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People hate U2. OK, people hate a lot of bands. Out of the other Great Artists we’ve covered in this feature, though, U2 elicit ire more than others. Neil Young, Pink Floyd, Talking Heads, and the Stones? Maybe they’re not your thing, but nobody hates those guys, right? And maybe you dislike Springsteen, maybe even strongly, but it’s not like he actively evokes anger from you, right? At worst, these bands might bug you because you’ve heard “Start Me Up” 1,000 too many times, or because classic rock radio will never let “Money” go. That’s all just an annoyance, though, a gnat — so maybe you’re indifferent. You recognize these were important artists, you can appreciate what they achieved in the abstract, and sometimes it’s cool when they come on the radio and sometimes it’s not. That’s the most severe dismissal I’ve heard of those bands. U2, on the other hand, is a rare case: all empirical evidence points to them being one of the most beloved and lauded bands ever, and yet bringing them up in conversation seems to yield a groan or an eyeroll or a sneer as often as it does enthusiasm. U2 pisses people off.

To a certain extent, the blame falls on Bono. For whatever reason — and I don’t really know what year this finally snapped — a lot of people do not seem to have much patience for him, even as any concert video will show there’s got to be an insane amount of people somewhere out in the world who still very much adore him. He is an odd figure to still be so in the forefront of our pop-culture consciousness. He’s a rock god from the era where that archetype was breathing its dying gasp, soon to be dressed up or transposed into theoretically fame-averse alt-rockers, or a host of indie-rockers who didn’t have the wide-eyed ambitions to be monolithic, even if the music culture landscape hadn’t shifted and fragmented to the point where there couldn’t be another Bono anyway. Maybe it’s precisely because of that rock god status: as a rockstar in the ’80s, he was like the younger brother of all these other Greats, which results in a sort of peacocking. Once someone puts you in the conversation about those artists, you must feel an immense pressure to prove that you deserve to stay there.

What it boils down to is probably that people find this behavior preachy. That Bono seems too conscious of pop history and his solidified place within it. That Bono’s and U2′s self-awareness of their sheer magnitude reads as smug satisfaction. This seems to be exacerbated when they still try to pass themselves off as being in awe, as having those “aw shucks” moments about how a little bar band in Ireland wound up here. It feels neighborly when Springsteen talks about playing gigs on the Jersey Shore; it feels mythic when the Stones talk about their early club days. For some reason, it comes across as too carefully plotted when U2 indulge in similar reminiscences.

I don’t hate U2. I like them a lot, or else I wouldn’t have spent all the time it took to compile this list. Bono seems like an alright guy to me. They were, and probably still are, one of my favorite bands. But even I have grown weary of the band’s presentation, and it feels like it’s rooted in the fact that when U2 talk about themselves it no longer feels connected to reality. Sure, people might hate U2 specifically because Bono grates on their nerves, but what it feels like we’re really dealing with here is fatigue. Since their ascendance, U2 has never not been popular. They have always been present, almost always been ubiquitous. These other Greats, they broke up, or had long hiatuses, or their careers ebbed and flowed. U2, even now when they take five years between albums, still seem omnipresent. They still make new music a lot of people pay attention to, and their last tour was the highest grossing, ever, of anybody. If you don’t adjust for inflation, their tour record surpassed the Stones’ by about $200 million.

