Every U2 album ranked from worst to best
You talkin' U2 to me?
No, we're talkin' U2 to you, specifically a definitive rundown of their entire discography, assembled from the very worst to the very best.
Let's not stand on ceremony, eh?
#14. How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (2004)
Yikes. The album that marked the first of U2's questionable team-ups with Apple, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb is as wishy-washy as mainstream, trend-chasing pop-rock gets.
Bono was at pains to underline that HTDAAB represented U2's first proper rock album, which makes little to no sense, but then, he did declare the iPod to be the most important art invention since the electric guitar, so he may have been distracted.
There's the odd gem - 'Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own' is agreeably slushy - but 'Miracle Drug' is wretched, 'City of Blinding Lights' feels like a clumsy cross between Coldplay and post-American Idiot Green Day, and 'Vertigo' doesn't hold up because it was never any good to begin with. NEXT.
#13. No Line On The Horizon (2009)
Not a dreadful piece of work, just a bloated and aimless one. No Line On The Horizon has its moments, with 'Magnificent' being a particularly underrated latter-day U2 number, but it also has two of their biggest clunkers.
Clip via U2VEVO
I mean, jesus. What the hell were they thinking?
'Get On Your Boots' is clearly some ham-fisted attempt to tap back into the sky-scraping lunacy of 'Discotheque' but where that song is a classic, 'Get On Your Boots' is shocking in the worst kind of way. The most cringeworthy handful of minutes in the entire U2 catalogue, hands down. Maybe the worst song by anyone ever.
By contrast, 'I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight' is just painfully weak and escapes the wooden spoon award largely by not being 'Get On Your Boots'.
#12. Songs of Experience (2017)
In which Bono gets all reflective following a brush with the grim reaper. It's that sincerity that both powers and cripples Songs of Experience.
There are nice callbacks - 'The Blackout' shares DNA with the wonderful 'Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me' - and fascinating glimpses of real humanity - 'Love Is All We Have Left' honestly approaches Frank Ocean and Kanye West 808s & Heartbreak territory.
Alas, too often U2 play it safe, perhaps mindful of the business of being a huge rock band in 2017.
'American Soul' is a misfire that wastes Kendrick Lamar, 'Get Out Of Your Own Way' never should have escaped 'demo' status, and as for using the plight of Syrian refugees as the basis for an upbeat stomp-along on 'Red Flag Day'... well, that was certainly a choice.
#11. October (1981)
U2's sophomore effort gets all spiritual and religious, signalling a direction that Bono would tackle with both grace and awkwardness over the coming years.
You can hear the push-pull of the relatively ramshackle outfit they were at the time and the colossal stadium juggernaut they would eventually grow into, particularly on 'Gloria' and 'Rejoice'
There are missteps here, and the sense that several songs aren't quite the finished article, but October is fascinating in hindsight.
The title track is an absolute diamond, too.
#10. Rattle and Hum (1988)
"This is a song that Charles Manson stole from The Beatles... we're stealing it back."
Edgy stuff! But then again, this is the album where Bono essentially spends most of his time lecturing Americans about... America.
Is Rattle and Hum even a 'proper' album, though? Equal parts tribute and marketing gimmick - there's an accompanying 'rockumentary', after all - U2's sixth official studio release is a hodge-podge of live cuts and dodgy covers, but it did debut...
Clip via U2VEVO
'Desire', a belter that holds up to this very day.
Overall, this is textbook 'die-hards only' fare; fun to dip into in a playlist sort of way - 'Bullet The Blue Sky' was made to be blasted out in a live arena - but you can just as easily forget that it exists.
#9. Songs of Innocence (2014)
Aka that one you couldn't remove from your iTunes no matter how hard you tried.
Let's give the devil his due; giving the world a U2 album as a 'free gift' that you couldn't turn down was expert trolling and probably doesn't get enough credit as such.
Nonetheless, Bono would eventually apologise after offending presumably millions, but Songs of Innocence really isn't as poor as its reputation suggests.
Plus, it delivered 'Every Breaking Wave', their best song in quite some time. The acoustic version on the deluxe edition is the definitive take, for what it's worth.
#8. The Unforgettable Fire (1984)
"IN THE NAAAAAAAAAA-"
U2's fourth album marked a huge change on the production side of things as Steve Lillywhite was swapped out for the combination of Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois.
The Unforgettable Fire marked their most experimental effort at the time, with the likes of 'A Sort of Homecoming', 'Bad' and 'Elvis Presley and America' all employing languid rhythms and demanding patience from the listener.
