|Genres||Rock, alternative rock, post-punk|
|Years active||Since 1976|
|Labels||Mercury, Interscope, Island|
|Associated acts||Passengers (1995)|
The Dalton Brothers (1987)
Larry Mullen, Jr.
The band formed in 1976 when the members were teenagers with limited musical proficiency, but by the mid-1980s, the band had released several albums and become a top international act. Their success as a live band was greater than their success at selling records until their 1987 album The Joshua Tree, which, according to Rolling Stone, elevated the band's stature "from heroes to superstars". In the 1990s, U2 responded to the dance and alternative rock revolutions and their own sense of musical stagnation by reinventing themselves with the album Achtung Baby and the accompanying Zoo TV Tour. Since 2000, U2 have pursued a more conventional rock sound that retains the influence of their previous musical explorations.
U2 have released 12 studio albums, with worldwide sales totaling 145 million records, and they have won 22 Grammy Awards, more than any other band. In 2005, the band were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility. Rolling Stone magazine listed U2 at #22 in its list of the 100 greatest artists of all time. Throughout their career, as a band and as individuals, they have campaigned for human rights and social justice causes, including Amnesty International, the ONE Campaign, (RED), and Bono's DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade in Africa) campaign.
Formation and early years (1976–79) Edit
The band formed in Dublin on 25 September 1976. Larry Mullen, Jr., then 14 years old, posted a notice on his secondary school (Mount Temple Comprehensive School) notice board in search of musicians for a new band. Seven teenage boys attended the initial practice in Mullen's kitchen. It was, as Mullen put it, "'The Larry Mullen Band' for about ten minutes, then Bono walked in and blew any chance I had of being in charge." The group featured Mullen on drums, Paul Hewson (Bono) on lead vocals, Dave Evans (The Edge) and his brother Dik Evans on guitar, Adam Clayton, a friend of the Evans brothers on bass guitar, and initially Ivan McCormick and Peter Martin, two other friends of Mullen. Soon after, the group settled on the name "Feedback", because it was one of the few technical terms they knew. Martin did not return after the first practice, and McCormick left the group within a few weeks. Most of the group's material initially consisted of cover versions, which the band said was not their forte. The original material the band did write demonstrated a sound influenced by their post-punk peers.In March 1977, the band changed their name to "The Hype". Dik Evans, who was older and by this time at college, was becoming the odd man out. The rest of the band was leaning towards the idea of a four-piece ensemble and he was "phased out" in March 1978. During a farewell concert in the Presbyterian Church Hall in Howth, which featured The Hype playing covers, Dik ceremoniously walked offstage. The remaining four band members completed the concert playing original material as "U2". Steve Averill, a punk rock musician and family friend of Clayton's, had suggested six potential names from which the band chose "U2" for its ambiguity and open-ended interpretations, and because it was the name that they disliked the least.
On Saint Patrick's Day in 1978, U2 won a talent show in Limerick, Ireland. The prize consisted of £500 and studio time to record a demo which would be heard by CBS Ireland. This win was an important milestone and affirmation for the fledgling band. The band recorded their first demo tape at Keystone Studios, in Harcourt Street, Dublin, in April 1978. Hot Press magazine was influential in shaping the band's future; in May, Paul McGuinness, who had earlier been introduced to the band by the magazine's journalist Bill Graham, agreed to be U2's manager. U2's first release, an Ireland-only EP entitled Three, was released in September 1979 and was the band's first Irish chart success. In December 1979, U2 performed in London for their first shows outside Ireland, although they failed to get much attention from audiences or critics. In February 1980, their second single "Another Day" was released on the CBS label, but again only for the Irish market.
Boy, October, and War (1980–83) Edit
Island Records signed U2 in March 1980, and "11 O'Clock Tick Tock" became the band's first internationally released single that May. The band's debut album, the Steve Lillywhite produced Boy, followed in October, and received generally positive reviews. Although Bono's lyrics were unfocused and seemingly improvised, a common theme was the dreams and frustrations of adolescence. The album included the band's first United Kingdom hit single, "I Will Follow". Boy's release was followed by U2's first tour of continental Europe and the United States. Despite being unpolished, these early live performances demonstrated U2's potential, as critics noted that Bono was a "charismatic" and "passionate" showman.