I mean, I’d certainly be in awe of that, but I also haven’t spent my entire adult life as a celebrity. People have known U2 for over thirty years now. You’ve known them longer than I’ve been alive. The cumulative effect seems to be that when U2 talk about their legacy, or their early lives, it feels like self-mythologizing in process, like they’re actively feeding you the legend of U2. I obviously think a lot of U2′s music is great, but it also makes sense why, after three straight decades of all U2 all the time, people might be feeling a bit worn out. In the Counting Down feature on Springsteen, I remarked on how his comparatively inactive ’90s meant that when he returned in the ’00s, it was triumphant. He was a living, functioning legend, and maybe you dislike him, but then there’s this whole big mass of people who unwaveringly, ardently love the guy. I love U2 as well, but it’s a mitigated love. It doesn’t feel like you can trust U2 in the same way. Even their “comeback” moments were from albums or tours that might’ve been disappointments for them, but still outstripped the cultural footprint or commercial success of almost any other artist in existence. They’re playing at a totally different level, but it also feels like they spend too much time controlling all of that. Especially since 2000: you get an album every four or five years, but U2 is somehow always there, so it begins to feel more like you’re just interacting with a distant icon. Sometimes it feels as if they’re hardly in the music business anymore. They’re in the empire business, but their version of that story’s a lot more placid than Walter White’s.

For me, this article comes at something of a wearied time in my life as a U2 fan. They released No Line on the Horizon in 2009, an album that was not as groundbreaking as promised, and proceeded to talk about an immediate follow-up, to be titled Songs of Ascent, that instantly sounded more intriguing. That dragged on for about two years, no album. Then the talk started up about going back into the studio, and that the band had three possible projects in the works: a rock album (this sounded boring), a “club music” album where they’d collaborate with RedOne and (this sounded horrifying), and, the one they eventually pursued, with Danger Mouse producing (this, I’ll cautiously say, sounds intriguing). There was definitely going to be an album in 2012, then there was definitely going to be one in 2013, and now Bono says he’d “like to think” there will be a U2 album in 2014. It’s hard to keep believing them, after a five year slog of fake-outs still lacking results. And if you lose faith in one part, others follow, and U2 is not a band that translates well if you don’t believe. In the 20th anniversary piece for Zooropa, and in entries on this list, I make the argument that U2 needs to stop calculating so much about remaining at a certain level of popularity. I’m totally onboard with the idea of them being the biggest band in the world, but I think we’re all tired of being reminded of their specific intentions towards that. I want them to be mythic, but they need to prove it again. In the meantime, I’ve tried to prove it to myself, digging back into a discography that’s amongst the most important in my life.

Start the Countdown here.

Comments (101)
  1. Finally!!

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  3. The reason people hate U2 can be summarized easily in four words: Get On Your Boots.

    That song is so terrible, its very easy to forget about Sunday Bloody Sunday.

  4. Gotta tell you, I’d put Pop at #1 with a bullet. The rest of this list is spot-on.

  5. There’s a reason why music critics constantly drop the U2 brand name when describing A LOT of new bands and their sounds. These guys were game changers (not so much now), and thanks to The Edge’s ringing guitars, as well as Clayton and Mullen’s driving rhythm section, they have left a permanent mark on all types music today.

    Also, say what you want about U2, but there’s no denying the magical moment that is “Where the Streets Have No Name.”

  6. So am I the only one in the weird minority of people who really like How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, but not really care much for All That You Can’t Leave Behind?

    • you like that?!

    • No you’re not. I sincerly think the songwriing effort on HTDAAB is much better.

    • A bit late to the party here, but I was just realizing this recently. Specifically, I think HTDAAB holds up way better live than ATYCLB – City of Blinding Lights, Love and Peace or Else, Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own, Original of the Species and, yes, even Vertigo are incredible live. Kite, Beautiful Day (duh) and maybe Elevation are the only ATYCLB songs which really grab me in their live iterations.

  7. The only thing you’re wrong about here is Springsteen; he fills me with rage.

    I’ve rolled my eyes plenty of times at U2, but I’ve also loved them since I was able, which started in about 1989 when I first checked Joshua Tree out of our local library, on cassette. Even then I marveled that they’d already been a band for exactly the same amount of time I’d been alive. Nearly 34 years is a long freaking time to stay consistent.

    • AND you included Passengers!!! EXCELLENT. Listening to Miss Sarajevo used to make me cry in an instant; I bought a weird bootlegged copy of it in St. Petersburg, Russia and listened to it on my discman… MEMORIES.

