So, friends, here we are again to determine whether you need to purchase the latest entry in Island’s U2 remastering series. First a question; what kind of U2 fan are you? Casual or committed? If it’s the latter, you probably need to read further only to enjoy the beautiful prose. You’re going to buy this. Hell, you were probably at the store on Tuesday morning to grab the first copy. It’s the casual fan who needs to make a decision. I’ll try to help you out.
In March, 1984, U2 gathered at Slane Castle in Ireland to begin recording their fourth studio album. The sessions marked their first collaboration with producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. Together, they would create one of the most unique and recognizable sounds in the history of rock and roll. The Unforgettable Fire (Island Records) is the album that marked the beginning of U2’s rocket ride to the top of the world. Propelled by the massive hit “Pride (In the Name of Love),” the band approached the peak of their anthemic glory, a destination at which they would arrive with their next album, The Joshua Tree.
The music will be familiar to most people. In addition to “Pride,” “Bad,” “A Sort of Homecoming,” and the title track have entered the public consciousness over the years. Yes, the remastering, guided by the Edge, does make a difference. There’s a newfound clarity to the recordings, and more separation between the instruments. Larry Mullen’s drumming has been brought to the forefront, and seems more crisp and powerful. The Edge’s guitar chimes more brightly, and Bono may be at his most passionate here.
What a reissue really needs, though, is bonus features, and depending on the level of your bank account and interest, you can purchase The Unforgettable Fire in four different configurations. At the top of this pyramid is the “Limited Edition Box Set,” which features:
* The remastered album and a bonus audio CD with b-sides, previously unreleased material, live tracks, and remixes
* A DVD with videos of four songs from the album, a 30-minute documentary about the making of The Unforgettable Fire, and live footage from several concerts, including Live Aid in 1985
* A 56-page hardcover book with liner notes from the Edge, Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois, and others
* Five photographic prints
The Unforgettable Fire is an important album in U2’s progression from Dublin punks to stadium-filling megastars. It’s on this album that they found the sound that would propel them to the stratosphere. The remastering has improved the sound. The bonus audio CD material is interesting, if not crucial. The live tracks come from the previously released Wide Awake in America EP, released in 1985. There are two previously unheard songs, one an instrumental, but neither did much for me except to demonstrate why they were previously unheard. Among the B-sides and remixes, Daniel Lanois’ remix of “A Sort of Homecoming” completely changes the nature of the song, bringing a world music flavor to the proceedings. I liked the Celtic Dub remix of “Wire” as well, and I’d never say no to the extended single version of “Pride” that’s included among the bonus tracks.
The videos and documentary were previously on the VHS release The Unforgettable Fire Collection. This is the first appearance for the videos on DVD. The documentary also appears on the 2003 DVD release U2 Go Home: Live From Slane Castle. As far as I can tell, this is the first collection of the live footage on DVD, which in addition to the two songs from the Live Aid set features three songs from the Conspiracy of Hope concert that took place at Giants Stadium in New Jersey in 1986, and a “bootleg video” of “11 O’Clock Tick Tock” from Croke Park in Ireland in 1985.
I saved the live video for last, and I must say it was something of a revelation. Of particular interest were the changes in the band from Wembley in 1985 to Giants Stadium a little less than a year later. At Wembley there was still some of that tough Dublin youth left in them. Mullets abounded. Leather pants were tucked into high-heeled boots, and you could still see the top of the Edge’s head. There’s a wonderfully moving moment as Bono picks out one face from the sea of people in front of him and tries to bring her on stage, to the consternation of the security force. He gestures frantically. The problem is, the stage is ten feet high, or more. She can’t get there, so Bono goes to her. He leaps off the stage, pulls her over the barricades, and wraps her in an embrace. The band is playing, the crowd is going crazy. It’s just one of those moments. By the time the Conspiracy of Hope show rolled around, U2 were masters of the world. They are at their peak musically, and they were strutting their stuff the way a great rock and roll band does. Bono is the living embodiment of Jim Morrison, all buckskin fringe and leonine mane of hair. The Edge has a hat, and we never saw his head again.