"Achtung Baby" - U2

Album

Track Listing:

Background Information

“Achtung Baby” was U2’s first full length album of the 1990’s and their seventh album of their career. The album was produced by Brian Eno and Danny Lanois. Lanois acted as primary producer, and Mark Ellis, aka Flood returned as the engineer for the album. Eno assisted, working with the band for a week at a time, before leaving for a month or more at a time. The band interested in the new Europe emerging decided to start recording in Berlin and arrived in the city on October 3, 2000 on the last flight into East Berlin before the reunification of Germany. They would begin recording in the famed Hansa Studios, where many including David Bowie and Iggy Pop had recorded. The band struggled during these early recording sessions in Hansa, and were quite divided on a direction to take the album. The band struggled to come up with any completed songs during these sessions, and often would approach the same song over and over again hoping to get somehwere. The band teetered on teh verge of breaking up, and then a breakthrough was reached when they stumbled over the song “One.”

U2 returned to Dublin before Christmas where they had an opportunity to listen to the material they had recorded in Berlin. They agreed that there was promise in the material, and they made a brief return to Hansa in January 1991 to finish up some recordings. Only two completed songs came out of the work in Berlin, but the visit had been productive and inspired the rest of the recording sessions. In February 1991, U2 took residence in a seaside home Elsinore located just outside DUblin in Dalkey. The studio they set up there was nicknamed “Dog Town” by the band. Like the recordings in Slane Castle for “The Unforgettable Fire” and in the bands homes for “The Joshua Tree”, the move to Dog Town was an attempt to bring some atmosphere to the recordings that Lanois felt couldn’t be found in studio. The band struggled during these sessions with a song called “Lady With the Spinning Head” but that work would eventually produce “The Fly”, “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” and “Zoo Station”. Towards the end of the sessions at Dog Town, Eno returned to the sessions and was horrified with what he heard, and worked with the band over the next number of weeks to strip out some of the overdubbing that had been added to tracks.

In July the band finished work at Dog Town and moved to Windmill Lane Studios for final mixing of the tracks. Some editing work was also undertaken in STS Studios in Dublin. Recording continued up to the September 21 deadline including last minute changes to “Mysterious Ways”, “The Fly” and “One”. The final night was spent deciding on a running order, and the Edge traveled to Los Angeles to deliver the album for final mastering.

In early 1991, the band reported that the tapes of the Berlin sessions had been stolen. Reporting on the stolen tapes in May 1991, the LA Times suggested that the tapes might have been obtained from hotel staff, after the band had left the tapes behind in a hotel room. A spokesperson for the band replied, “It’s impossible to fathom the band leaving these tapes in the hotel trash. They would always be under lock and key.” Bootlegs of the tapes started to circulate and were making the rounds within a few months. This lead to a lot of circulation on just what kind of album the new U2 album would become. U2 and Island Records took out ads in the British magazine “Music Week” warning that the label would take legal proceedings against anyone selling the bootlegs. A 3-disc set of 5-inch CDs is the most common pressing of these bootlegs, titled “Salomé” after a song that can be heard numerous times during this boot. The full set of what went missing covers seven CDs, although a large portion of this would just be Larry Mullen working on beats.

The title of the album “Achtung Baby” is taken from the lyrics on “The Fly”, it is there in the mix, but not as clear as the main vocal. “Achtung” means attention or warning in German. The title obviously relates back to the recordings in Germany, but the phrase is also used in the Mel Brooks film “The Producers”, and was used by Joe O’Herlihy throughout the work in Berlin.

The cover of the album was designed by Steve Averill and Shaughn McGrath, working for Works Associates at the time. The desire to steer clear of anything black and white to provide separation from “Rattle and Hum” and “The Joshua Tree” lead to brightly coloured images being used in a grid pattern on the sleeve. There were some black and white shots included amongst the highly coloured mix of images. Photo sessions were done with photographer Anton Corbijn, who initially shot the band in Berlin in late 1990, and then later in Tenerife during the annual Carnival in February 1991. A final shoot was done in Morocco in July, and additional shots were taken in studio including a naked image of Adam Clayton. There are 16 images on the front cover on the 12-inch vinyl release, in a grid 4×4. A similar grid is used for the back cover. The nude image of Adam Clayton caused some stir when North American record executives saw the proposed cover for the first time, and a hasty drawn “X” was furnished by the designers to place over that image for those marked, although some pressings would cover Adam’s midsection with a four-leaf clover. The label of the CD features the image of a baby in graffiti on the wall at Windmill Lane by artist Charlie Whisker. This baby was later used throughout the Zoo TV tour, appeared on the “Zooropa” album, and was resurrected on the U2360 tour. He has been named “Cosmo”.