  8. You got the top two correct (easy to do), but All You Can’t Leave Behind and everything since is a snore. And aside from Stay (Faraway So Close) I always found Zooropa unbearable. The early 80s stuff, especially War, should be much higher.

    A big reason that U2 annoys people now is because Bono and the Edge are so full of crap as people. Trying to build the highest building in Ireland that you named after yourself (the U2 Tower!) and trying to build a half-dozen mansions in Malibu like the Edge wants to do, well, that’s just gonna make all your songs about social justice ring horribly false. A lot less fame and wealth would perhaps have made this band less douchey.

    Doesn’t take away from the power of those great early songs though. Let’s face it: U2 circa New Year’s Day, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Pride, I Will Follow, etc. is exactly what every rock band aspires to be, cranking out meaningful, gorgeous anthems. And Achtung Baby was a great reinvention of their sound that still sounds as good today as it did in the 90s. It’s too bad they suck as people but that doesn’t mean the music’s not great.

  9. 1. Achtung Baby
    2. War
    3. Joshua
    4. Unforgettable Fire
    5. All that You Can’t Leave Behind
    6. Boy
    7. October
    8. Rattle and Hum
    9. No Line
    10. Bomb
    11. Zooropa
    12. Pop

    • Stop it.
      1.Achtung Baby
      3.The Joshua tree
      4.All that you can’t leave behind
      5.No line on the horizon
      6.How to dismantle an atomic bomb
      8.The unforgettable fire
      11.Rattle and Him

  10. 1. Pop
    2. That Passengers Things
    3. Rattle & Hum
    4. “Vertigo”
    5. Pop

  11. This list is way too all over the place and not at all correct. First, I will vent putting ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind,’ (really??) at number three, and ahead of so many better albums. It’s completely unforgivable. Your young age is showing, Stereogum. Don’t take on a studded discography like this without fully understanding it’s history and the place that each album deserves within it.

    Although Achtung is a truly classic album, I believe Joshua Tree simply deserves the top spot. This album is an absolute beast of melodic genius, regardless of how overplayed it has become through the years. I’m talkin’ Thriller type genius here for the sake of rock.

    Rattle and Hum is insultingly low and I understand that the reason is probably because it’s basically a live album, but I’d rather you just remove it from the argument rather than kick it to the curb at number nine. This goes back to my Stop Making Sense argument, which you left entirely off your Talking Heads list. If there is ANY live music coming from recorded albums making up an album, then either leave off the table or respect all live albums.

    Unforgettable Fire and War should be top 5 material, somewhere, I don’t care where. Bookmark them with Joshua and Boy. In fact, here’s your true top five:

    1. Joshua Tree
    2. Achtung Baby
    3. War
    4. Unforgettable Fire
    5. Boy

    The rest can be somewhat interchangeable, but not too much. Move Rattle and Hum up a titch. Zooropa can sit outside the top five and put everything they’ve done in the past ten years to the middle of the pack. I think October is one of their weaker albums, although there’s a weird and lovable allegiance to Ireland with it. It was the beginning of their epic sound and a natural progression after Boy. Shit hit the fan after this album with War.

    Pop was good, but over the top. They were tapping the wheel at this point and needed a refresh. This was certainly it, but I’ve always felt it was a slight miss and rather predictable. Still an absolute blast to listen to, and the tour was ridiculously fun.

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    • Agree with every word here.

      One of the weakest of these lists that Gum has put together, in my opinion. Very personal, and why start with all the “people hate U2″ stuff in a ranking of their albums?

    • Agreed, agreed, agreed.

    • Spot on!

      Live albums are tricky, as most are forgettable fan-pleasers and shouldn’t be ranked among studio efforts. However, there are a few (i.e. Stop Making Sense, Rattle & Hum, Frampton Comes Alive, Seconds Out, etc.) that absolutely should be involved in the discussion about an artist’s discography.

      But if that’s the case, do you believe “Under a Blood Red Sky” should be included on here as well?

