There was no way that U2’s fifth album, 1987’s ‘The Joshua Tree,’ wasn’t going to be huge. Everything they had done over the past seven years was leading to this point. The spiritual yearning of 1981’s ‘October,’ the sociopolitical musings of 1983’s ‘War,’ the digging up of America’s roots on 1984’s ‘The Unforgettable Fire’ – they’re all pieces of ‘The Joshua Tree’’s bigger puzzle.
When you're as big as U2, you can get away with basically whatever you want -- and when it came to making albums in the mid-'90s, what Bono and the boys wanted to do was electronic music. Their 1991 release 'Achtung Baby' had some elements of the genre, but on 'Pop,' they went all in, mostly ditching their guitars and acquiring a mountain of synths, sequencers and drum machines -- all in the name of forcing themselves out of their comfort zones.
U2’s early-‘90s transformation from stadium-shaking messiahs to experimental-rock giants doesn’t sound all that revolutionary in hindsight. Don’t get us wrong: 1991’s ‘Achtung Baby’ -- and to a lesser degree its hastily assembled 1993 follow-up, ‘Zooropa’ -- is a great album, one of the band’s best. It just doesn’t sound out of place on U2’s timeline now. But 1997’s ‘Pop’ still does.
U2 were at the height of their powers in the mid-'90s, but coming off 'Achtung Baby,' the once-infallible band stumbled in the minds of many with the meandering electronica of 1997's 'Pop.' It earned mixed reviews and sold a couple million copies in the States -- an impressive number for most groups but meager by U2 standards.
Even by U2 standards, the U2360° Tour was epic. In all, 7 million people on three continents saw Bono, the Edge, Larry Mullen Jr. and Adam Clayton mount this, the biggest tour of their careers -- not to mention the highest-grossing rock 'n' roll trek of all time. The massive -- and massively triumphant
‘Achtung Baby’ was a total game changer. Not just for U2, but in a way for modern music in general. When the album was released 21 years ago today, it didn’t sound like any of the U2 albums that preceded it. And it didn’t have to. After more than a decade of playing rock ‘n’ roll saviors with their stadium-sweeping anthems that wanted to change the world, the band put the focus on their own needs and desires. And they did it by completely mixing up their game plan.