose: “Because we don’t feel like it. We don’t feel part of it right now. We are immersed in Zoo TV, as I think the true fans of the group are. We may lose some of them that way, but we don’t need them. “.

The buzz of a fly

“The Fly” was the showy cover letter of “Attention baby” with which in October 1991 the old guard was expelled and a new legion of fans was captured. He automatically became the alter ego of Bono, a rock star who scoffs at those who take themselves too seriously, starting, and this was the interesting thing about it, by himself. “With this album we knew that we didn’t want to repeat some things. There was a kind of song that we didn’t want to write and the whole process we went through in Berlin and later in Dublin took us where we wanted to “notes The Edge.

Songs like “So Cruel” or, above all, the well-known “One” they helped shape the work. All those involved agree that the pieces of that chaotic puzzle fell into place very late, after Berlin and after the carnivals of the chicharrera capital, in a rented house in Dublin. A song that ended up cornered as a B-side, “Lady With The Spinning Head”, curiously gathered a good part of the soul of the album. From there different fragments were extracted that ended up embedded in “Zoo Station”, “The Fly” and “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)”, the latter a very fan favorite. To round off the journey and feed the myth of a problematic album, the group lost a lot of tapes with different takes of the songs and that for some have more value than other official albums of the group. There are the fans of U2 and those who are enthusiastic “Attention baby”, which do not necessarily match. Mixing was completed in the summer of 1991 at Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin with the participation of Eno, Lanois, Flood and an old acquaintance, Steve Lillywhite.

1991 was a strange year for rock music. Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore sponsored him as “The Year Punk Broke”, which gave its name to the iconic documentary of the New York band. Nirvana conquered the mainstream from grunge and from the so-called new American rock that had been cooked in the 80s, REM emerged. Two years before the breakthrough of Britpop, Primal Scream and Massive Attack produced their masterpieces, while Kevin Shields redefined shoegaze in a big way with My Bloody Valentine. U2 they went the other way: they tamed their more commercial side and became modern. They indulged in irony and for once the critics took them seriously. Everything we knew about U2 it was a lie and “Attention baby” is the proof of it.

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U2’s ‘Achtung Baby’ summit turns 30 (2021)