Mojo JULY 2005 - by Keith Cameron


It Sounds So Rich And So Fresh

WHERE THEY WERE: With 1983's War, U2 achieved commercial breakthrough, their first UK Number 1 album, it spawned their first Top 10 single (New Year's Day), and relentless touring saw them breach the defences of heartland America.

WHERE THEY WENT: Instead of settling for more of the same fail-safe formula, they asked ambient guru Brian Eno to produce their next album.

Bono: It wasn't contrariness. It was just that, if we get too straightahead the band loses something. So that's why we went to Brian, we knew we needed more information. We knew that we were still students, we needed to be around people who would stretch us.

Larry Mullen Jr: There were people in the record company tearing their hair out, going, Why are you doing this? Everybody wanted more War! We're very greedy, we wanted to experience new things. And Eno was the perfect candidate for that. I was surprised that he agreed to do it. We were just four Irish guys, we'd got reasonably successful in Britain, become very successful in America, but we weren't exactly hip. Eno was extremely hip. And what he and Danny Lanois did for U2 - just look at The Unforgettable Fire. It's an amazing record. Danny spent a lot of time encouraging me to do things that I would have been afraid to do before.

Daniel Lanois (co-producer with Brian Eno): I had been working in Canada with Brian Eno for a few years, making a lot of instrumental ambient records. Then Brian got the invitation to work with U2. He agreed to have a meeting, but he said, I'm gonna bring Danny Lanois along. And the ploy was, he didn't want to do the record but I did! As it turned out, Bono talked Brian into doing it, so it became a co-production. I thought they were very smart. Smart enough to look outside of themselves to get some inspiration. You have to admire somebody for being that humble, even though you're at the top of your game, to be humble enough to accept outside input.

The Edge: For the first few days it was a bit, Woah! I was a big fan of Brian's solo work, and he'd made some great records that we really respected - Talking Heads, the stuff with Bowie, obviously Roxy Music. But he's very down-to-earth character in many respects. He's not pretentious. We were slightly nervous but Brian loved the fact we'd only half the album written, it played into his approach really well. Bad came together in an improvisation session with Brian. It was a thrill. I did enjoy making that album a lot.

Daniel Lanois: Brian is a master of interpretation. He will take a song, play around with it, and make it so the band can see it in a different way.

Adam Clayton: I remember it being a pretty uneasy session. War had been great, but you knew it was time to move on. We always have this struggle with Danny and Brian to try and produce the up-tempo rock tunes, which are the hardest things to write, and they're the things that Danny and Brian aren't particularly interested in. Because they find the innovative, improvisational side of the band much more liberating. I know people tend to talk of that as a classic record, but I just think Pride was the standout track. You hear that still, and it sounds so rich and so fresh.

Daniel Lanois: I mastered the record in London, in the basement of Chris Blackwell's office [laughs], and the next thing I knew I was driving on the bridge going into New York City and it was on the radio. And I thought, Wow, that sounds great! In the words of Jimmy Iovine, the bass always sounds better when you're in the Top 10! I thought, Wooh! The bass is sounding nice! I'm a Canadian kid from a small town and then the next thing you know things are on the radio and it's all going to the top. It's amazing.

Gavin Friday: They could have gone with whoever was producing Bruce Springsteen in that era, but they didn't, they went with Eno and Lanois, and that's when they really crystallised a sound. I remember it was during The Unforgettable Fire tour when Bono comes over to me and says, It's a bit mad - I think we're quite rich now.