U2 Albums, Ranked

It is GENERALLY true that Steve and I are of one mind, not just with respect to the revelations we receive pertaining to Things, Ranked, but also with respect to the Rankable Things we seek revelation on. But every now and then, one of us feels the (probably unrighteous) desire to pursue our own agenda, and we end up ranking things that clearly have nothing to do with our personal salvation. For example, earlier today, Steve decided that U2’s discography needed to be ranked.

As always, these rankings are authoritative.

Steve Evans: I want to rank U2 albums. You know nothing about U2. Should I get Kyle?
Scott B.: I reject the notion that I know nothing about U2.
Steve Evans: Yeah?
Scott B.: I know lots about U2
Steve Evans: What’s the last album of theirs you’ve heard?
Scott B.: last album released that i’ve heard, or album i listened to most recently?
Scott B.: if the former, then Songs of Innocence. if the latter, then A.B.
Steve Evans: Last one released
Scott B.: Songs of Innocence, then. But then again, didn’t everyone listen that since it got shoved into iTunes for everyone?
Scott B.: I would say that How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb is the last studio album I paid much attention to.
Steve Evans: Then we shall rank them.
Scott B.: is there a reason you want to rank U2 albums?
Steve Evans:Top Ten U2 Albums, Ranked.
Scott B.: What is my ranking criteria?
Scott B.: Best music? Favorite? Most important?
Steve Evans: Because their lyrics make no sense at all, and yet they’re a great band. Seriously don’t spend too long actually paying attention to the lyrics. One line has nothing to do with the next.
Scott B.: You know who hates U2 with a real passion? Matt Page. Listening to him talk about Bono is hilarious.
Steve Evans: I bet
Scott B.: His view is that Bono basically wakes up in the morning, opens up the Internet, looks at news headlines, and say, “Oh, looks like people think [SUBJECT] is important. I’m going to write some heartfelt lyrics about how important it is!”
Steve Evans: It would be nice if Bono wrote lyrics about something. Instead he writes one interesting line at a time, then shoves em together.
Scott B.: actually, you’re right–it’s more like, “I’m going to write a song with lyrics that reference [SUBJECT].”
Steve Evans: Or worse, “I’ll write a song and then say afterwards it’s about [SUBJECT] and people will eat it up.”

    1. Pop

Steve Evans: That album blows. Even Larry Mullen Jr hates it. I would have ranked Pop lower, but it really stands as a catch-all for crappy U2 albums generally.

    1. October

Scott B.: For #10, Unforgettable Fire, maybe? Because it’s mostly forgettable and I can’t really place much from it.
Steve Evans: All That You Can’t Leave Behind. A comeback album, a good one, too. Unforgettable Fire I’d put higher. It has MLK and Pride.
Scott B.: is it the only one with Pride? Why was I thinking it was on something else?
Steve Evans: Pride is on Rattle & Hum, but live.
Scott B.: Oh, I was thinking Rattle and Hum, but that wasn’t the actual studio album. okay, Unforgettable can be higher
Steve Evans: Maybe October here instead, and Leave Behind at 8.
Steve Evans: October really isn’t very good. There’s a reason it’s always on sale, cheap.

    1. How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb

Scott B.: I feel like U2 has died a few times, but that this was the last death. Pop was far worse, but they rebounded
Steve Evans: Yeah. How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb? Convert it into musical form and insert it into your discography.

    1. All That You Can’t Leave Behind
    2. Boy

Scott B.: Where are we at, then?
Steve Evans: So we’re at #7
Scott B.: Boy for 7.
Steve Evans: Good call. Boy is very good, but not quite an evolved sound.
Scott B.: it’s mostly just not as good as what came immediately after

    1. War

Steve Evans: #6 is War.
Scott B.: yep
Steve Evans: New Years Day, and Sunday Bloody Sunday.
Scott B.: though I just looked, and I see October actually was between Boy and War
Steve Evans: Actually lets put October and Pop tied at 10th. Because we need more room up higher

    1. Rattle & Hum

Scott B.: (are we including Rattle & Hum? It was a live album, but sort of a big one)
Steve Evans: Yeah – I was thinking it’s #5
Scott B.: okay.
Steve Evans: The actual movie is better than the album. Like, way better.
Scott B.: I don’t know if I’ve ever seen the whole movie.

    1. Unforgettable Fire

Scott B.: I feel like Unforgettable Fire at #4 is giving too much credit to 1 song. Until you reminded me that Pride is on UF, I honestly couldn’t think of a thing about it.
Steve Evans: No, it’s a good one overall. Swap with r&h if you want.
Scott B.: I need a track listing. Hrm. I’m whelmed
Steve Evans: So swap with r&h.