The marketing plan for the album was coordinated by PolyGram marketing VP Jeff Jones, and focused on promotions at the retail level. They focused on the album images, producing 16 different posters from the images. Retailers were given copies of the posters that they could give away in-store, if they displayed the posters themselves. Fourteen weekly newspapers were also given copies of the posters to distribute as well as album advertising, and further posters were given away as sets, as prizes in contests, and some were sold when you purchased the album or singles.

The album was released worldwide on November 18, 1991, with the exception of North America where the album arrived the next day. The album was issued on 5-inch CD, cassette and 12-inch vinyl in most markets. In 1993, as part of the introduction of the DCC (Digital Compact Cassette) format by Phillips, “Achtung Baby” would be one of the initial releases in that format. In the US, the 5-inch CD was distributed in two very different types of packaging. CDs at the time were packaged with a wasteful outer box called a ‘longbox’ that allowed CDs to be displayed in shelving originally used for 12-inch vinyl. For “Achtung Baby” U2 wanted to do away with the wasteful packaging and chose to release the CD either in a jewel case by itself with no longbox, or in a digipack sleeve that would be the same size as the longbox but would fold up into a regular sized case, made entirely of cardboard. Retailers were given the opportunity to pick which format to support. Later repressings would all be done in the regular jewel box as the ‘longbox’ gradually faded.

As with “The Joshua Tree”, “Achtung Baby” produced five singles, however, this was the first time all five singles were released world-wide. The first single “The Fly” appeared before the album and introduced listeners to this new sound that U2 had found. “Mysterious Ways” was the second single released, followed by “One” as the third single. The fourth single was “Even Better Than the Real Thing” which was released in two formats, a traditional single with b-sides and a single made up entirely of remixes. The finals single released was “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” which was remixed for the release. The single covers of “The Fly”, “Mysterious Ways”, “Even Better Than the Real Thing” and “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” placed together make one larger image, of U2 riding in a trabant. In October 1992, U2 would also release a video titled “Achtung Baby: The Videos, The Cameos and a Whole Lot of Interference” which featured music videos with documentary footage and media clips.

Live in concert, the songs from “Achtung Baby” have remained staples in the live set over the years. All of the songs from the album have been played live, however, “Acrobat” was only ever played in soundchecks and rehersals, and never played in full in concert. The Zoo TV tour in 1992 did the unthinkable. The first show of the tour opened with eight straight songs from the new album, before playing some of the older material. The “Achtung Baby” material continues to be showcased in tour, with “Even Better Than the Real Thing”, “Until the End of the World”, “Mysterious Ways”, “One”, “The Fly” and “Ultra Violet” all appearing on the most recent U2360° tour. Live footage from the ZOO TV tour that supported the “Achtung Baby” album was released in 1994 as the video “Zoo TV Live in Sydney”. That footage would later be released on DVD on September 18, 2006. Also in 2006, the fan club gift from U2.com was a live double 5-inch CD titled “Zoo TV Live”.

“Achtung Baby” was released to glowing reviews from most critics. It has taken a position as one of U2’s best albums in the years since. The album debuted at number one on the USA Billboard Top 200 Albums chart, and debuted at #2 in the UK albums charts.

Alternate titles considered for “Achtung Baby” included “Zoo Station”, “69”, “Adam” and “Man”. A variety of covers were mocked up, most making use of images that would be used for the final grid cover, but sometimes by themselves. “Adam” for instance would have been the title for an album that featured the nude Adam Clayton photo on the cover. Some songs became different beasts throughout the recording process. For instance “Sick Puppy” would become “Mysterious Ways”. Other songs never saw release such as “Candy Man”, “Bare Back” and “Fat Boy” and it is unknown whether these morphed into another form or not. Other tracks such as “Down All the Days” would be held and worked on for “Zooropa”, in this case becoming “Numb”. Still others such as “Blow Your House Down”, “Heaven and Hell”, “Oh Berlin” and “Near the Island” wouldn’t be heard until the 20th anniversary release of the album.

