Without a doubt, Achtung Baby is my favorite U2 album. I was 9 when it came out, and had grown up listening to The Joshua Tree and Rattle and Hum through my older siblings. At the age of 5 or 6, I could point the different members of the band on my older brother’s Unforgettable Fire poster that hung on his wall.
I was too young to remember the backlash U2 received with Rattle and Hum. It always seemed like a good record to me. In fact, it was the first album I ever heard on CD.
Still, the sheer sound of Achtung Baby was a shock to my young ears. The opening chords of “Zoo Station” roared like a monster that had been caged for too long. “I’m ready,” Bono declared after a minute of weird sounds and rhythms. Except, this didn’t sound like Bono. His voice was distant and cold. Could this be the same guy who declared he would always been with his love on New Year’s Day?
Achtung Baby was a life-changing album for me. It was my first real introduction to music that was wild and mind-bending. Every single song is a masterpiece in obsession, post-modernism and lost love. I’ve probably listened to Achtung Baby more than any other album (and that’s saying a lot considering how many times I’ve listened to Bringing It All Back Home and Astral Weeks.)
In an album full of great track, (besides the obligatory “One”), the true standout is “Until The End of the World” – one of U2’s fiercest rockers. The main riff is the closest The Edge gets to playing straight rock an roll, while his solo is one of the most intricate pieces he’s ever developed. The rhythm section drives the song, hitting home the song’s theme of betrayal. Lyrically, the song is among Bono’s best. It’s filled with tension – as a party is taking place, yet there’s chaos underneath. As a kid, I just assumed it was about a couple’s break-up – “I kissed your lips and broke your heart.” It wasn’t until later that I discovered the song is actually song from the perspective of Judas.
For lack of a better term, this was a revelation. Having grown up Catholic, religious imagery was not something that I wanted in rock music. As a teenager, songs are sex are much more appealing than songs about God. (Even though U2 did have the Gospel inspired “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, I found it trite and boring.) “Until The End of The World” was using Biblical imagery as a tool – there was no preaching here. The Bible was a source of inspiration for the drama in the song, and Judas’ betrayal fit in perfectly with the themes of Achtung Baby. U2 themselves have recognize the power of this song, keeping it as set-list regular, and releasing it on their second Best Of Compilation even though it was never a single.