    1. The Joshua Tree

Steve Evans: #3 – Joshua Tree. I’m not sorry.
Scott B.: Did we place Zooropa somewhere yet?
Scott B.: ha Joshua Tree is #3 for me, too.

    1. Zooropa

Steve Evans: Zooropa is #2. Love Zooropa. Underappreciated but genius.
Scott B.: I don’t love Zooropa as much as you, but I get that it’s better than I think it is
Steve Evans: I mean, maybe Zooropa is 3 and JT 2nd. But top 3

    1. Achtung Baby

Scott B.: So we’re in agreement that AB is #1?
Steve Evans: Yes.
Scott B.: wow! How about that!
Steve Evans: They were so weird then. Bono was on something FOR SURE. The album art – so embarrassing. And his whole Fly alternative personality thing. Weird. That album came out the day I went into the MTC.
Scott B.: I never heard AB really until just a few years ago. My brother bought it (cassette tape!) back when I was a kid and I heard him playing it over and over in his bedroom and could only hear it through the walls. I didn’t actually even know what the album was, and often (for years) thought that I’d never heard AB when the topic of U2 would come up.
Steve Evans: Ha!
Scott B.: Yeah.

Comments

  1. Countdown until someone comments “hey, did you know that ‘where the streets have no name’ was written about Utah” ……10…..9…….8……7……

  2. Seriously though, Joshua Tree is tops, followed by AB. I was introduced to AB my freshman year by a cool upper classman neighbor who drove me to seminary. He had no interest in seminary but our mothers conspired to make him drive me and then he’d sleep through the class. He blasted the album the whole drive for 4 straight months.

  3. Just FYI. MATT Page no longer exists. When his body was overtaken by The Thing, it required his brain incorrectly, making it claim the handle MATTY Page. Just FYI.

  4. *rewired

  5. October at 10 reveals how uninspired are your rankings.

  6. This reads like it was lifted directly from the C50 minutes.

  7. Verily, Joshua Tree #1, Achtung Baby #2. All other U2 albums are debatable into eternity – JS Jr.

  8. Brother Sky says:

    No “Under a Blood Red Sky”? I guess it’s technically an EP, so maybe that’s why it didn’t make the list. Bono saying “Sing with me, this is 40” right before the final song still gives me chills.

  9. C’mon get your junior league EP stuff outta here.

  10. Clark Goble says:

    Wasn’t Zooropa an EP? It was interesting but forgettable at the same time. Weirdly the best song on it was Johnny Cash’s. Anticipating his renaissance.

    I confess I always put Joshua Tree above Achtung Baby but both are great.

    Outside of those two albums and maybe Unforgettable Fire I always think of U2 songs not albums.

  11. I can confirm the correctness of your top pick.

  12. never forget says:

    I thought U2 was just an old Cold War spy plane from that movie Tom Hanks was in last year.

  13. Endless and eternal are my creations. Yeah, they exceed the sands of the sea. Yeah, they exceed the times Bono sings ‘Baby’ in ‘Ultraviolet.’

  14. If I made a ranking of personal faith crises, one of the top-10 entries would be discovering that ‘Until The End Of The World” is sung from the perspective of Judas. For a BYU freshman, this was a fairly mind-blowing revelation.

  15. Lemon is the only song I have liked on the albums since Achtung Baby.

  16. U2 has evolved so much over the past 30 years that any one person’s ranking probably depends a great deal on how long s/he has been listening. Speaking as someone who came of age in the 80’s, there are two kinds of people in the world: those who discovered U2 around the time of Joshua Tree/Rattle and Hum, and those who were fans before that time. I place myself in the latter group. For me, they jumped the proverbial shark with Rattle and Hum and began a slow decline thereafter. Boy and October are raw and unpolished, but they offer a glimpse of something great to come. They are simple, yet creative. War and Unforgettable Fire were inspiring home runs. Unforgettable Fire, in particular, is a great listen from start to finish. A true album, as opposed to a collection of singles. I’ll never forget watching Live Aid on TV (I think I was around age 14 at the time) and seeing a huge crowd at Wembley Stadium waving giant U2 flags at a time when the band was still something of an unknown commodity here in the States. Joshua Tree was good, but it ushered in the Vegas era and the trappings of American celebrity; Bono started singing morphing into The Fly, and frankly The Edge lost his edge. Everything after that kind of blurs together.

  17. nothing assumed about your food allergy says:

    Absolutely correct about AB #1. None of the others are even close.