      • If the purpose of these lists is to leave out live albums as a general rule of thumb, then I think it should be excluded, although for Party Girl alone, I’d be reluctant.

        Rattle & Hum is especially tricky because obviously there is recorded material on it as well as live, but you cannot ignore the originality and energy of the entire production which is the number one goal set for a great album to exist. Not that it should factor in, but this was an outstanding film, too (Just alone, the way he treated ‘Bad’ with The Stones sample thrown in there and the furious passion he sang on ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ is jaw dropping, goose bump inducing, pure theater, and those didn’t even make it to the album) Fact is though, no matter how unique the live material may be, its still live, so it should be factored in as a deal breaker, right?

        I know one things for sure, I listened to Rattle and Hum a helluva lot more that “All You Can’t Leave Behind.” That fact alone puts it at a higher rank for me.

  12. achtung baby is my favorite of theirs, but putting it at #1 makes no sense: the joshua tree is more consistent, evocative and more melodic. it is undoubtedly u2′s grandest artistic statement. it’s got the eno/lanois production as well. shame on you guys.

    and i think i could make a case for zooropa for being the biggest album troll of all time. stereogum isn’t helping that matter.

    • ‘Achtung’ is your favorite for good reason–it really is their best. Kudos to Ryan Leas for putting it at #1 where it belongs. It’s every bit as melodic and beautiful as ‘Joshua,’ but with the added benefits of being weirder and taking more interesting left turns. They did a magnificent job of shaking things up without sacrificing the tunefulness, making ‘Achtung’ their most endearing hour.

      • i agree with much of what you said, but joshua came first, and although half of achtung hits harder than anything on joshua and ends up sounding the way i want u2 to sound like, especially edge’s guitar, i feel that a few songs on achtung could be described as “filler.” now that’s using “filler” extremely loosely, since even “until the end of the world” and “so cruel” on their own are better than anything on all that you can’t leave behind, but just looking at the cover of the joshua tree, i get that FEELING. the feeling like i’ve every one these songs a million times, i would gladly listen to them again, and every single one is perfect. the joshua tree is perfect, but i’m able to enjoy achtung more despite its imperfections.

  13. Swap Pop with All That You Can’t Leave Behind and it’s bob on.

    Achtung Baby! is all killer no filler. To think otherwise is probably listening to it wrong.

  14. Yeah I can’t stand ATYCLB except for “Stuck In a Moment.” I definitely think any number of their records (The Unforgettable Fire, Zooropa, War) are better than that album. That record pretty much inaugurated U2 being a U2 tribute band. I’m surprised you didn’t mention the excellent “Moment of Surrender” from No Line.

  15. All I think about when I hear U2 is poor Snuggles!

  16. Funny story: I was recently at a karaoke party in Manila, and I sang “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (badly), and when I was done, I realized an awed hush had fallen on the room. And then somebody said, “That song was beautiful. What was it?” And I was like, “Uh…” So if you hear that 80′s U2 is blowing up in the Philippines anytime soon, you know who to thank.

  17. Rattle and Hum gets no love! I happen to very much like the gospel version of I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.

    I don’t agree with several placements on the list, but the hardest for me to understand is Achtung Baby’s placement ahead of The Joshua Tree. I am not an Achtung Baby hater; I just really think that The Joshua Tree is considerably better all the way through.

  18. This list is bad and you should feel bad. Boy should be way higher, objectively speaking.

  19. Yowsa, I really don’t get how anyone could put All That You Can’t Leave Behind so high on this list. For me, it was the moment U2 got boring and middle-aged adult contemporary. HOW HOW HOW, could you possibly think this is a better album than War!?
    I don’t see how anything after 1993 could occupy space anywhere in the top 10, but if you want to put Pop on there, I certainly wouldn’t scoff at that.

    Heck, I agree with your How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb critique, but I’d still rather listen to that than All That You Cant’ Leave Behind. Both of those albums are corny adult-contemporary, and I find it hard to see your logic in describing one that way, and not the other.