The band's second album, October, was released in 1981 and contained overtly spiritual themes. During the album's recording sessions, Bono and The Edge left the band due to spiritual conflicts, and U2 ceased to exist for a brief period of time. Bono, The Edge, and Mullen had joined a Christian group in Dublin called the 'Shalom Fellowship', which led them to question the relationship between the Christian faith and the rock and roll lifestyle. Recording was further complicated when a briefcase containing lyrics for several working songs was stolen from backstage during the band's performance at a nightclub in Portland, Oregon; it was recovered and returned to the band in 2004, nearly a quarter century later. The album received mixed reviews and limited radio play. It did not sell well outside the UK, which put pressure on their contract with Island and focused the band on improvement.Resolving the doubts of the October period, U2 released War in 1983. A record where the band "turned pacifism itself into a crusade", War's sincerity and "rugged" guitar was intentionally at odds with the "cooler" synthpop of the time. The album included "Sunday Bloody Sunday", where Bono had lyrically tried to contrast the events of Bloody Sunday with Easter Sunday. Rolling Stone magazine wrote that the song showed the band was capable of deep and meaningful songwriting. War was U2's first album to feature the photography of Anton Corbijn, who remains U2's principal photographer and has had a major influence on their vision and public image. U2's first commercial success, War debuted at number one in the UK, and its first single, "New Year's Day", was the band's first hit outside Ireland or the UK.
On the subsequent War Tour, the band performed sold-out concerts in mainland Europe and the U.S. The image of Bono waving a white flag during performances of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" became a familiar sight. U2 recorded the Under a Blood Red Sky live album on this tour, as well as the Live at Red Rocks concert film, both of which received extensive play on the radio and MTV, expanding the band's audience and cementing the band's prowess as a live band. Their generally unfavourable record deal with Island Records was coming to an end, and in 1984 U2 signed a highly lucrative extension. They negotiated the return of their copyrights (so that they owned the rights to their own songs), an increase in their royalty rate, and a general improvement in terms, at the expense of a larger initial payment.
The Unforgettable Fire and Live Aid (1984–85) Edit
The Unforgettable Fire was released in 1984. Ambient and abstract, it was at the time the band’s most marked change in direction. The band feared that following the overt rock of the War album and tour, they were in danger of becoming another "shrill", "sloganeering arena-rock band". Thus, experimentation was sought as Adam Clayton recalls, "We were looking for something that was a bit more serious, more arty." The Edge admired the ambient and "weird works" of Brian Eno, who, along with his engineer Daniel Lanois, eventually agreed to produce the record|Problems listening to this file? See media help. The Unforgettable Fire has a rich and orchestrated sound. Under Lanois' direction, Larry's drumming became looser, funkier, and more subtle and Adam's bass became more subliminal; the rhythm section no longer intruded, but flowed in support of the songs. Complementing the sonic atmospherics, the album's lyrics are open to many interpretations, providing what the band called a "very visual feel". Bono's recent immersion in fiction, philosophy, and poetry made him realise that his songwriting responsibility — about which he had always been reluctant — was a poetic one. Due to a tight recording schedule, however, Bono felt songs like "Bad" and "Pride (In the Name of Love)" were incomplete "sketches". "Pride (In the Name of Love)", about Martin Luther King, Jr., was the album's first single and became the band's biggest hit to that point, including being their first to enter the U.S. top 40.
Much of The Unforgettable Fire Tour moved into indoor arenas as U2 began to win their long battle to build their audience. The complex textures of the new studio-recorded tracks, such as "The Unforgettable Fire" and "Bad", were problematic to translate to live performance. One solution was programmed sequencers, which the band had previously been reluctant to use, but are now used in the majority of the band's performances. Songs on the album had been criticised as being "unfinished", "fuzzy", and "unfocused", but were better received by critics when played on stage.U2 participated in the Live Aid concert for Ethiopian famine relief at Wembley Stadium in July 1985. U2's performance was a turning point in the band's career. During the song "Bad", Bono leapt down off the stage to embrace and dance with a fan, showing a television audience of millions the personal connection that Bono could make with audiences. In 1985, Rolling Stone magazine called U2 the "Band of the 80s", saying that "for a growing number of rock-and-roll fans, U2 have become the band that matters most, maybe even the only band that matters".
