With the 25th anniversary reissue of U2’s The Unforgettable Fire due out tomorrow, the album’s producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois spoke with Pitchfork about working on the band’s much-anticipated follow-up to War. At the time, the move was a risky one for both artist and producers: U2 were coming off a hit album, and while Eno had worked on a handful of Talking Heads records, he was in an ambient frame of mind when Bono came calling.
“I had this phone call with Bono — he is the greatest salesman of all time, you have to bear that in mind — where I said to him, look, what I’m worried about is that I might change things rather unrecognizably,” Eno told Pitchfork. “People might not particularly like the new you that comes out of this. And he said, well, actually we want to be changed unrecognizably. We don’t want to just keep repeating what we’ve done before.”
Eno’s cohort at the time was Lanois, who collaborated with the Another Green World mastermind as an engineer on albums like Ambient IV: On Land and Thursday Afternoon. Lanois was interested in becoming a rock & roll producer, and Eno lobbied for U2 to give relatively inexperienced Lanois the Unforgettable gig. In the end, both Eno and Lanois co-produced Unforgettable Fire, which featured hits like “Pride (In the Name of Love)” and our readers’ favorite U2 song, “Bad.” Some combination of Eno and Lanois have gone on to feature on every U2 album with the exception of Rattle and Hum and Pop.
“We had very few tools, and there were no outside influences. We were huddled up as a team, and we got what we got because of what we brought to the table,” Lanois says. “Part of me likes a more ragged, jagged guitar sound or performance, but our work might not have been as innovative had we followed in the footsteps of what came before. We were very proud of what we had hit on.”
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