Thursday, May 16, 2013

Classic Albums: U2, October

I would like to use this installment of the classic albums series to rehabilitate a fine record that is forgotten at best, and maligned at worst: U2's October.  It is easily the least popular album in their catalog, and the most overlooked of their 1980s heyday.  When U2 put out a compilation of their 1980s work, they did not include a single song from October, the only album so dishonored.  This despite the fact that the lead off track, the soaring, transcendent "Gloria," was much more worthy of inclusion than anything on Rattle and Hum.

Some of the problems may lie with October's subject matter, which reflects the band's immersion in a the teachings of a Christian sect at the time.  Many of the song titles, like "Rejoice," "Jerusalem," and "Gloria" betray the religious influence.  I would argue that in many respects, October is the greatest Christian rock record of all time, even if its creators don't fit into the traditional definition of the genre.  As much as I dislike most Christian rock, the religious rapture in between October's grooves really adds something.  Like Bach's Mattheus Passion or Mozart's Requiem, the religious underpinnings give the music an uplifting, exhilarating feeling, even if you don't happen to be a believer.

What really makes this record shine, though, is Edge's absolutely luminescent guitar work, some of his best ever.  The figures he peals off at the end of "Gloria," the descending riffs that close out "Rejoice," and most of all, the killer, Jimi Hendrix by way of Joy Division sounds he lays down on "I Threw a Brick Through a Window" are unforgettable.  On the latter track, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen lock into one of their best inverted, post-punk grooves.

In addition to some real guitar rock barn burners, there are a couple of eerie ballads, "October" and "Tomorrow."  "October" is a spare song with just Bono's voice and a backing piano, and it perfectly evokes the feelings of the month of October, when summer has faded and all is turning gray, cold, and dead.  "Tomorrow" is about death itself, and features a great use of the haunting, overworldly sound of Irish horns.

In addition to all the songs I've already mentioned, October still serves up gems like "Stranger in a Strange Land."  It may not have as many hits as the Joshua Tree or be consistently thrilling as Achtung Baby (there's some filler), but it's a record that is full of moments of true beauty and transcendence.  The people who've overlooked it don't know what they're missing.

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