For the 20th anniversary of the release of “Achtung Baby” U2 once again released the album. Neil McCormick reporting on the release of “Achtung Baby” said the album was not remastered. In answer to queries about “Achtung Baby,” I went to the source. It hasn’t been remastered because it “didn’t need to be”, apparently … It’s been sonically tweaked & polished but not, technically, remastered. Hope that makes more sense to you than it does to me. I’m just telling you what I’ve been told. Not remastered. But tweaked & boosted. It’s definitely louder.” The Edge also confirmed this saying “All we were able to do is optimize it…because the original is so right”. So although re-released, the band did not claim it to be remastered. The re-release was accompanied by many additional bonus materials including an Uber edition that included six 5-inch CDs and four 5-inch DVDs, as well as the album on vinyl and repressings of each of the 7-inch singles on clear vinyl. For more information about this re-release of the album for the 20th anniversary please check out the discography entry for that release.

Liner Notes

Bono: Vocals & Guitar. The Edge: Guitar, Keyboards & Vocals. Adam Clayton: Bass Guitar. Larry Mullen: Drums & Percussion. Paul McGuinness: Manager. Studio Crew: Joe O’Herlihy: Monitoring. Des Broadbery: Keyboard & Guitar Technician. Fraser McAlister: Bass & Guitar Technician. Sam O’Sullivan: Drum Technician. Anne-Louise Kelly: Album Production Manager.

Recorded in: Hansa Ton Studios Berlin, Dog Town Dublin, S.T.S. Dublin, Windmill Lane Studios Dublin. Recording Facilities and Co-Ordination Berlin : Joe O’Herlihy and Dennis Sheehan. Recording Facilities and Co-Ordination Dublin : Terry Cromer, Audio Engineering Dublin.

Principle Management Dublin – Anne-Louise Kelly, Barbara Galavan, Jackie Bennet, Eileen Long, David Herbert, Maria Duffy, Brigid Mooney, Anne O’Leary, Cillian Guidera, Liz Devlin, Cecilia Coffey. Principle Management NY – Ellen Darst, Keryn Kaplan, Sheila Roche, Bess Burke, Lisa Fiscoff.

Mastering by Arnie Acosta / A & M Mastering Studios, LA. Digital Editing by Stewart Whitmore / A & M Mastering Studios, LA. Quality Control Cheryl Engels / A & M Studios, LA. Thanks to: Yamaha Drums, Paiste, Pro-Mark and James Howe Industries for Strings. Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno appear courtesy of Opal/Warner Brothers.

Artwork

Photography by Anton Corbijn. Design by Steve Averill and Shaughn McGrath – Works Associates (Dublin). Label Illustration by Charlie Whisker. Photographed by Richie Smith.

Recognition and Awards

  • #48, The 100 Greatest Albums of All Time (Absolute Radio, March 2016, voted by Listeners)
  • Q Magazine, Top 100 Albums Readers Poll #15 (January 1998)
  • Top 102 Albums of the 1990s, 102.1 The Edge: #5 (February 1998)
  • #9, 250 Best Albums of Q’s Lifetime (Q Magazine, February 2011)
  • Q Magazine’s Top Ten Recordings of 1991
  • #3, Q Magazines The Music That Changed the World (Q Magazine, March 2004)
  • #6, Q Magazine’s Top 20 Albums in the Lifetime of Q Magazine (Q Magazine, November 2006)
  • #10, Readers Choice, Top 100 Albums (Rolling Stone, October 2002)
  • #2, Best Album, Critic’s Picks 1991 (Rolling Stone Magazine, 1991)
  • #1, Best Album, Readers Picks 1992 (Rolling Stone Magazine, 1992)
  • Listed in Rolling Stone Magazine’s Essential Rock Collection
  • #62, Top 500 Albums (Rolling Stone, December 2003)
  • #63, Top 500 Albums (Rolling Stone, April 2012)
  • #86, Top 100 Alternative Albums (Spin Magazine, December 1995)
  • #19, Top 90 Albums of the 90s (Spin Magazine)
  • #11, 100 Greatest Albums 1985 – 2005 (Spin Magazine, July 2005)
  • Listed in 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die (2005 and 2008 ed) by Robert Dimery
  • #24, Top 50 Best Albums of All Time [Listener voted] (BBC Radio 6, UK, 2002)
  • #58, Albums of the Millennium [Survey] (Channel 4 / HMV / Guardian Newspaper, Autumn 1997)
  • #65, VH1’s Rock N Roll Top 100 Albums (VH1 Television, 1999)
  • Nomination (Did Not Win), Album of the Year (Grammy Awards, 1993)
  • Nomination and Win, Best Rock Performance by Duo / Group (Grammy Awards, 1993)
  • #3, 100 Greatest Irish Albums of All Time (Hot Press, February 24, 2005) [Public Polling]
  • #39, Top 100 Albums of All Time (2FM Radio, October 1995) [Listeners Poll]

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