The Joshua Tree and Rattle and Hum (1986–1989) Edit
Motivated by friendships with Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, and Keith Richards, the band looked back to the roots of rock music, and Bono focused on his skills as a song and lyric writer. Realising "that U2 had no tradition", the band explored American blues, country, and gospel music. For their fifth album, the band wanted to build on The Unforgettable Fire's atmospherics, but instead of its out-of-focus tracks, they sought a harder-hitting sound within the strict discipline of conventional song structures. U2 interrupted their 1986 album sessions to serve as a headline act on Amnesty International's A Conspiracy of Hope tour, but rather than be a distraction, the tour added extra intensity and power to their new music. In his 1986 travels to San Salvador and Nicaragua, Bono saw the distress of peasants bullied in internal conflicts subject to American political intervention. This first-hand experience later became a central influence on the new music. The band wanted music with a sense of location, a 'cinematic' quality; the album's music and lyrics draw on imagery created by American writers whose works the band had been reading.The Joshua Tree was released in March 1987. The album juxtaposes antipathy towards America against the band's deep fascination with the country, its open spaces, freedom, and what it stands for. It became the fastest-selling album in British chart history, and was number one for nine weeks in the United States. It won U2 their first two Grammy Awards. The album's first two singles, "the rock & roll bolero" "With or Without You" and the rhythmic gospel "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For", quickly went to number one in the U.S. U2 became the fourth rock band to be featured on the cover of Time magazine, which declared U2 "Rock's Hottest Ticket". The album brought U2 a new level of success and is cited by Rolling Stone as one of rock's greatest. By 2009, The Joshua Tree had become one of the best selling albums of all time with global sales of 28,5 Million. In the USA, it received a rare Diamond Certification for selling 10 Million copies. The Joshua Tree Tour was the first during which the band played numerous stadium shows alongside smaller arena shows.
The documentary Rattle and Hum featured footage recorded from The Joshua Tree Tour, and the accompanying double album of the same name included nine studio tracks and six live U2 performances. Released in record stores and cinemas in October 1988, the album and film were intended as a tribute to American music. The film included tracks recorded at Sun Studios in Memphis and tracks performed with Bob Dylan and B. B. King. Despite a positive reception from fans, Rattle and Hum received mixed reviews from both film and music critics; one Rolling Stone editor spoke of the album's "excitement", another described it as "bombastic and misguided". The film's director, Phil Joanou, described it as "an overly pretentious look at U2". Most of the album's new material was played on 1989's Lovetown Tour, which primarily consisted of shows in Australia and Europe. With a sense of musical stagnation, Bono announced at an end-of-decade concert that U2 had come to the end of an era and had to "... go away and just dream it all up again".
Achtung Baby, Zoo TV, and Zooropa (1990–1993) Edit
Stung by criticism of Rattle and Hum, the band made a calculated change in musical and thematic direction for their seventh studio album, Achtung Baby; the change was their most dramatic since The Unforgettable Fire. The band began work on Achtung Baby in East Berlin in October 1990 with producers Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, seeking inspiration and renewal on the eve of German reunification. The sessions instead proved to be difficult. In Berlin, conflict arose within the band over the quality of material and musical direction. While Adam and Larry preferred a sound similar to U2's previous work, Bono and The Edge were inspired by alternative rock and European dance music and advocated a change. Weeks of slow progress, arguments, and tension subsided when the band rallied around a chord progression The Edge had written, creating the song "One". The band completed the album in Dublin.
In November 1991, U2 released Achtung Baby. Sonically, the album incorporated dance, industrial, and alternative rock influences of the time and the band referred to the album as the sound of "four men chopping down the Joshua Tree". Thematically, it was a more inward-looking and personal record; it was darker, yet at times more flippant, than the band's previous work. Commercially and critically, it has been one of the band's most successful albums and was a crucial part of the band's early 1990s reinvention. Like The Joshua Tree, it is cited by Rolling Stone as one of rock's greatest.
|"The Fly" (1991)|
|Sample of "The Fly" – chosen as the first single from Achtung Baby (1991) because its hip-hop beats, distorted vocals, and hard industrial edge sounded nothing like the traditional U2 sound.|
The Zoo TV Tour of 1992–1993 was a multimedia event, and showcased an extravagant but intentionally bewildering array of hundreds of video screens, upside-down flying Trabant cars, mock transmission towers, satellite TV links, subliminal messages, and Bono's over-the-top stage characters such as "The Fly", "Mirror-Ball Man", and "(Mister) MacPhisto". The extravagant shows were intentionally in contrast to the austere staging of previous U2 tours, and mocked the excesses of rock and roll by appearing to embrace these very excesses. The shows were, in part, U2's way to represent the pervasive nature of cable television and its blurring of news, entertainment, and home shopping. Prank phone calls were made to President Bush, the United Nations, and others. Live satellite uplinks to war-torn Sarajevo caused controversy.
