Column: off the record…, vol. 11-490

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off the record, from @U2

It's a shame November has only 30 days. With so much Achtung Baby anniversary coverage, we could use an extra day or two. We’ve had some amazing interviews, and we are so thankful to everyone who took the time to share their insights with us. It’s always exciting to learn something new about an era that some of us remember so well. It’s been a privilege to provide this dedicated coverage to our readers.

As I mentioned in my last OTR column, Achtung Baby is my favorte U2 recording. There are very few things that have held such a strong place in my heart for as long. Three words spring to mind about Achtung Baby: abandonment, seduction, complication.

I was a freshman in college when the album was released and it was the first time I was surrounded by people searching for their dreams. Some people went to college for their B.A., B.S., M.A. or Ph.D. degrees. Others went to school for a Mrs. Degree. I lived on a women’s floor, and many nights we’d be up talking about relationships, sexuality and marriage. I am a child of divorce and know first-hand how good relationships can sour quickly. Over the course of about an hour, U2 presented a dozen songs in this recording that ran through the emotions of a failed relationship. I loved how this album was a two-act play. The track order is strategic: Side one is about the implosion of the heart; side two is about the implosion of the soul. While the CD was easiest to listen to, the stark contrast between “So Cruel” and “The Fly” underscored the differentiation in the acts.

For me, this album presented the hurt and struggle we all bury deep in our heart when a loved one says the love isn’t there. I was able to connect to the anger and rebellion as well as the loneliness found in the tracks. It reminded me that no matter how much you try to reconcile, sometimes it’s not about anything you did. No amount of begging, pleading or reasoning can change someone’s mind.  Rejection is hard to talk about, let alone sing about. “So Cruel” encapsulates it perfectly.

The heaviness of the content is wrapped in perky songs, much like how we ladies gloss over the heartache with a fake smile, fresh makeup and a new hairdo.

This is the first album by any artist that provided me with healing introspection. It taught me that life gets complicated, and even though I was still in a somewhat protected nest of college, all those late nights of relationship conversation (and yearning to be in one on my part) proved that once you open yourself up, you’ve got to be prepared for when it goes horribly wrong. The rarities and b-sides from Achtung Baby deal with this quite well too.

Two decades later, this album continues to resonate at such a personal level for me. Getting lost in the anniversary deluxe box set has been so fulfilling. Bill Flanagan’s contribution in the 96-page book that came with the set underscores my personal connection to this album: “The lyrics of Achtung Baby are full of images of the struggle between devotion and freedom, the comfort of home and lure of exploration. Fidelity and hypocrisy compete for airtime.”

In the age of digital downloads, it is next-to-impossible for artists to use the construct of an album to tell a story from beginning to end. Achtung Baby is one of those albums that needs to be listened to in the order it’s presented for the full effect. I’m very glad U2 chose to give it this type of anniversary release.

There are only a few days left for members to vote on your favorite 22 tracks for the upcoming U22 fan club CD release. If you haven’t voted, hop over to and do so. Voting closes on Dec. 4.
And finally … it’s been a year since Wide Awake In Europe was released on Record Store Day. Of the 5,000 copies released, 505 have been registered on the fan-run site, If you haven’t registered your copy yet, you can still register it.

Have a great week!

©@U2/Lawrence, 2011

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