INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Mojo JULY 2005 - by Keith Cameron
U2 AT THE CROSSROADS #4: ACHTUNG BABY
It Was Really Traumatic
WHERE THEY WERE: The biggest band in the world at the end of the '80s, but as hip as herpes. Blame Rattle And Hum, an overblown album/movie concept watching U2 tour the US in search of the blues. Well-intended, but the execution whiffed like a stale enchilada.
WHERE THEY WENT: U2 bade farewell to the '80s with Bono's on-stage announcement that they were going off to dream it all up again. Decamping to Berlin, to the legendary Hansa Studios, they watched the Wall come down and, after much struggle, delivered Achtung Baby - U2's very own revolution in the head.
Larry Mullen Jr: The original idea for Rattle And Hum was a really great idea - it would be a road movie and it would be released in a hundred cinemas around America. We put up the money for it. Then all of a sudden Paramount were involved. And they'd given us our money back, and it was now theirs. And then it was a train off the tracks. We were going to premieres all around the world and it was being billed as The Great Rock'N'Roll Movie. It was enough to make a lot of people throw up. And y'know what? It made me throw up too. I really regret it. I think as a road movie, whether you like U2 or not, you woulda gone and thought it was really special. But it was all lights, action, Hollywood. We fucked up.
Bono: I have a strong survival instinct. For instance, if I was to say to the band there's a bunch of skinheads coming round the corner who are going to kick all our heads in, Edge will go, Let's quicken the pace then, shall we?! I just sensed it. I could see that we were starting to look like the music we were making, and the stoic nature of some of the subject matter and Anton [Corbijn]'s photography were starting to overpower the humour of the band. We started out as this art guerilla/punk rock group, with our friends The Virgin Prunes, so dramatic staging and surreal acts were part of the band, and I think we lost that in the '80s as we were pushing our rock up the hill. We wanted a route back to silliness and our more surreal sense of humour.
Gavin Friday: I remember talking to Bono, him saying, I can't wait for the '80s to be over. We were in the midst of all this dreadful Thatcher-ised shite. The music industry was fucked. All the promises we'd made in our head just seemed to blow away with all the vacuous MTV blow-wave hairdos. And then they went into Achtung Baby, which is my favourite U2 album. I think it's a masterpiece.
Bono: We wanted to recognise ourselves more. And we wanted to own up to our ambitions, wanted to own up to our sexuality, wanted to own up to our own hypocrisy. So the hypocrisy of the human heart became the subject of this series of songs, which is really one song: it's a lovers' row. On Achtung Baby it didn't look like it was gonna get patched up at all.
Gavin Friday: Dramatic change was going on in everyone's lives. Break-ups and babies being born, life-changing moments. At the same time, as Irish people, there were a lot of changes going on in our country, culturally. The Holy Roman Empire of the Catholic Church was beginning to crumble. The entrepreneurial Paddy was beginning to dominate the world. The Irish grasped Europeanism far quicker than the British. I've always been a Europhile more than an Americanist, so when U2 started moving down that road, I was, Go! Go!
Daniel Lanois (co-producer with Brian Eno): As Europeans, they wanted to go to a place of rock'n'roll, but they didn't want to go to North America. Some of the rock'n'roll that had inspired them had come from Berlin. Specifically, David Bowie records, Iggy Pop, and Eno; we actually ended up in the same studio Brian had worked in with Bowie. So that was the idea - let's get out of Dublin, no distractions, and go to a European place of rock'n'roll. And I'm trying to remember whether that was a good idea or not!
Larry: It was really traumatic because there was real conflict. We were all expecting different things. And Edge had very clear ideas about what he wanted to do. He was listening to dance music, to hip-hop, and had ideas about using machines. I wasn't listening to that. I was listening to a lot of the older rock drummers, people I'd never listened to before. People like Ginger Baker, Keith Moon, a lot of that really visceral stuff. Became really intrigued with what they were doing, the free-flow of it. It inspired me. So I was listening to that and Edge had all his ideas. And I was like, Well, I don't understand this.
Adam Clayton: It was just confusing. And I don't think it was intentional, it's just family life. On paper, the idea of making a more rhythmic, more industrial record, and connecting with what was happening in British rock music coming out of Manchester was a great idea and we were all on the same page, it's just that nobody really knew how to do that. We were in a situation where the quality of the jamming wasn't up to representing the sound that Bono and Edge were imagining, and they weren't able to say how they wanted to achieve that sound. We were doing it completely arseways.
Larry: Edge was driven, absolutely. That's why it became even more disorientating. Because he was so focused on it, and unswervingly to a large degree. But in the end, the story of One is probably the best - after weeks and weeks, there was this guitar riff, and it was recorded in a couple of hours, and it was quite amazing.
Daniel Lanois: The Edge came up with a great chord sequence, and Larry laid down an amazing beat. Then we took a break, and Brian Eno and I returned to the studio early. There's this little repeating blues riff in the song - Brian and I laid that down, we surprised the band with a few new ingredients. Which is always a great thing to do for Bono because then he picks up a mike and lashes one down in an inspired moment. I think One is a fine example of a great collaborative effort.
Gavin Friday: I have one very fond memory of Bono ringing me up from Hansa and saying, It's rough, Gav, rough. I used to live near the airport, and he would always be dropping in with cassettes, about eight in the morning. We'd have sausage sandwiches. And he came in one morning saying, We've got this song, and I think it could be one of the best things we've done. It was a rough version of One, and I said, Fuck! It was written like something John Lennon would have written.
Larry: After we recorded that we moved back to Dublin, and things just flew. It was good experience, I'm glad for that experience. We all learned from that.
The Edge: There's a nice tension with Brian and Danny, because we don't always agree, and they have strong opinions. We thrive on that kind of thing. Brian would say of us that we would make our albums a lot quicker if we didn't talk so much about the process!
Daniel Lanois: After The Joshua Tree I said to The Edge I felt we had one more left in us. Everybody was still wearing the innovative hat and looking to make a record that nobody had ever done before. That was a driving force. Sure, we wanted great songs, and great success, but it was largely about, I think we can make a record that nobody's heard before. You need to enter the arena with that kind of thinking. And we pulled it off. In my opinion, it's the most sonically inventive U2 record.