The Super (and Uber) Deluxe editions of U2’s brilliant 1991 album Achtung Baby are nearly upon us! With the release date for these massive box sets just a week away (see here for details), we thought now would be a good time to reflect back on the singles pulled from the album. Which ones are just as great as the record they come from, and which ones are a bit of a let down? Our guest blogger, James Eldred from The Lost Turntable, takes a look to find out.
The Fly debuted a month before Achtung Baby, and its industrial, beat-driven sound served as a portent to the bold new direction the band would be embracing on the album. It was so bold that a lot of fans probably didn’t know how to react to it upon its release, a fact that shows in its lacklustre performance in the US, where it didn’t even crack the Billboard Top 50 (it still hit number one in the UK, however). And as if the song itself wasn’t sign enough that Achtung Baby would not be another Joshua Tree, then it’s strange b-sides probably were. The mostly-instrumental Alex Descends Into Hell For a Bottle Of Milk/Korova 1 was actually from the Royal Shakespeare company’s score for A Clockwork Orange and was unlike anything the band ever released before, and The Lounge Fly Mix took The Fly and made it even more beat-heavy, almost removing the guitars completely until the very end. It’s not the best single from Achtung Baby, but it’s probably the most daring.
If The Fly brought to the table the bold new sound that U2 was embracing on Achtung Baby, then Mysterious Ways served as an introduction as to how that sound could be shaped into a superb dance track. Twenty years later, Mysterious Ways remains one of those tracks that can always get you on your feet. It’s so full of energy and life, and it’s just downright fun, something that U2 rarely was before. It’s a testament to the power of the track that its singles don’t feature any b-sides, just remixes of the song. There were eight remixes for the song total, most of which were done by members of the soon-to-be-huge big beat act Apollo 440. They range from drastic downtempo reworkings to club-friendly dance mixes, and all are excellent and surprising; each masterfully transforming the song into something different while still retaining the original’s power and enthusiasm. If I had to pick a best from the bunch, it would probably by Oakenfold’s Perfecto Mix, which amps up the trippiness of the original version in (mysterious) ways that would eventually be known as the trademarks of Goa Trance.
Leave it U2 to follow-up what many considered to be one of the best singles of the year with a track that many still think is one of the greatest songs of all-time. And since the single was for charity (with all the proceeds going to AIDS research) the band really did their best to stack it with must-listen tracks. The amazing Lady With The Spinng Head (UV1) is a great combination of slick guitar riffs and throbbing dance beats, much in the vein of Mysterious Ways, and its similarity to that track is probably the only thing that kept if off the Achtung Baby album. Rounding things out are the two best covers from the Achtung Baby recordings; an odd beat-leaden take of Cole Porter’s Night And Day (which had appeared in original form on the 1990 Red Hot + Blue AIDS-benefit compilation album but is presented here as a Steel String Remix) and a very faithful rendition of Lou Reed’s Satellite Of Love.
It’s my favorite track from Achtung Baby, and if you ask me, it also the best single. Not only does it feature a great extended remix of the One b-side Lady With The Spinning Head but it also includes the amazing demo Where Did It All Go Wrong and Salome, a b-side that’s honestly better than most of the tracks on the album proper, thanks to a funky bassline that’s eerily reminiscent of Billy Squire’s Everybody Wants You. There was also a remix-only single for Even Better Than The Real Thing with re-arrangements by the Apollo 440 guys and Paul Oakenfold’s Perfecto project. They’re all pretty much perfect, but a standout of the bunch is once again brought to us by Oakenfold, this time with his Sexy Dub Mix. Horrible name aside, it’s a drastic take on the original that removes Bono’s vocals completely and replaces them with a powerful performance by an unnamed house diva. It redefines the song completely, instantly transforming it into a stellar dance tune that would fit right in at any early-’90s warehouse rave.
Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses is a great track, but as a single, it’s probably the weakest of the bunch. If you like covers of classic rock tunes you should enjoy it though, as it features two of the more unlikely remakes of U2’s career. Up first is the band’s take on Paint It Black, which is a fairly faithful version of the classic Stones tune. While Bono’s vocal delivery isn’t rough enough to convey the sense of dread and desperation of the original, it’s still fun to hear the band take on a song that’s so thematically different than anything they ever recorded before. They do far better with their cover of CCR’s Fortunate Son however, which shouldn’t be a surprise considering it’s a kind of powerful political protest song that the band was known for in their early days. The only weak track of the single is the Temple Bar Remix of the title track. Aside from being about a minute longer, it’s barely a remix at all, which is a shame considering how great the remixes on the other singles were. Still, it will be great to have this track, and all the other great cuts from the singles, when the deluxe editions of Achtung Baby drop on the first week of November
The Achtung Baby Uber Edition can be pre-ordered by clicking here.
The Super Deluxe Edition of Achtung Baby can be pre-ordered by clicking here.