Clip via U2VEVO
But it's got 'Pride (In The Name Of Love)' in case you get bored.
#7. All That You Can't Leave Behind (2000)
Yep, it's the one where U2 admitted that they were "re-applying for the job" of being the biggest band in the world.
If you can swallow that without any difficulty, you're probably a paid-up disciple of All That You Can't Leave Behind and don't cringe when Bono goes, "A MOLE! Living in a HOLE! Digging up my SOUL!" and so on and so forth.
This might be the most front-loaded album ever created. The opening barrage of 'Beautiful Day', 'Stuck In A Moment You Can't Get Out Of', 'Elevation', 'Walk On' and 'Kite' is seriously impressive as far as mission statements go, but it makes for a pretty lacklustre Side B.
Fun fact; my college orientation was soundtracked by 'Beautiful Day', as some dude I never saw again insisted that yes, this was indeed a beautiful day. He was mistaken; I was overwhelmed and afraid. Still, quite the legacy for the track.
#6. Boy (1980)
Where it all began. Youth, optimism, the promise of dreams.
All gone now, of course, but Boy is an excellent capture of the above while packing a sardonic punch when it feels like it.
'I Will Follow' is purpose-built to whip up a crowd, and 'Out Of Control' is a magnificent pop song that probably doesn't get enough love.
Boy is messy in the best kind of way, sounding like a first real shot in anger should, and powered by unyielding electricity throughout.
#5. Pop (1997)
Arguably the last time U2 were truly interesting, Pop is... a bit of a mixed bag.
Okay, it's all over the place but hey, they tried!
The clash of styles on Pop is so jarring that U2 almost get away with it. 'If Only God Will Send His Angels' really has no business being here, and likely gets generally overlooked for that reason.
'Do You Feel Loved' boasts sharp industrial touches. 'Mofo' belongs on the soundtrack to The Matrix. 'Staring at the Sun' is lovely. 'Discotheque' is absolutely astonishing, the kind of arch pop adventure that you'd beg the band to try their hand at these days.
Wait, hang on, they had a go. Never mind. Move on...
#4. War (1983)
War is a powerhouse of an album, one that's constantly moving forward, searching out new worlds to conquer.
'Sunday Bloody Sunday' remains nothing short of towering, while 'New Year's Day' is elegant and beautiful, the type of truly great U2 song that you pull out of the bag when someone slags them off for the sake of it.
War admittedly suffers from a common U2 problem; the back half meanders and loses focus, but the likes of 'Red Light' and 'Two Hearts Beat as One' have enough about them to justify the journey.
#3. Zooropa (1993)
Ah, Zooropa. Hated, misunderstood, often quite brilliant.
If you find contemporary U2 bland and safe, that's because you know what they're capable of if they sacrificed mass market demands in favour of satisfying their inner avant-garde artiste.
Where to start? The title track does a stellar job of inviting you into the strangest world U2 chose to share with the universe, but the delightful oddity that is 'Lemon' goes some way to summing up this wild affair.
Look, it's not for everyone, that much has been made clear over time. It's entirely understandable why U2 seek to protect the empire they worked so hard to establish, but we could really use another Zooropa before all is said and done.
#2. The Joshua Tree (1987)
An absolute embarrassment.
OF RICHES, that is!
Let's start with the obvious - 'Where The Streets Have No Name' is one of the all-time greatest openers to an album ever.
Every song here is a shout for the ultimate 'Best Of', and there's a certain magic about 'With or Without You' that might well be otherworldly. It's so simple, yet so vast all at once. You've heard it hundreds of times, and yet you still find something new.
This is U2 operating at the peak of their powers - 'Exit' is a strange, brilliant beast - and despite yet another case of obvious front-loading, The Joshua Tree is perhaps their most complete, realised narrative.
#1. Achtung Baby (1991)
Well of bloody course Achtung Baby takes the gold medal.
Were it not for the release of My Bloody Valentine's iconic Loveless in the same year, Achtung Baby would likely be the knee-jerk go-to for the Best Irish Album Ever crown (honourable mention to Whipping Boy's Heartworm).
Inventive, daring, fearless, creative, artful, influential, unique.
Achtung Baby is all of these things, and a good deal more, too.
Clip via U2VEVO
Whether you crave razor-sharp pop hooks ('The Fly'), clever experimentation ('Zoo Station'), rousing infection ('Mysterious Ways'), aggressive showmanship ('Even Better Than The Real Thing') or the kind of power ballad that feels instantly timeless ('One'), Achtung Baby has it.
A masterpiece of reinvention, U2's seventh album is their very best.
Here's to another 14 more?