    But Ok. Your opinion, I get it.
    I’d say:
    1. Achtung Baby
    2. War
    3. Boy
    4. Joshua Tree
    5. Unforgettable Fire
    6. Zooropa

    … after that, luck of the draw.

  20. no way in hell does “rattle and hum” deserve the last spot. there is nothing the band has done since “zooropa” that possibly merits higher placement. the album, although displaying bono at his most pretentious, has aged very well. in my world, “rattle and hum” sits at #3.

  21. I think I reached nuclear levels of frustration with Bono at ATYCLB, when it seemed everyone else was in his spell. I just smelled all the bullshit (the same way I’ve always felt about Jay Z, and which people are starting to come around to now too). Now, I’m kind of over my annoyance, and they’ve settled back into a spot where I can check back on them every now and then. And yes, ATYCLB is ranked way too high. Strong discography, though.

  22. Walk On is still one of my favourite singles of the 2000s.

  23. Look, I got All That You Can’t Leave Behind when I was like 11 and it was one of the first CDs I ever really loved when I was little, but having heard the band’s whole collection now I couldn’t possibly put it in the top 5. Maybe it had some million-dollar (and then some) singles, but I’ve heard them so many times now they just sound cloying. I can still dig “When I Look At The World,” “New York” and “In a Little While” but god help me if I ever have to hear “Stuck In A Moment” again.

    All That You Can’t Leave Behind isn’t U2′s worst album by a long shot, but it’s the best example of their particularly irritating late-career need to be all things to all people. U2′s early-90s reinvention was impressive because they took big risks and brought their audience with them. When they started to lose the plot a little bit with Pop, another course correction was obviously needed, but I think with this record they overcorrected, deciding their best bet was to play it safe and avoid anything that might possibly alienate the average listener.

    Achtung Baby’s still the best… I’d put War at #2.

  24. You don’t get to be one of the biggest bands in the rock n’ roll world for thirty years without having a huge amount of fans AND haters. Once you reach that level of fame, particularly in the internet age, you just can’t have one without the other. They ARE a great band who has consistently written huge songs that get shoved down the throat of pop culture whether pop culture wants it or not. They’ve had a few missteps along the way, and they’ve admitted as much and moved on. But overall, in my lifetime, there are no other rock bands who has been around for so long, with the same members, producing quality music, videos and tours.

    That’s all well and good, and none of means you have to like their music. Art is subjective, and based on the art alone I understand perfectly well that U2 may just not be some peoples “thing”. What I don’t understand is how people can say they dislike U2 because of Bono’s politics or charity work. In fact, it’s stupefying to me that people would dislike him, or them, for those reasons. It’s like, because he’s a famous “rock star” he shouldn’t have opinions, and he certainly shouldn’t speak about them. Or, hey, he’s got money so what is he complaining about? Both of which make ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE. That’s exactly WHEN you should get loud and do some complaining, because you have the clout to get people to LISTEN.

    • Yeah, I agree. We have the most worthless pop stars doing NOTHING but dumbing down our culture. Bono, as annoying as he can sometimes be, is using that celebrity to parlay it into something tangibly good with all of his humanitarian work that has yield objectively stronger results than a majority of politicians in the world (hello govt shutdown). I game for ripping him for being annoying, which he certainly is, but not at the expense of reducing his philanthropic accomplishments.

  25. Everyone is being far too harsh on All That You Can’t Leave Behind. I think third is about right. The top 2 are obvious choices but are in no way interchangeable. Achtung is a far superior album in every way.

    No Line on the Horizon is very underrated by critics and this list alike. It has a weak song or two in the middle but the opening 3 songs alone merit higher placement.

    The early 80′s albums are all great but all so similar it’s sometimes hard to pick between them.

