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Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Rewind: 1983 - War - U2

War - U2
Island Records
Produced by Steve Lilywhite
Released 28th February 1983
UK Chart #1
US Chart #12

Side 1

Side 2

Singles on War

Released 1st January 1983
UK Chart #10
US Chart #53

Released 21st March 1983
UK Chart #18
US Chart #108

Sunday Bloody Sunday was also released as a single in some parts of Europe (like Germany and The Netherlands). Endless Deep or Two Hearts Beat As One was on the B-Side though the 12" in The Netherlands had Sunday Bloody Sunday on the A-Side and Two Hearts (a US Remix) and New Year's Day on the B-Side.
Released 21st March 1983
Dutch Chart #16

 40 (How Long) / Two Hearts Beat As One
Germany Only Double A-Side Promo Single


War, the third studio album from Ireland's U2 was a very different beast to their second album October (which to some was considered a major disappointment). Steve Lilywhite broke his normal rule of not working with a band more than two times and came back to produce what is seen as one of the band's finest albums.

The album knocked Michael Jackson's Thriller off the top of the charts to become the band's first #1 album in the UK (it actually entered the charts at the top position) and also gave them a much deserved hit in the USA as they had worked hard at "breaking" the US market through extensive touring beforehand and on the War Tour that was to follow (supported by up and coming Welsh band The Alarm) they would begin playing much bigger venues.

The theme of the album was different to the first two albums which had dealt with issues of growing up and spirituality, on this one they would be at their most overt politically dealing with both the physical and emotional aftermath of warfare in its various guises throughout the world as they saw it.

In an interview with Adrian Thrills for the NME Bono said, "A lot of the songs on our last album were quite abstract, but War is intentionally more direct, more specific. But you can still take the title on a lot of different levels. We're not only interested in the physical aspects of war. The emotional effects are just as important, 'the trenches dug within our hearts'. People have become numb to violence. Watching the television, it's hard to tell the difference between fact and fiction. One minute you see something being shot on The Professionals, and the next you see someone falling through a window after being shot on the news. One is fiction and one is real life, but we're becoming so used to the fiction that we become numb to the real thing. War could be the story of a broken home, a family at war."

The album opens with Sunday Bloody Sunday, and man is it a powerful way to start an album! The almost military style beat of Larry's drums, the violin played by Steve Wickham (who The Edge had met at a bus stop and had asked if the band required any violin on their latest recording!) and the lyrics and that amazing guitar riff penned by The Edge set the tone for one of U2's most ardent protest songs ever regarding The Troubles and the violence of the IRA and British Soldiers in Northern Ireland! It was released as a single in Germany and The Netherlands

Seconds deals with the issue of Nuclear weapons and whether or not that armageddon could occur via an accident! When you think today that the nuclear codes are in the hands of one Donald Trump who on his best day is not the most stable of men then it makes a song like this even more pertinent! The Edge takes lead vocal on this one.

New Year's Day followed and what begun as Adam trying to figure out the bass line for Fade to Grey by Visage became this iconic opening for a song that had begun as a love song to Ali Hewson (Bono's wife) broadened out to embrace events that were happening in Poland with the whole issue of the Solidarity Movement. In the same interview quoted above for the NME Bono said of the song, "It would be stupid to start drawing up battle lines, but I think the fact that 'New Year's Day' made the Top Ten indicated a disillusionment among record buyers. I don't think 'New Year's Day' was a pop single, certainly not in the way that Mickie Most might define a pop single as something that lasts three minutes and three weeks in the chart. I don't think we could have written that kind of song." Released on New Year's Day in 1983 as a single it would become their first Top 10 single in the UK and their first US charting single.

Two Hearts Beat As One was another track that was released as a single and reached #18 in the UK but didn't do too well in the USA (reaching #101).

The closing track 40 was laid down in the studio during the final hours of recording the album. Adam had already left for the day and so The Edge plays both guitar and bass parts (in concert Adam would play guitar and The Edge the bass for this show closer) and along with Bono and Larry who thought the album didn't have such a strong closing song crafted this little song based around Psalm 40.

The album was titled War for several reasons; in the same interview already quoted from the NME in 1983, Bono said, "War seemed to be the motif for 1982," adding that "Everywhere you looked, from the Falklands to the Middle East and South Africa, there was war. By calling the album War we're giving people a slap in the face and at the same time getting away from the cosy image a lot of people have of U2." The Edge said that "It's a heavy title. It's blunt. It's not something that's safe, so it could backfire. It's the sort of subject matter that people can really take a dislike to. But we wanted to take a more dangerous course, fly a bit closer to the wind, so I think the title is appropriate."

Music Press Reaction To War
Upon its release, several reviews were negative in the United Kingdom. Gavin Martin of NME made a parallel between 1980's Boy and War, stating that "where Boy shone and flowed War is dull and static, and where Boy propelled lucid pellets of fire and imagination War cranks out blank liberal awareness"; he felt that after the single "New Year's Day", which he considered as "their finest single since "I Will Follow", War "declines quite dramatically", ultimately calling the album "another example of rock music's impotence and decay". Sounds shared a similar point of view, recognising that the two singles were "by far the strongest tracks" on War, but that "for the remainder, they are a (dejected sounding) mixture of the incomplete, the experimental (in the simplest sense) and the plain sub-standard."

Rolling Stone published a favourable review, with critic J. D. Considine stating: "Generally, the album's musical strengths are largely the product of well-honed arrangements and carefully balanced dynamics. Even as the Edge spins increasingly sophisticated guitar lines, he maintains the minimalist bluntness that sparked Boy. And while bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. have swung to more dance-oriented rhythms, their songs hurtle along with the sort of brusque purposefulness more frequently associated with punk." Considine added: "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. For once, not having all the answers seems a bonus." (I think I would seriously have to question whether these songs stand up to anything that's on London Calling!)

Bonus U2 Live On The War Tour
 And probably their most famous show of the whole War Tour due to its release on Video:

5th June 1983

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