Achtung Baby at 30: A Comeback Trip to Berlin

It was thirty years ago, on November 18.11.1991, that U2’s best album Achtung Baby got its premiere. Firstly, it was underrated by fans. Today it stands the test of time. It is still the freshest (after The Joshua Tree album from 1987) thing these four gentlemen from Dublin have ever done.
What is pivotal is the fact that its melancholy harmonizes with the record’s dreadful emotions. The final effect is disarming for the listeners as they, by listening to the album over and over again, take a masochistic ride towards the music about the death of love (and, what is more, they find a delight in it). In other words: 
Achtung Baby flows from the metallic sounds of Zoo Station to the lyrically heart-breaking Love Is Blindness.

U2 -Tiktok

There are albums that we say, mostly, with some kind of child’s naivety, that they have saved our lives. I mean, this phrase sounds pathetical, but it is also very catchy. One can say it during the party with at least a few audiophiles, and then he becomes the centre of the attention for the rest of the night. And I, with my narcissistic notion, would love to be read by you till the end of this text, so I’m also going to steal this catchphrase. Here we go: Achtung Baby saved my life and, (yeah, I just write it to enhance my message), it still saves it from time to time.

As I was trying to recall the first time I heard U2, in my mind, I went back to 2013 when my dad told me to download Achtung Baby on his MP3 Player. Imagine me, a 13-year old boy who hears, for the first time, about some-U2 band. I mean, fair enough, my dad used to listen to a lot of different old-school bands, but this time we were not talking about ACDC that everyone knows. So, I googled “U2”, found the record in relatively satisfying quality, and the rest is history.

What a pompous way to call my musical affection “a history”. But here I was, in Berlin, in 2017 as one of the thousands of fans singing Ultra Violet (Light My Way), which, thanks to Bono’s monologue and terrific visual background, got the new, pro-feministic meaning.

Anton Corbijn, 1991 – U2

This concert is considered historic. Even though the band promoted their thirty-anniversary of The Joshua Tree, U2 came back to Berlin because they love Berlin, they respect Berlin, and because they remember Berlin.

Here, they found inspiration for their seventh studio album. While staying in Hansa Studios, they watched how the new Europe emerged. It was 1990, and the Berlin Wall just collapsed. It inspired them to search for a new direction, just like German people were looking for a new social direction. They listened to industrial music, struggled during the first two months of the recording, and lyrically focused on their personal matters (Bono just became a father, The Edge got divorced). And Hansa Studios? Iggy Pop recorded Lust for Life there, and David Bowie has been there too during his “Berlin era”.

Images by U2

It pretty much explains everything about the newly decided sound; it is as jarring, harsh and cold as in Iggy’s/David’s records.

Achtung Baby is a strongly coherent record: you can’t imagine this album without any of these twelve songs. Furthermore, it is a record that – this time, I’m not joking at all – teaches you about the importance of the tunes’ arrangement. Can you imagine not listening to The Fly after the dry piano of So Cruel? Cause I don’t.

After a few listenings, we become aware that is it is the only way to explore the sounds of Achtung Baby. The album is a combination of various human states of affairs. The delusional romantic joy (The One) is juxtaposed with the drastic end of the relationship (for instance, listen to Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses). Or, on the other hand, the great life anticipations from Zoo Station are later torn down by the grief-striking Acrobat.

These dichotomies relate to each other, and that is why the record functions as an absolute musical torment (in its good meaning of course). Even if the music, sporadically, appears to be blissful, in the end, there is nothing as good grief. There is only grief and sorrow. A mesmerizing sorrow, that is why we loop it all the time.

Couple’s arguing, hypocrisy, struggles with mental health, love considered as a sacrifice: these themes are accompanied with music’s The whole record “movies in the mysterious ways”, and it waits for a new reinterpretation. Nothing from U2 sounds as fresh as Achtung Baby. Don’t you believe me? Just give it a try, or wait till Friday: that’s when the remastered version will have its premiere on Spotify.

Article by Jan Tracz, Features Writer British Thoughts