On paper, there's no way that this package can be worth the asking price: two albums that most people will already own, a live DVD that has been available for years, a documentary that aired free on the BBC. Anyone could be forgiven for being somewhat cynical. So let's take a look in the box.
Oh my God but this packaging is impressive. The art print portfolio and book are securely encased in a great-looking slipcase printed with the original album cover: for those of us who bought the album originally on CD, even having the cover at this scale is a treat. The portfolio comes in a brown card sleeve embossed with the album's "face star car" logo. The sixteen art prints themselves are on heavy, high-quality card and enable you to assemble your own version of the album sleeve if you have sixteen square foot of wall nearby. Very good (and I don't even care about the prints!)
The hardback book is simply gorgeous: six CDs are housed securely in the front cover, four DVDs in the back cover. The book contains copious artwork and a number of essays in addition to lyrics and credits for the box set. Personally I prefer text to photos, but a good balance is struck between the two and the production is very good. Basically, the book on its own could fetch a substantial retail price.
Discs one and two are Achtung Baby and Zooropa. You don't need my opinion on how good these albums are (if you don't rate them at five stars you should seriously consider why you are reading about this set in the first place). I thought that these albums had been remastered, but if so, I can't hear it. They were always great-sounding albums and they still are, but - if they aren't remastered - there will be no reason for most U2 fans ever to take them out of the book.
Disc Three and Disc Four are CDs of remixes. You know what to expect.
Disc Five collects the B Sides and Bonus Tracks. Often discs like this are "all filler no killer", but in this case half of the tracks are from the Achtung Baby sessions and offer intriguing glimpses of a different path that the album could have taken.
Disc Six is a treat: the entire album in a so-called "Kindergarten" version, which seems to be mixed from the original album sessions in Berlin. I suspect that for most fans this is the disc that will be the most interesting: the versions are notably different in places and the sound quality excellent.
The overall running time for the CDs is six hours and while not everything on those six hours will interest all fans, there is enough here to please most listeners, whether you are a U2 obsessive or just a casual fan who likes these studio albums.
The DVD selection in this set is slightly dodgy. The new documentary is an entire DVD with only about an hour and a quarter on it. Because it's a new documentary, you get Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks but, to be honest, it's not as revealing as it thinks and it is a shame that this isn't a longer cut of the documentary than aired on television. It wouldn't have killed them to put some bonus performances on this disc.
The Videos DVD has a running time of a little short of one and a half hours, is in 4:3 ratio and only has a stereo soundtrack. It includes all the variants of each video, and includes all the videos for Zooropa as well as those for Achtung Baby, so it's certainly a disc that a collector would want.
The Zoo TV: Live in Sydney DVD is in 4:3 ratio and the video quality is not great. It's a shame that this wasn't remastered and given a commentary, but bear in mind that you are getting what amounts to nearly two and a half hours of the band live with a soundtrack in Dolby Digital and DTS. If you don't have it already, it's a very decent extra.
The Bonus Material DVD is actually pretty good, bringing together the Zoo TV documentary and other bits & pieces. Again, video quality is not great and the sound is only stereo, but it was definitely worth pulling together almost three hours of (mainly promotional) footage and fans will enjoy this.
This is a very decent package, even given the uber-deluxe pricepoint. If your wallet can bear it, get one before they're gone.
Do you remember a time, before "One" by U2 existed?
From the moment I heard it, I fell back in love with U2, after seperating myself from them in early 1990, tiring of their po-faced, hat-wearing, world-saving, holier-than-thou ubersincerity.
If you think they are po-faced and preachy now, you should've seen them then. Dull as dishwater, hectoring. Good at what they did, brilliant at what they did, but what they did wasn't brilliant. And U2 always wanted to be the best at what they did. Ambition bites the nails of success. "Achtung Baby" was the album where they took their ambitions and the accessable, stadium rock band they always wanted to be, played with the idea a bit, and reset themselves as something a little less obvious.
