U2 – The Unforgettable Fire (1984): Review

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Produced by Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno
Label – Island

For all its passionate glory, “Pride (In The Name Of Love)” was a misleading promotional sample and single in terms of signaling the musical direction for U2’s fourth long player. The homage to Martin Luther King Jr. was deservedly a U.K. top ten single, however it’s a reflection of their previous three records, particularly 1983’s politically charged U.S. breakthrough, “War”. “The Unforgettable Fire” sees a development of themes built on atmospheric layers, challenging the listener by removing the muscular force and replacing it with melodies filled with interleaved synth lines, strings and multi tracked guitar. The subtle alchemy is due in part to the production team of Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, masters of creating mood based themes, matched by the band’s deliberate instinct to shift away from their post punk roots. Whilst most of the album gains strength from its seemingly carefully concocted wall of swirling patterns of sound, there are times where the quality of the material doesn’t fully realize the grand scheme. Bono’s unprepared lyrics (recorded in five minutes) for “Elvis Presley And America”, make for a meandering, incomplete listening experience. “4th Of July” may have weighty instrumental aspirations, but U2 are better when they’re conveying some kind of message, rather than indulging themselves in sludgy ambience.

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However, much of “The Unforgettable Fire” is a finely envisioned album, showing U2 as a group unafraid to broaden their musical horizons. The choice of Lanois and Eno to direct proceedings is critical, as they help create a collection that is unrecognizable from previous recordings. Bono’s vocals for example are a notch lower in both raucous emotion and the finished mix, and yet retain the same level of spirit. Indeed, the title track (the band’s first truly outstanding song), sees the singer deliver his most extraordinary performance as he confidently rises through the octaves to an alluring arrangement that defines dramatic classic rock. “Pride (In The Name Of Love)” is a sparkling impassioned hit and an obvious single, “A Sort Of Homecoming” is carefully structured, and an ambitious song to use as an album opener, but it actually works well. Other highlights include “Wire”, “Promenade” and “Bad” which all show the band’s attempt to stretch themselves, and would become a familiar theme for the next decade and beyond.

Although flawed, “The Unforgettable Fire” affirms U2’s position as superior rock realists who understand progression. They have matured and delivered an intriguing record that’s carefully crafted, and remains astutely accessible.

8/10

Track Rating
1 – A Sort Of Homecoming (8)
2 – Pride (In The Name Of Love) (9)
3 – Wire (8)
4 – The Unforgettable Fire (10)
5 – Promenade (8)
6 – 4th Of July (6)
7 – Bad (8)
8 – Indian Summer Sky (7)
9 – Elvis Presley And America (6)
10 – MLK (7)

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6 responses to “U2 – The Unforgettable Fire (1984): Review

  1. Love your album reviews… The Unforgettable Fire- as you say- flawed- I agree with that- but it was with that album that I first thought- “These boys are headed for big places.” You could just feel the momentum building…

      • It’s probably good to review any band’s career in that manner, especially the ones that we’re not big fans of.
        The Beatles of course provide a fascinating journey of how band (and popular music for that matter!) evolves over time.
        I’ve enjoyed revisiting Pepper this week on its 50th anniversary!

      • It’s still worthy of the praise it gets 50 years on! Isn’t that incredible for a record to still be so revered after half a century!

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