Released: November 18, 1991
Peak: 11 US, 2 UK, 11 CN, 11 AU
Sales (in millions): 8.0 US, 1.2 UK, 20.4 world (includes US and UK)
Genre: alternative/mainstream rock
Song Title [time] (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to charts.
All lyrics are written by Bono and the music is composed by U2.
Total Running Time: 55:27
4.463 out of 5.00 (average of 32 ratings)
Quotable:“Arguably their best album.” – Clarke Speicher, The Review
Awards:(Click on award to learn more).
About the Album:
“Reinventions rarely come as thorough and effective as Achtung Baby,” AMG an album in which “U2 discarded the arena-rock sound that catapulted it into stardom on The Joshua Tree in favor of feedback, electronic beats and introspective lyrics.” RV “Drawing equally from Bowie’s electronic, avant-garde explorations of the late ‘70s and the neo-psychedelic sounds of the thriving rave and Madchester club scenes of early-‘90s England, Achtung Baby sounds vibrant and endlessly inventive.” AMG
“U2 spent several chilly months arguing over how they wanted to sound in their second decade. Larry Mullen Jr. and Adam Clayton were in the ‘Ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ camp while Bono and The Edge campaigned for changing everything.” TL They “ultimately emerged from a period of internal strife with another landmark album.” UCR
“Unlike other U2 albums, it’s filled with sexual imagery, much of it quite disturbing…Few bands as far into their career as U2 have recorded an album as adventurous or fulfilled their ambitions quite as successfully as they do on Achtung Baby, and the result is arguably their best album.” AMG
They “detour[ed] into the darker realms of irony, decay and turmoil on accessible avant-garde rock tunes recorded in Berlin.” UT In addition, U2 loosened up “after fostering a dour public image for years…cracking jokes and even letting themselves be photographed in color. ‘It’s a con, in a way,’ Bono admitted to Rolling Stone in 1992. ‘…It’s probably the heaviest record we’ve ever made.’” RS500
The band went to Berlin with producer Brian Eno to record “in a studio that once served as a Nazi ballroom, amid the groans of an industrial town. Metallic dance music leaked out of every discotheque and passing car.” UCR
“Zoo Station”“This radical shift in style is loudly declared on Zoo Station” RV with “crashing, unrecognizable distorted guitars” AMG and “postmodern, contemporary European music.” AMG The song “represents the jagged line between the U2 of the past and the U2 of an exciting new future.” UCR “Gone were the grand statements of purpose, the calls to action, the sometimes mockable earnestness.” UCR
For “Zoo Station,” “Bono built a theme of dangerous escapism from pieces of a World War Ii-era tale where animals escaped from the Berlin Zoo after an overnight bombing.” UCR It was one one of the last tracks completed for the album because Bono wasn’t satisfied with the vocal.
“Even Better Than the Real Thing”This started as a leftover idea from Rattle and Hum. Eno spiced up the “Stones-y main riff” UCR with an effects pedal, which Bono said made the song “much more reflective of the times we were living in, when people were no longer looking for the truth. We are all looking for instant gratification. It’s not substantial as a lyric, but it suggests a certain sexual tension and desire to have some fun playing in the shadows.” UCR
“One”“U2 capped its reinvention with…One,” RV “one of the most beautiful songs U2 ever recorded.” RS500 It is “a fragile ballad that shines amidst a whirling soundscape of strings, guitars and Bono’s anguished voice.” RV “Bono wonders whether individuality also means eternal loneliness and comes down on the side of hope.” RS500 “In some ways, this is U2’s most important song.” UCR
“In such a dense musical setting, it isn’t surprising that U2 have abandoned the political for the personal on Achtung Baby, since the music, even with its inviting rhythms, is more introspective than anthemic.” AMG “Bono has never been as emotionally naked as he is on Achtung Baby, creating a feverish nightmare of broken hearts and desperate loneliness.” AMG
“One” “started as a bitter take on Bono’s relationship with his father, twisted into a commentary on the state of the band, became a staple at weddings and now is used as an anthem to fight global poverty.” TL It also represented the band coming together after arguments over their new musical direction.