You might be expecting a classic rock album. The type that "Nevermind" was going to make obselete. U2 went somewhere else. Somewhere beautiful. Opening with a squall of feedback, a distorted burst of static, a clattering, keen drum attack. "Zoo Station" was where U2 discovered the ability to let go of everything but what they could be. The ability to be silly, stupid, flippant, and also use humour and playfulness to reveal the deadly terror of heartbreak. So "Achtung, Baby" was perhaps the right title : the warning of danger of relationships, children, and beautiful women that leave wreckage in their path. Achtung! Baby.
At the heart of it - the delicate arpeggios and searching rock gestures - it was still the same band, the same heart of it in new and strange clothes, still wanting to be accessable and resonant and popular. U2 have often chased relevance at the cost of being interesting. "The Fly" was a clarion call of intent. This radical invention saw the band set themselves as leaders. The following years the bands that wanted to be the next U2 - Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, and a thousand other wannabe's - all went dirty and got "real" instead of living the dream. Here though U2 tackled, in a loose form a concept : the gap between reality and illusion, between love and lovelessness, the place we all live. Lyrics became suggestive, almost erotic, human, and real. This record that shaped my healthy distrust of the world around me. "The Fly", where a guitar solo is backed by an orchestra of car horns, and Bono sings like a soul diva, was the sound of four men chopping down the Joshua Tree, taking the tools they had, and playing with it.
As an album though, it achieved a greatness few others ever have. Each song sat thematically together with the rest of the work. Musically the songs channeled a progression through the 12 pieces, from the roar of "Zoo Station" to the exhausted howl of the searing "Love Is Blindness". Inspired by the bitter divorce of guitarist The Edge, the lyrics resonated with me then and now : about love and hope and trust and betrayal, both personally and in another respect, politically, the gap between perception and reality. This record made sense of an often senseless world. When one is trying to find their place in the world.
On this enormous deluxe edition, the band offer immense value, with six audio CD's - including the album itself, followup "Zooropa", two discs of b-sides and unreleased versions, and two discs of the numerous remixes and reinterpretations that showed them very clearly playing with the form. There's gold in those hills. Plenty of gold. Though, I admit, also, plenty of lost nuggets during the period covered in this set : two furiously prolific years that saw two albums, eight singles, 32 remixes, 9 b-sides, 3 home videos, 153 live shows and a band creatively in abandon and overdrive. As "Zooropa" proved U2 should think less and do more.
Quite why "Zooropa" is bundled in here baffles me : it's U2's strongest, strangest record and one that is worthy of a standalone release. The extra songs shelved during it's rushed creation would also surely fascinate : you could easily make a deluxe edition for this album in itself.
The extra tracks are the key draw here : Disc Six - "Kindergarten" - shows the album in an embryonic version. Most of the songs are roughly constructed, but the lyrics are all over the place, the arrangements in different places ; "One" is more of a classic folk song, "Trying To Throw Your Arms Around The World" is a busk, the rest are insights into the number of variations a song evolves through before it is born. Nothing from the much bootlegged 1990 tapes is here as such. On Disc Five - "Bsides And Bonus Tracks" - contains six reworked songs from the bootlegs, rerecorded, redubbed, remodelled and polished - but not a note of the original tapes are still here. The B-sides are strong pieces, but compiled in a haphazard fashion with seemingly little attempt to make a listenable body of work out of it. Not helped with "Oh Berlin" having some of the worst lyrics Bono has ever thunked or speechifyied, about the terror of angels. "Down All The Days" - the demo of "Numb" - shows what an enormous difference a different vocal melody can make to a near identical song as the backing tracks are 99% the same thing. A fascinating insight into the creative process.