Quickly recorded and released during a break in the Zoo TV tour in mid-1993, the Zooropa album continued many of the themes from Achtung Baby and the Zoo TV tour. Initially intended as an EP, the band expanded Zooropa into a full-length LP album. It was an even greater departure from the style of their earlier recordings, incorporating techno influences and other electronic effects. Johnny Cash sang the vocal on the "The Wanderer". Most of the songs were played at least once during the 1993 leg of the tour, which extended through Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan; half the album's tracks became fixtures in the set.
Passengers, Pop, and PopMart (1994–99) Edit
In 1995, U2 released an experimental album called Original Soundtracks 1. Brian Eno, producer of three previous U2 albums, contributed as a full partner, including writing and performing. For this reason, and due to the record's highly experimental nature, the band chose to release it under the moniker "Passengers" to distinguish it from U2's conventional albums. Larry Mullen Jnr said of the album: "There's a thin line between interesting music and self-indulgence. We crossed it on the Passengers record." It was commercially unnoticed by U2 standards and it received generally poor reviews. However, the single "Miss Sarajevo" featuring Luciano Pavarotti, and which Bono cites as one of his favourite U2 songs, was a hit. On 1997's Pop, U2 continued experimenting; tape loops, programming, rhythm sequencing, and sampling provided much of the album with heavy, funky dance rhythms. Released in March, the album debuted at number one in 35 countries, and drew mainly positive reviews. Rolling Stone, for example, stated that U2 had "defied the odds and made some of the greatest music of their lives". Others felt that the album was a major disappointment and sales were poor compared to previous U2 releases. The band was hurried into completing the album in time for the impending pre-booked tour, and Bono admitted that the album "didn't communicate the way it was intended to".The subsequent tour, PopMart, commenced in April 1997. Like Zoo TV, it poked fun at pop culture and was intended to send a sarcastic message to those accusing U2 of commercialism. The stage included a 100-foot (30 m) tall golden yellow arch (reminiscent of the McDonald's logo), a 150-foot (46 m) long video screen, and a 40-foot (12 m) tall mirrorball lemon. U2's "big shtick" failed, however, to satisfy many who were seemingly confused by the band's new kitsch image and elaborate sets. The late delivery of Pop meant rehearsal time was severely reduced, and performances in early shows suffered. A highlight of the tour was a concert in Sarajevo where U2 were the first major group to perform following the Bosnian War. Larry Mullen, Jr. described the concert as "an experience I will never forget for the rest of my life, and if I had to spend 20 years in the band just to play that show, and have done that, I think it would have been worthwhile." One month following the conclusion of the PopMart Tour, U2 appeared on the 200th episode of The Simpsons, "Trash of the Titans", in which Homer Simpson disrupted the band on stage during a PopMart concert.
"Reapplying for the job of the best band in the world" (2000–06) Edit
Following the comparatively poor reception of Pop, U2 declared they were "reapplying for the job ... [of] the best band in the world", and have since pursued a more conventional rock sound mixed with the influences of their 1990s musical explorations. All That You Can't Leave Behind was released in October 2000 and was produced by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. For many of those not won over by the band's 1990s music, it was considered a return to grace; Rolling Stone called it U2's "third masterpiece" alongside The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby. The album debuted at number one in 22 countries and its worldwide hit single, "Beautiful Day" earned three Grammy Awards, as did the album's three other singles.For the Elevation Tour, U2 performed in a scaled-down setting, returning to arenas after nearly a decade of stadium productions. A heart-shaped stage and ramp permitted greater proximity to the audience. Following the September 11 attacks, the new album gained added resonance, and in October, U2 performed at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Bono and the Edge later said these New York City shows were among their most memorable and emotional performances. In early 2002, U2 performed during halftime of Super Bowl XXXVI, which SI.com ranked as the best halftime show in Super Bowl history.
