U2 War (Island)
The U2 Catalog
Reviewed by Michael Bertin, Fri., March 30, 2001
War (Island)Some of rock & roll's greatest moments -- Who's Next, Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols, Nevermind -- are borne of pure anger. The instances where the desire to subvert or to simply scream get captured so perfectly on tape are so rare and so potent that they usually define new directions of the genre as a whole. That's why 18 years later, War is one of U2's most vital and enduring recordings. For the band, it documents the last instant of rage before time would push them into maturity. For rock music, it made safe the reintroduction of politics into pop music. From the opening track of "Sunday, Bloody Sunday," the band's youthful idealism clashes with the grown-up world of geopolitics and does so unapologetically. War is the work of four people, no longer kids but not yet adults, who are still dumb enough to believe that rock & roll could change the world. Sure, there were the moderate radio hits of "New Year's Day," and "Sunday Bloody Sunday," but the truth is that most powerful material from the record never made it to the airwaves. On "Like a Song," drummer Larry Mullen Jr. does his best Stewart Copeland, laying down a driving foundation over which the Edge rips open a fury of double stops and angry, disjointed arpeggios, while Bono belts out lines like: "And we love to wear a badge, a uniform. And we love to fly a flag, but I won't let others live in hell as we divide against each other, and we fight amongst ourselves." On paper now, the words look corny, but to hear them sung almost 20 years later -- long after Reagan and Thatcher have stepped off the world's stage, long after the omnipresent threat of nuclear war has seemingly subsided, long after the Iron Curtain has fallen, long after the motives for U2's early anger have almost all disappeared -- is still moving. It's not their best songwriting. It's not their best arranging. But the performance kindles something so primal and visceral about rock music that it's an essential chapter in the history of U2 and rock & roll in general.