This deluxe edition is incomplete : "Night And Day", "Can't Help Falling In Love" and "Slow Dancing" are missing (though the first two are included in lesser, remixed forms). Alternate versions of several songs that appear on film soundtracks and singles are absent. The two remix discs contain between them, 6 remixes of "Mysterious Ways" and miss at least four key remixes ("Stay", "Dirty Day", "Daddy's Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car" and the highly-sought after, not to say excellent, Perfecto remix of "Numb"). There's 53 minutes of unused space across the 4 bonus CD's as well, so the reason for these baffling exclusions must be deliberate or an incompetent oversight.
There are four DVD's : a (already released) live show which is therefore, pretty much pointless, an fascinating TV special with several live songs from the 1992 tour, promo videos and a retrospective documentary. The documentary will benefit a standalone release, however as it is, "From The Sky Down" is an indepth look at the U2 creative process on some of the key songs in the album, bolstered by interviews, archive video, and contemporary live / rehearsal footage that shows U2 and where these songs are now. It carries a huge implied knowledge - the bands key alumni such as manager, producers, and engineer are not introduced. It covers the creation of the record in a learned depth, though, somewhat oddly, feels as if it is still missing some key points ; Edge's divorce that inspired the lyrics is not mentioned once, nor are many of the albums songs.
Overall, this is an exhaustive, immense package. For the price the content is certainly value for money : though certainly imperfect and missing many important tracks of musical trivia that would provide a complete, definitive overview of the era. As far as deluxe editions go, this one sticks strictly to the music in a huge binge of about 14 hours of music. Achtung, Bank Accounts.
on 7 November 2011
Firstly, let me be totally honest and state here and now that I am not a great fan of U2 at all, although I do own The Unforgettable Fire, Rattle And Hum, Joshua Tree, Achtung Baby, Pop and How To Dismantle The Atomic Bomb. At least I have given them a chance though, no one can deny me that!
Achtung Baby was originally released in 1991 and I recall the critics saying that it was U2's "Blood On The Tracks" (the 1975 Dylan so-called 'Comeback LP') seeing as though the band had effectively swapped its songs of social conscience and worldly views for more personal introspection. I can't comment on this although being a Dylan fan I can see the relationship between the two albums on a purely anecdotal basis.
This weekend I pulled out my 1991 CD issue to see if I thought it was lacking and needed 're-mastering'. Now here's the thing: every so often I do this when I read a lot of claptrap in fora where fans and collectors bemoan why an artist/group doesn't release this that or the other or people are questioning the logic of re-issues and repackaging. I read a lot from U2 fans who claim that the new disc is NOT RE-MASTERED after all. Clearly there has been a lot of disappointment about this. Needless to add that if you're disappointed with the release no one is forcing you to buy it (again)!
However let me say that I consider myself to be something of an audiophile and the original release does not need re-mastering, remixing or anything else. It sounded absolutely superb on my system and simply blew me away. Remember also that modern CD's sound very compressed and lack dynamic range due to the ridiculous obsession with Loudness Wars (Google it!) U2 have already suffered this with the later CD releases with dynamic compression sucking the life out of HTDTAB for starters. Achtung Baby thankfully predates the Loudness Wars by at least 5 years and was very well recorded and mastered originally. Nothing unusual you might say given that they were at the time one of the richest bands on the planet and could afford to make the best sounding records of the day. And so they did......
But what about the music? Well as a non-U2 fan I must say that unlike most of their other albums Achtung Baby has no filler on it anywhere. I bought my copy from a car-boot sale in 1992 for just £3 and back then it was the best money I had ever spent. Every track is a winner and the album IS also greater than the some of its parts. Forget all the hype about the rock band embracing modern dance rhythms, that's all pat. This is not only U2's best album by far, it's also one of the single greatest albums of the 1990's!
But please remember it's so great you won't need the superfluous padding to make it sound better. It definitely does not need re-mastering either. If you already own it, you're done, it can't get much better. Forget all the other junk, the original album is the key. As I'm highly sceptical about most modern CD re-masters and suspect that the new CD (if it HAS been re-mastered) will be dynamically compressed I'd advise getting hold of a copy of the original 1991 CD which sounds superb anyway.
Did I say that I liked it?