From the beginning, U2 aspired to profound ecstasy. But it took Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. a while to get there. Two of U2's first three albums are undeniable classics: 1980's precociously magnificent Boy for its proudly spiritual optimism in the thick of post-punk nihilism and for the Edge's reveille-treble guitar; 1983's War for its arena-rock muscle tone (honed over three years of touring) and the matured blend of soldier's ardor and pop wile in the singles "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "New Year's Day." But those albums were transitional achievements on the way to the complete victory of The Joshua Tree and U2's brassy Berlin-techno makeover on Achtung Baby, and the second discs in these deluxe reissues — including the rushed, middle runt of the litter, 1981's October — are honest, thoughtfully programmed evidence that, contrary to sainted-teen myth, U2 were as fallible as the next Dublin garage band. They were also too impatient to wait for greatness to come to them. The pre-LP singles on Disc Two of Boy (including early versions of "Out of Control" and "Stories for Boys") are promising but leaden: In the studio, Clayton and Mullen are a backbeat, not yet a rhythm section, and Bono's singing is more passionate than exact. But the band sounds hotter and tougher in Marquee Club takes of "Boy-Girl" and "11 O'Clock Tick Tock," developing a stage power that blooms in the live and BBC-session tracks dominating October's second disc. Those extras make October a fuller experience. And while the original LP, made by a band short on songs and temporarily divided by faith (Bono, the Edge and Mullen had joined a maverick Christian sect), still lacks Boy's rich bravado, "Gloria," "I Fall Down" and Bono's repeated cries of "What am I to do?" in "Rejoice" are exciting in their open-heart despair. In comparison, War is a reunion album, a record of bonded purpose and empathic rock theater. U2 sound like stars, not aspirants, ready for their money shot: the 1983 Red Rocks Amphitheatre video of "Sunday Bloody Sunday." Notably, most of War's bonus tracks are long dance remixes of "New Year's Day" and "Two Hearts Beat As One" — as if the band already can't wait to get to Berlin.
From The Archives Issue 341: April 16, 1981