    My list would be

    1. Achtung
    2. Joshua Tree
    3. All you Can’t Leave Behind
    4. Unforgettable Fire
    5. War
    6. No Line On the Horizon
    7. Boy
    8. Zooropa
    9. Pop
    10. October
    11. Rattle and Hum
    12. How to Dismantle

  26. Original Soundtracks 1 and Pop are phenomenally underrated. I have days’ worth of things to say about U2, but that’s one of the important ones.

  27. I think U2 needs to explore the deep album cut aspect of their work. Right now, they present themselves as only the behemoth that they are, basically ignoring or outright apologizing for their deeper more subtle work. When they treat their non-hits and album cuts as second-hand, the audience will respond accordingly. You can’t go bigger than 360, next tour they should go smaller and bring out their deep cuts and vary their setlists. It may hurt their ego to go smaller, but they just need to bite that bullet.

    • They essentially owned up to that during 360, acknowledging that there was just no financial way possible to top that tour. I’d love it if they did as you suggested—take it back down to arenas, vary the show more. It was sort of heartbreaking to hear songs like “Zooropa” and “Your Blue Room” finally resurface only to have a stadium-size audience not really connect. I think we’re all ready to hear deeper cuts these days after how much they’ve stuck to the singles, and down the line maybe smaller venues will let those lesser known songs breathe a bit more.

    • Interesting take. I often make short playlists of songs by various bands I like. They evolve and morph into my state of mind at the time. My U2 lists rarely include the biggest hits and I am drawn to moments of subtlety across their catalogue. The difficulty with live shows for any band as jumbo as U2 is that deviation from the canon leaves (some) ticket holders who have shelled out to hear the greatest hits feeling cheated. Personally, I would love to see a ‘no hits’ show but not holding my breath.

      PS – Fondly revisiting Zooropa as I write. Very satisfying

  28. I was a decent-sized U2 fan from “Unforgettable Fire” through “Achtung Baby” (and yes, I too found most of “Rattle and Hum” obnoxious), but after that I got tired of the fact that they were everywhere, all the time. This list may give me reason to reexamine their catalog. I also think that “Pop” is a pretty amazing album. I remember listening to it a lot when it first came out – part of the attraction, for me, was that it was a solid attempt to try something new and not take themselves too seriously. Their pretentiousness always rubbed me the wrong way, and “Pop” was a fun diversion.

  29. Despite the excellent well-documented analysis, I think there is a generational difference between us. In fact, for my generation over 40 much more rock oriented “The unforgettable fire” is certainly the highest point reached by the band, but I understand that you wanted to reward the more experimental side and the fact (always commendable in an artist) to get back in play

  30. What a strange order. But it’s hard to argue with it since the author wrote so many words supporting it.

  31. Great list, and a great overall understanding of the band in question. That said, I obviously disagree with a few placements, naturally, because I’ve always been such a massive U2 fan, and I’m coming into this with a different set of age-related expectations. I can see why some folks like ATYCLB, but honestly… it’s so completely watered down compared to virtually every album that came before. I’d take October over ATYCLB in a heartbeat. Or Pop. Probably even Rattle and Hum, though I fully understand putting that one last. Latter day U2 is supremely disappointing, sad to say, with HTAaAB as the worst offender of all. Achtung Baby at #1, though: spot on.

  32. A few years back, in DC (during the ‘Vertigo Tour’) – I had the chance to chat with Bono a bit before his show. I had the chance to ask him why “Pop (the album) gets slagged off so much” … he went on for a bit about it wasn’t as polished, etc etc… [I'm paraphrasing a bit here] then I said to him – but that’s what gave “your electronic album” a degree a humanity that would have been completely absent…

    then Bono’s mouth dropped in a total sense of shock, put his hands on my shoulders – stared me dead in the eye said “oh my God, you HAVE to tell the Edge that. I’m not sure if he’s going to come by now, but tell him exactly what you told me”

    … there’s a bit more to the story, but I did get to see Bono doing a SPOT ON Monty Python Impression (the ‘blessed are the cheesemarkers part in “the Life of Brian”) – and I was invited to the ‘after party’ that was at his hotel.

