“I Will Follow,” the kickoff cut from the debut album by Irish whiz kids U2, is a beguiling, challenging, perfect single. With its racing-pulse beat, tinkling percussion and mantra-simple chorus of dogged affection (“If you walkaway, walkaway/I walkaway, walkaway — I will follow”), it’s already a dance-floor favorite.
Unfortunately, much of the rest of Boy doesn’t quite equal that first vital piece of precocity. U2 plays smart, bass-heavy trance-pop, urged on by the earnest vocal emoting of Bono Vox and enlivened by the ringing accents of the versatile guitarist who calls himself the Edge. But their songs — mostly chronicles of psychic growing pains — are a diffuse and uneven lot. “Out of Control” boasts the same heady rumble as “I Will Follow,” while “Stories for Boys” is carried by its B-movie guitar line and soaring youthful harmonies. Other tunes, however, are less successful. “An Cat Dubh” and the seemingly interminable “Shadows and Tall Trees” ramble without resolution, neither coalescing into identifiable hooks nor attaining the seductive atmospherics of, say, Echo and the Bunnymen.
Hopefully, U2 may yet justify Island’s hyped-up optimism. With the help of creative producer Steve Lillywhite, they’ve already blended echoes of several of Britain’s more adventurous bands into a sound that’s rich, lively and comparatively commercial. And, unlike the real innovators, they’ll have the tour support to back it up. U2 is talented, charming and potentially (they’re all still under twenty-one) exceptional. But as a new Next Big Thing, they’re only the next best thing to something really new.