Achtung Baby

Achtung Baby
A square montage of square photographs arranged in a 4 by 4 grid. The photographs are mostly blue and red in tint, but some are monochrome. They are candid in nature and mostly show four men in various locations, including in an empty street, a crowded festival, under a bridge, in a car, and standing on sand. One photograph is a close-up of a man's hand wearing two rings bearing the characters "U" and "2".
Studio album by
Released18 November 1991 (1991-11-18)
RecordedOctober 1990 – September 1991
Studio
GenreAlternative rock
Length55:27
LabelIsland
ProducerDaniel Lanois, Brian Eno
U2 chronology
Rattle and Hum
(1988)
Achtung Baby
(1991)
Zooropa
(1993)
Singles from Achtung Baby
  1. "The Fly"
    Released: 21 October 1991
  2. "Mysterious Ways"
    Released: 24 November 1991
  3. "One"
    Released: 24 February 1992
  4. "Even Better Than the Real Thing"
    Released: 8 June 1992
  5. "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses"
    Released: August 1992

Achtung Baby (ŋ/)[1] is the seventh studio album by Irish rock band U2. It was produced by Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, and was released on 18 November 1991 on Island Records. Stung by criticism of their 1988 release, Rattle and Hum, U2 shifted their musical direction to incorporate influences from alternative rock, industrial music, and electronic dance music into their sound. Thematically, Achtung Baby is darker, more introspective, and at times more flippant than their previous work. The album and the subsequent multimedia-intensive Zoo TV Tour were central to the group's 1990s reinvention, by which they abandoned their earnest public image for a more lighthearted and self-deprecating one.

Seeking inspiration from German reunification, U2 began recording Achtung Baby at Berlin's Hansa Studios in October 1990. The sessions were fraught with conflict, as the band argued over their musical direction and the quality of their material. After tensions and slow progress nearly prompted the group to disband, they made a breakthrough with the improvised writing of the song "One". Morale and productivity improved during subsequent recording sessions in Dublin, where the album was completed in 1991. To confound the public's expectations of the band and their music, U2 chose the record's facetious title and colourful multi-image sleeve.

Achtung Baby is one of U2's most successful records; it received favourable reviews and debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 Top Albums, while topping the charts in many other countries. Five songs were released as commercial singles, all of which were chart successes, including "One", "Mysterious Ways", and "The Fly". The album has sold 18 million copies worldwide and won a Grammy Award in 1993 for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. Achtung Baby has since been acclaimed by writers and music critics as one of the greatest albums of all time. The record was reissued in October 2011 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of its original release.

Background

After U2's 1987 album The Joshua Tree and the supporting Joshua Tree Tour brought them critical acclaim and commercial success,[2] their 1988 album and film Rattle and Hum precipitated a critical backlash.[3] Although the record sold 14 million copies and performed well on music charts,[4] critics were dismissive of it and the film, labelling the band's exploration of early American music as "pretentious"[5] and "misguided and bombastic".[6] U2's high exposure and their reputation for being overly serious led to accusations of grandiosity and self-righteousness.[3][5]

The Edge and Bono clothed in leather jackets, as the Edge holds a guitar vertically. A large dangling light bulb hangs between them.
Prior to recording Achtung Baby, the Edge and Bono (pictured in 2015) began working more closely together on songwriting without the other band members.

Despite their commercial popularity, the group were dissatisfied creatively; lead vocalist Bono believed they were musically unprepared for their success, while drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. said, "We were the biggest, but we weren't the best."[3] By the band's 1989 Lovetown Tour, they had become bored with playing their greatest hits.[7] U2 believe that audiences misunderstood the group's collaboration with blues musician B.B. King on Rattle and Hum and the Lovetown Tour, and they described it as "an excursion down a dead-end street".[8][9] Bono said that, in retrospect, listening to black music enabled the group to create a work such as Achtung Baby, while their experiences with folk music helped him to develop as a lyricist.[9] Towards the end of the Lovetown Tour, Bono announced on-stage that it was "the end of something for U2", and that "we have to go away and ... dream it all up again".[9] Following the tour, the group began, what was at the time, their longest break from public performances and album releases.[10]

Reacting to their own sense of musical stagnation and to their critics, U2 searched for new musical ground.[3][11] They wrote "God Part II" from Rattle and Hum after realising they had excessively pursued nostalgia in their songwriting. The song had a more contemporary feel that Bono said was closer to Achtung Baby's direction.[12] Further indications of change were two recordings they made in 1990: the first was a cover version of "Night and Day" for the first Red Hot + Blue release, in which U2 used electronic dance beats and hip hop elements for the first time; the second indication of change was contributions made by Bono and guitarist the Edge to the original score of A Clockwork Orange's stage adaptation. Much of the material they wrote was experimental, and according to Bono, "prepar[ed] the ground for Achtung Baby". Ideas deemed inappropriate for the play were put aside for the band's use.[13] During this period, Bono and the Edge began increasingly writing songs together without Mullen or bassist Adam Clayton.[13]

In mid-1990, Bono reviewed material he had written in Australia on the Lovetown Tour, and the group recorded demos at STS Studios in Dublin.[14][15] The demos later evolved into the songs "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses", "Until the End of the World", "Even Better Than the Real Thing", and "Mysterious Ways".[15] After their time at STS Studios, Bono and the Edge were tasked with continuing to work on lyrics and melodies until the group reconvened.[16] Going into the album sessions, U2 wanted the record to completely deviate from their past work, but they were unsure how to achieve this.[17] The emergence of the Madchester scene in the UK left them confused about how they would fit into any particular musical scene.[15]

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