“Until the End of the World”Throughout the album, U2 “use the thick dance beats, swirling guitars, layers of effects, and found sounds to break traditional songs out of their constraints, revealing the tortured emotional core of their songs with the hyper-loaded arrangements.” AMG They experimented “with a wall of sound, using waves of melody emanating in Until the End of the World and Ultra Violet.” RV
This song emerged from a demo called “Fat Boy.” Bono became “intrigued by the idea of a mythical conversation between Jesus Chris and his betrayer, Judas Iscariot. UCR They gave the song to director Wim Wenders for his movie of the same name, but told him they stole the title and would be using it on their Achtung Baby album as well. UCR
“Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses”U2 originally demoed this song in 1990. The song nearly fell by the wayside until Steve Lillywhite came on board for some late production work on Achtung Baby. His mix sounded a lot like the original demo – a selling point for the band’s label management who were “wary about the album’s more industrial-sounding elements.” UCR
“So Cruel”This grew out of an improv session with Bono playing around on guitar. The rest of the band “caght the groove” and Bono gave the song “lyrics that touch on the heartbroken themes of divorce, among other things.” UCR The Edge, the band’s guitarist, had just separated from his wife, Aislinn O’Sullivan.
“The Fly”This was the first single from the album. “Americans didn’t seem thrilled with U2’s change in musical direction.” UCR The band whose last three albums were launched with “Pride (In the Name of Love,” their first top 40 hit, the #1 “With Or Without You,” the #3 “Desire” now found themselves stalled at #61. However, four other singles from the album reached the top 40, including the top-10 hits “Mysterious Ways” and “One.”
Bono also used this song to introduce his “new leather-clad, wraparound-sunglasses wearing persona.” UCR In the song, The Edge “buzzes around like the title character, twisting his guitar to the breaking point.” UCR
“Mysterious Ways”While there was agreement that bassist “Adam Clayton’s performance on the early demo was outstanding” UCR Bono and producer Daniel Lanois had one of their most intense arguments regarding how to proceed with “Mysterious Ways.” Bono called it “a bass line in search of a song.” UCR It was the Edge who was able to propel the song forward with a funky riff and drummer Lary Mullen Jr. added his parts last, “giving the song a heavier presence than anything on the drum-machine-propelled demo.” UCR
“Trying to Throw Your Arms Around the World”The band called this “a drinking song,” UCR inspired by “a lost weekend when U2 were finally able to blow off steam after years of working so hard.” UCR It “joined a teetering pile of sorry-babe songs from Bono, who we find stumbling home after a night of over-imbibing.” UCR
“Utraviolet (Light My Way)”This was pieced together from what were originally two different demos – “Ultraviolet” and “Light My Way.” The latter finds “its hopelessly dependent main character ‘in the black’ where he ‘can’t see or be seen.’” UCR Bono references “baptism and the Book of Job’s image of God serving as a lamp as he walked through darkness.” UCR
“Acrobat”This grew out of a riff from a 1989 soundcheck in New Zealand. The song “had a super-weird time signature” and “plenty of rage at the ready.” UCR Lanois didn’t think it sounded like U2; Bono argued that was the point. He said, Daniel “was trying to get us to play to our strengths, and I didn’t want to. I wanted to play to our weaknesses. I wanted to experiment.” UCR It may be “the most venomous moment on Achtung Baby and perhaps all of their discography.” UCR
“Love Is Blindness”This song was originally intended for Nina Simone. It dated back to Rattle and Hum but “took on new resonance when the Edge’s marriage ended.” UCR Bono called it “the first cracks on the beautiful porcelain jug with those beautiful flowers in it that was our music and our community.” UCR Mullen slowed down the drum pattern from “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” to “a grief-stricken pace” UCR and the “Edge’s exorcising solo put everything in context for a song about acts of terrorism, emotional and otherwise.” UCR
Notes:A 20th anniversary reissue packaged the album with 1993’s Zooropa, two discs of remixes, a fifth disc with B-sides and bonus tracks, and finally a sixth disc of an alternate remix of Achtung Baby.
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First posted 3/23/2008; last updated 9/18/2023.