    …what was nuts about the ‘after party’ (after the concert) was how much Bono remembered about specific performances from tours (and well, how much he clearly didn’t want to do the Bono-schtick with the ‘movers and shakers’ at this other event). He asked what shows I’ve seen before, one of them was Baltimore (on the ATYCLB Tour) – as soon as I mentioned that show, he was like “oh yea, we played a different version of “Please” then)…

    this went on through the night, until I was like OK – I have to leave now, before I say something stupid.

  33. I was a HUGE U2 fan as a younger person, but my allegiance to them sort of started fading away after Pop, which actually does deserve more credit than it sometimes gets. For me Unforgettable Fire is the best, but just because of that lovely, cavernous sound Eno got by recording in that castle. Joshua Tree was the one that got me hooked initially – I actually heard it the first time while driving through the desert in the southwest, and it was pretty mind-blowing at the time. I think a lot of people my age just sort of ‘grew out of them’ after the ’90s. Having said that, though, I would agree that All That You Can’t Leave Behind is a solid piece of work, with very good song writing, and good, classic Edge guitar work.

  34. I listened to my Dad’s copy of Hot to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb once and it was so bad it’s gonna take a full 10 years of recovery before I’m able to listen to the good U2 stuff again.

  35. Where The Streets Have No Name
    The Fly
    Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah

  36. My list :

    1 Achtung Baby
    2 Joshua Tree
    3 Boy
    4 War
    5 Pop
    6 Unforgettable Fire
    7 Zooropa
    8 Atomic Bomb
    9 All That You Can’t Leave Behind
    10 No Line

  37. arrrrrrgh. i don’t even LIKE u2 (in theory) but this list is just all fucked up wrong.

  38. Putting “No Line” ahead of “Atomic Bomb” is ridiculous.

    Passengers? Yes.

    Achtung Baby? Of course.

    Dare I say they should only collaborate with Eno on another Passengers album?

    Yes. (Please.)

  39. I’m sorry I thought this was Stereogum, I didn’t realize you changed your name to MOR-pap-gum.

  40. I can’t be the only who thinks Pop is one of U2 better records.

  41. Glad to see Zooropa getting some solid consideration. “Numb” and the Johnny Cash tune were off, but “The First Time” is a top 3 U2 song, and the rest of the record has some nuances that are easily worth the time.

    Thought I’d take Achtung Baby any day over Joshua Tree, I’d argue Joshua Tree still belongs at #1. There’s no way U2 would have been as big as U2 without the Joshua Tree.

    Disappointed with Rattle and Hum’s placement. Yeah, not even really an album, so I never considered it as such, but when you’re a kid and you have no idea who Charles Manson is, Bono was badass singing “Helter Skelter.” “Van Diemen’s Land,” “Heartland,” and “All I Want Is You” are as good as any of the heavy hitters from the previous two albums – certainly better than anything they’ve released since the 90s died, and epic songs for any middle school or high school kid to use to feed that feeling of hope one has in love and the future at such a young age.

  42. Pop at #1 for me.

    when they play it safe, and stick to their formula U2 is just so incredibly bland and samey.

  43. Good list. Pop is criminally underrated – lots of great, classic songwriting there. Strip away the electronics and a lot of the songs are still excellent. And oh so dark.

    I’d still pick Joshua Tree over Achtung Baby. Achtung is awesome, and its middle stretch from “Horses” to “Mysterious Ways” is fantastic, but the stumbles after that with songs that have always muddled together for me. Joshua Tree is great the entire way.