The band's next studio album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, was released in November 2004. The band were looking for a harder-hitting rock sound than All That You Can't Leave Behind. Thematically, Bono states that "A lot of the songs are paeans to naiveté, a rejection of knowingness." The first single, "Vertigo", was featured on a widely-aired television commercial for the Apple iPod, and a U2 iPod and an iTunes U2 box set was released. The album debuted at number one in the U.S. where first week sales doubled that of All That You Can't Leave Behind and set a record for the band. Claiming it as a contender as one of U2's three best albums, Bono said, "There are no weak songs. But as an album, the whole isn't greater than the sum of its parts, and it fucking annoys me." The Vertigo Tour featured a set list that varied more across dates than any U2 tour since the Lovetown Tour, and included songs not played since the early 1980s. Like the Elevation Tour, the Vertigo Tour was a commercial success. The album and its singles won Grammy Awards in all eight categories in which U2 were nominated. In 2005, Bruce Springsteen inducted U2 into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A 3-D concert film, U2 3D, filmed at nine concerts during the Latin America leg of the Vertigo Tour was released on 23 January 2008.
In August 2006, the band incorporated its publishing business in The Netherlands following the capping of Irish artists' tax exemption at €250,000. Dave Evans stated that businesses often seek to minimize their tax burdens. The move was criticised in the Irish parliament. The band said the criticism was unfair, stating that approximately 95% of their business took place outside of Ireland, that they were taxed globally because of this, and that they were all "personal investors and employers in the country".
No Line on the Horizon and U2 360° Tour (2007–present) Edit
The band began work on their twelfth album No Line on the Horizon in 2006, originally writing and recording with producer Rick Rubin, but the material was shelved. The band subsequently chose to begin writing and recording for the album with producers Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno in June 2007. A two-week trip to Fez, Morocco where the six recorded led to the band experimenting with North African sounds and indicating the album would be more experimental than their previous efforts. During the album sessions, on 31 March 2008, it was confirmed that U2 signed a 12 year deal with Live Nation worth an estimated $100 million (£50 million), which includes Live Nation controlling the band's merchandise, sponsoring, and their official website.
After 16 months in the studio, the band completed No Line on the Horizon in December 2008, and it was released on 27 February 2009. The album received generally positive reviews, but critics noted the end result was not as experimental as expected. The band have confirmed plans to release another album by the end of the year, provisionally titled Songs of Ascent, consisting of material recorded during the sessions for No Line on the Horizon. Bono says it will be "a more meditative album on the theme of pilgrimage".
The U2 360° Tour began on 30 June 2009 and features European and North American stadium dates in 2009, with additional shows expected in 2010. The shows feature a 360-degree staging/audience configuration, in which the fans surround the stage from all sides.
Musical Style Edit
Since their inception, U2 have developed and maintained a distinctly recognisable sound, with emphasis on melodic instrumentals and expressive, larger-than-life vocals. This approach is rooted partly in the early influence of record producer Steve Lillywhite at a time when the band was not known for musical proficiency. The Edge has consistently used a rhythmic echo and a signature delay to craft his guitar work, coupled with an Irish-influenced drone played against his syncopated melodies that ultimately yields a well-defined ambient, chiming sound. Bono has nurtured his falsetto operatic voice and has exhibited a notable lyrical bent towards social, political, and personal subject matter while maintaining a grandiose scale in his songwriting. In addition, The Edge has described U2 as a fundamentally live band.
Lyrics and themes Edit
Despite these broad consistencies, U2 have introduced new elements into their musical repertoire with each new album. U2's early sound was influenced by bands such as Television and Joy Division, and has been described as containing a "sense of exhilaration" that resulted from The Edge's "radiant chords" and Bono's "ardent vocals". U2's sound began with post-punk roots and minimalistic and uncomplicated instrumentals heard on Boy and October, but evolved through War to include aspects of rock anthem, funk, and dance rhythms to become more versatile and aggressive. The two albums were labelled "muscular and assertive" by Rolling Stone, influenced in large part by Lillywhite's producing. The Unforgettable Fire, which began with the Edge playing more keyboards than guitars, as well as follow-up The Joshua Tree, had Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois at the production helm. With their influence, both albums achieved a "diverse texture". The songs from The Joshua Tree and Rattle and Hum placed more emphasis on Lanois-inspired rhythm as they mixed distinct and varied styles of gospel and blues music, which stemmed from the band's burgeoning fascination with America's culture, people and places. In the 1990s, U2 reinvented themselves as they began using synthesizers, distortion, and electronic beats derived from alternative rock, industrial music, dance, and hip-hop on Achtung Baby, Zooropa, and Pop. The 2000s had U2 returning to a stripped-down sound, with less obvious use of synthesizers and effects and a more traditional rhythm.