The Unforgettable Fire


Polygram, 1984

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


U2 had only hinted at expanding their sonic palette on 1983's brilliant War, with the closing song "40" showcasing a softer side that broke from the standard post-punk sound. But they were poised to break through to the big time, and it started to happen with the brilliant Unforgettable Fire.

To call this disc the link between "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and The Joshua Tree is to do it a grave disservice. This album has its own feel, a sound that can be as warm or as gray as the cover, and lyrics that hint at a broader range of topics - some spiritual, some historical, some personal. What the band loses in punk cred it makes up in sheer skill and heart.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

It's not a stretch to say that the Edge's familiar guitar sound began here, awash in echo and effects, propelling songs like "Pride (In the Name of Love)" beyond any of U2's previous outings. The ringing riffs carry Bono's vocals and a simple call-out to those who came with message of peace and who were killed because of it, most notably Jesus Christ and Martin Luther King, Jr. MLK is referenced again in a short elegy at the end of the album, a curious but effective closer.

Imbuing the post-punk style of War with the newfound production and sound techniques results in the propulsive "Wire" and its lesser cousin "Indian Summer Sky," both underrated album tracks. "Promenade" and "4th of July" are languid mood pieces, the latter an instrumental, while the opening "A Sort of Homecoming" has a sweeping, anthemic sound, although the lyrics don't quite reach the heights of the sound. The only misstep is the overly long, silly and outright weird "Elvis Presley and America." Just skip it.

Both sides are built around twin peaks of two of U2's best songs of all time. The first is the title track, which starts with a moody arpeggio before Larry Mullen Jr.'s drums burst forth. The song is then carried by Adam Clayton's front-loaded bass and liquid, restrained guitar fills. Bono's voice then cuts through: "Walk on by / Walk on through / And don't look back." Were it not for a bridge section that uses some cheesy synthesizer work, this would be an undisputed masterpiece; as it is, it's simply stunning.

But then the powerful "Bad" rolls around and you realize U2's true potential has been realized. The song is only two chords and six minutes but it wrings as much power and majesty out of it as possible; written in memorial of a friend, Bono sings his heart out. The live version off Wide Awake in America is even better, if you can find it.

U2 would reach even greater heights with The Joshua Tree, but where that sometimes felt like an overt attempt at success, The Unforgettable Fire effectively sublimates the original U2 sound with a new direction and comes out with a masterpiece.

Rating: A

User Rating: B-


© 2004 Benjamin Ray and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Polygram, and is used for informational purposes only.