    One quibble: I’m pretty sure you meant to say “unimpeachable” instead of “impeachable” when you wrote about The Joshua Tree’s first three songs…

  44. Nice article but your list is almost upside down(IMHO). As far as the hate goes I think like you stated in your article that the band has never not been successful. One or two less than well received albums is about it. As far as what’s going with them now, they just put out their worst album by far(No Line…) and have kind of turned their back on the die hard fans by putting out overpriced reissues and charging $250.00 for tickets.
    I was a member of their original “Propaganda” club, which was only 20 bucks a year and you got 4 program-type newsletters annually and first crack at concert tickets. They also carried that over to which was free to register at the time and you were able to secure tickets. Now I think the fan club is 50-100 bucks, depending on what level you join. Bono has also been one of the flag wavers for the crooks at Livenation/Ticketmaster. Going against the wishes of Springsteen and many other credible artists. A while later he is championing the rights of artists to get paid for radio play, which is probably what sunk U2′s last release. Having No Doubt and Black Eyed Peas opening for you instead of Public Enemy and Big Audio Dynamite(Zooropa Tour) is also polarizing to the older fans.
    Regardless, Rick Rubin was supposedly going to work with them and I think that would really help. Unfortunately he just wants to collect checks for working with hacks like Kanye and Kid Rock.

    Anyway, here is my list which is close to a lot of others:
    1 Achtung Baby
    2 Joshua Tree
    3 Unforgettable Fire
    4 Pop(most underrated)
    5 Rattle & Hum(studio songs are good)
    6 War
    7 Boy
    8 How To Dismantle…
    9 Zooropa
    10 All That You Can…(Really weak, especially now)
    11 October
    12 No Line…(2 decent songs maybe)
    13 Passengers(not a real release by the band. You might as well add Mission Impossible Theme)

  45. Great and very well done article Ryan. This long time U2 fan is happy with a well balanced perspective on their discography.

  46. a great read, i thoroughly enjoyed this. nice to see a. a bit of u2 love in general and b. some pro-”pop” arguments. pop is absolutely my favourite u2 album and i’ve always been a bit bewildered by the panning. about half the album is absolute gold… even my most cynical hipster mates will admit to enjoying “the playboy mansion”, and “gone”, “if you wear that velvet dress” and “please” are all up there with their best work IMO.

    pretty happy with the order overall tbh. i’d bump zooropa down a bit and pop up obviously but yeah. good to see ATYCLB do well… it may have been a little disappointingly safe but it is one of the tightest sets they’ve ever put together.

    • Pop is the thing that I make my hipster friends listen to before making their final ruling on the band. Also my favorite album. The four songs that you mentioned are some of the best (Please is my #1 [although the single version is better]). I would add; A song like Staring at the Sun is a great example of the depth of the album. The bridge in that song is amazing! Miami is brash and fun and groovy, too. I can’t take serious any fan that does not have Pop in their top 5.

  47. U2 is sort of like Log Cabin Syrup. A little is great. But when you start drinking it out of the bottle it doesn’t taste good. Drinking out of bottle=listening to their albums/a little bit=putting some on Eggo waffles=listening to the big hits on the radio.

  48. It’s interesting how fans of the band can have such polarising views – I can’t put Rattle and Hum that low. October, Passengers, Atomic Bomb and No Line would all go below. But I truly love Pop and Zooropa.
    And it’s fascinating how different songs resonate with different people. Sometime You Can’t Make It … is one of my very favourites, while I wouldn’t consider Until The End of The World in the top 20, let alone arguably their best.
    No Line was a misstep – apart from Unknown Caller, I find it hard to listen to. It’s cold and distant.
    Finally.. you can’t say the gospel rendition of Still Haven’t Found doesn’t go anywhere when it goes directly to heaven, one-way.

  49. I would really like U2 if someone other than Bono was their singer, but as it is I just have a very hard time enjoying their music. That being said, Achtung Baby is a pretty killer album. It’s basically the anti Joshua Tree.

  50. Wow, this is beautifully thought out and written. No, I don’t entirely agree with the list (move “Pop” up, move “ATYCLB” way, way down), but what wonderfully considered arguments. Should be required reading not just for U2 fans (to debate), but for U2 (before they release another album).

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