100 Best Albums

Essential Albums

  • War

More To Hear

About U2

No band has embodied the fundamental belief that rock ’n’ roll can change the world quite like U2. As their late-’70s post-punk peers were intent on deconstructing rock music into shards of rhythm and discord, the Dublin quartet of Bono (vocals), The Edge (guitars), Adam Clayton (bass), and Larry Mullen Jr. (drums) redirected that wiry energy to more impassioned, altruistic use, transforming themselves into a generation-defining band that combined the idealistic fervor of The Clash with the game-changing pop-cultural omnipotence of The Beatles. On their 1983 breakthrough album, War, Bono emerged as alt-rock’s preeminent preacher man, his wailing voice embodying the futility of The Troubles on the raging “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” But upon enlisting producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois on 1984’s The Unforgettable Fire, U2 traded in punk-schooled fury for celebratory civil-rights anthems (“Pride [In the Name of Love]”) and slow-burn rapture (“Bad”), a transition that reached its apex on 1987’s The Joshua Tree (also produced by Eno and Lanois). With The Edge’s slashing style giving way to rippling textures, the album’s heart-racing hymns (“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” “Where the Streets Have No Name”) imbued U2’s arena-sized ardor with a spiritual grace, lending The Joshua Tree a universal appeal that made it one of the top-selling albums of all time. Comfortably nestled on their perch as the most popular rock band in the world, U2 only seemed to get bigger and bolder: 1991’s Achtung Baby and 1993’s Zooropa were daring explorations of post-rave rhythms that bookended the groundbreaking Zoo TV tour, which redefined the stadium spectacle as a sensory-overloading, multimedia extravaganza. But no matter where their musical curiosities led them, no matter how elaborate their stage shows get, and no matter how many world leaders Bono rubs shoulders with to further his activist work, U2 have never lost sight of their inspirational mission, with post-millennial highlights like “Beautiful Day” (2000) and “You’re the Best Thing About Me” (2017) soundly reasserting their power to unify and elevate.

Dublin, Ireland
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