Album of the Day-May 12
U2 — The Unforgettable Fire
U2 — The Unforgettable Fire
The Unforgettable Fire
If you’re over a certain age, and you like U2, there is that U2 album that cracked the code for you. For me, it was The Unforgettable Fire.
There is a warmth present on this album that is lacking in the prior three. With those all having been produced by Steve Lillywhite, the band chose Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois for The Unforgettable Fire.
The drum sound on any album can make or break the mood. And it’s that first track that will set the mood. By way of comparison, the first track of U2’s prior album, War, was “Sunday Bloody Sunday” a bombastic call to arms where the first track on The Unforgettable Fire “A Sort of Homecoming” is a calm, almost lush, rolling fade in.
This first track immediately shows the change in U2’s sound. The hard-hitting militaristic drum sound of War is replaced with the subtler rhythmic shuffle of “A Sort of Homecoming.” Also, Eno and Lanois push the guitar back in the mix so it’s not as prominent inviting an element of intimacy the previous three albums didn’t have.
Granted, the second song “Pride (in the name of love)” is the most traditional U2 song on The Unforgettable Fire with its trademark of bombast and big vocals…and ended up being the band’s biggest hit at the time.
The title track, “The Unforgettable Fire”, has a richly symphonic sound from a string arrangement by Noel Kelehan that’s built from ambient guitar and a driving rhythm. It’s accompanied by a lyrical sketch that’s meant to be an emotional travelogue with a “heartfelt sense of yearning.” While it’s an open-ended lyric, the band has cited a Japanese art exhibit they saw commemorating the bombing of Hiroshima as both the inspiration for the song and the album.
Side two of the album is a nod to the bands increasing interest in America:
“4th of July”
“Bad” — accounts vary on who the story is about because Bono mixes it up…all we know for sure is that it’s about heroin addiction.
“Indian Summer Sky”
“Elvis Presley and America”
This fascination would serve them well on their next album The Joshua Tree.
Throughout the year's critics have remained pretty consistent about the album. Rolling Stone’s Kurt Loder’s original review said:
“U2 flickers and nearly fades, its fire banked by a misconceived production strategy and occasional interludes of soggy, songless self-indulgence. This is not a ‘bad’ album, but neither is it the irrefutable beauty the band’s fans anticipated."
The Unforgettable Fire’s been included in The Worst Rock and Roll Records of All Time tome’.
More recently, Pitchfork’s Ryan Dombal said The Unforgettable Fire was:
“ A transitional album of the highest magnitude” which “ebbs and flows along the spectrum between the spiky, post-punk U2 of old and the impressionistic, Eno-assisted U2 they were yearning to become.”
Fans have also remained consistent, it remains a favorite. It’s this album that moved the band into playing arenas here in the states.
Although only about 18 months separated the release of War and The Unforgettable Fire, the artistic jump the band made was something for which they would come to be known.
Sometimes successfully (Achtung Baby)…sometimes not so much (Zooropa/Pop).
The Unforgettable Fire can often be that overlooked U2 album because you don’t want to hear “Pride (In the Name of Love)” but the other songs have a welcoming warmth that is well worth re-visiting.