Since today’s the 25th anniversary of the release of U2’s War album, I thought I’d post the diary entry for February 28, 1983. This is from the completed and edited manuscript, so should be exactly as it will appear in print later this year. This is also one of those entries that begins with a live date, thus the opening line about playing in Edinburgh.
– Playhouse Theatre, Edinburgh, with the Nightcaps.
U2 releases its third studio album, War, produced by Steve Lillywhite. It features Peter Rowen on the cover, reprising his role from the Boy album. But the innocence of the first cover is replaced on War with a photo that shows the child scarred and afraid. The music is louder and more aggressive than the band’s first two albums, and sounds nothing like the smooth pop and synthesizer artists that are taking over the charts. War sees U2 addressing the world around them more directly than ever. In addition to ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’, songs like ‘Seconds’, ‘New Year’s Day’ and ‘The Refugee’ are grounded in Cold War and conflict, hardly the subject matter of most songs on the radio at the time.
Bono explains the “uncool” War
“It was incredibly uncool to make this record, and it completely freaked out most people – Geldof being one of them. I remember Geldof saying, ‘What are you at? I mean, this is pop music we’re talking about, and you’re taking on these ideas.’ All these people – Sting. They were doing the do-do-do-do/de-da-da-das! So this was a break, this was not cool – for a band to take this position.”
War debuts at number one in the UK, U2’s first chart-topping album. It debuts at number 91 in the US, and eventually climbs as high as number 12.
Reviews for the album are very positive. “U2 may not be great intellectuals,” writes J.D. Considine in his four-star Rolling Stone album review, “and War may sound more profound than it really is. But the songs here stand up against anything on The Clash’s London Calling in terms of sheer impact, and the fact that U2 can sweep the listener up in the same sort of enthusiastic romanticism that fuels the band’s grand gestures is an impressive feat.”
“It is a major leap forward,” says Liam Mackey in Hot Press, “conceptually and technically, quickly persuading this listener to the view that it totally eclipses their previous two albums. I’ll even go a step further and proclaim War, among the major albums of the last few years.”
But Sounds magazine isn’t convinced: “War suggests a tired U2, a U2 that perhaps hasn’t quite sorted out the variances between live and recorded rock music.”
Tracks: ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’, ‘Seconds’, ‘New Year’s Day’, ‘Like A Song’, ‘Drowning Man’, ‘The Refugee’, ‘Two Hearts Beat As One’, ‘Red Light’, ‘Surrender’, ’40’