  18. Brother Sky says:

    I generally agree with mwolv. I was 19 when Live Aid happened and was 17 when the famous concerts at Red Rocks happened, so from my perspective, U2 peaked at the Joshua Tree and everything’s been downhill since. When Bono turned into The Fly and Macphisto, it was clear that U2 had changed into a band that was too clever by half. They had forgotten their roots and they’ve never really returned to them, though occasional songs (“Stuck in a Moment” stands out) still provide a few brief flashes of what the band once was. I just remember being a teenager and seeing Bono waving the white flag, which stood for nothing in order that it could unite everyone, and screaming “No more!” over and over during “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” and thinking “holy s**t, I’ve never seen anything like this.” It was a beautiful time, shining and golden, before Bono began thinking he was Jesus, which meant he sort of almost was.

  19. Eric Russell says:

    What’s interesting is that if you replace each album with the R.E.M. album that’s closest chronologically, the rankings pretty much hold. They had parallel trajectories – from good to great, to the Pop/Monster experimentation, to settling in mediocrity.

  20. Clark Goble says:

    While I’m sympathetic to mwolv I don’t think U2 could stay the same. Although one nice thing about Rattle & Hum is how it embraced a certain blues-rock that was always part of the early band. (Plus playing with B. B. King in Love Comes to Town is one of the best singles they have) It’s because I think reinventing themselves as part of the whole Gen X sense of irony ended up muting what was great about them that I always place Achtung Baby after Joshua Tree.

    All That You Can’t Leave Behind, while a pale shadow of their 80’s work at least recaptured that soul they lost in their ironic phase of the 90’s.

    That said while some of my all time favorite songs like New Year’s Day are on War, I just can’t see it as a great album the way some albums you almost always prefer the album played through instead of a few songs. Lots of forgettable stuff on it.

  21. Hot controversial take: U2’s best album was its first greatest hits album, Best of 1980-1990.

    U2’s worst album: Best of 1990-2000.

    Search your feelings, you know it to be true.

  22. Look if can’t appreciate POP for what it is -the last interering U2 album – then I don’t even know why you’re playing this game

  23. I really wish I could edit my comment

  24. Clark Goble says:

    I found it very interering.

  25. It is impossible to overstate the importance to the civil rights/electronic music movement of Adam Clayton Powell Mullen Jr.

  26. Clark Goble says:

    LOL. My theory is that U2 was cursed with an exceedingly egregious curse once Clayton and Mullen converted the Mission Impossible theme from 5/4 time to 4/4 time. Seriously what was up with that and is there any hint of being confused by unusual tempos in their earlier work?

  27. it's a series of tubes says:

    Talon’s post is the most correct of any post on this thread, and BCC readership will get nearer to God by following its precepts than by any other post.

  28. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    Mysterious Ways….a YSA dance must play…from Wikipedia: “The song’s lyrics are addressed to a man living without romance”…(that was me at the time)

  29. Jason Sager says:

    I may the only person in the world to like Pop, but I do consider it the last of the good U2 albums. I think the problem is Pop never figured out what kind of album it was supposed to be. Musically, it was all over the place, but that’s what made it interesting. Discotheque is just a fun song.

  30. POP SUCKS

  31. Oh, Steve. “Do You Feel Loved”? “Staring at the Sun”? C’mon.

  32. I’m both offended by this list and horrified at the comments that came after it.

  33. Those songs are just no good! If any other band issued them, they’d be instantly forgotten.

  34. Gone and Please are pretty great.

  35. Also, that album is just as weird in its own way as Achtung or Joshua Tree or Zooropa. Not as cohesive maybe, but Edge does so much crazy stuff with his guitar on every track.

  36. Kyle M, I’m seeing you.

  37. Clark Goble says:

    Discotheque was much more tied to their ironic period. In a lot of ways it reminds me of Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me. (That tie in to Schumacher’s Batman film – which says a lot about this era of U2 right there) Most of the rest of the songs on Pop weren’t. Pop was also the first of many where there was one popular upbeat song that bore little resemblance to the rest of the album. We got Elevation in All You Can’t Leave Behind and then its near clone in Vertigo with How to Dismantal an Atomic Bomb. Only No Line on the Horizon avoided this although the controversial Songs of Innocence came back with The Miracle of Joey Ramone. (Which given the title you’d have expected to be more of a return to U2’s early more punkish feel from the early 80’s)

    Anyway, it’s not that these songs (Discotheque, Elevation, Vertigo) weren’t fun. They just lacked that depth of soul that equally fun songs from earlier in their catalogue held. They come off as almost blatant top 40 bait unrelated to the rest of the album. Contrast this with their peak from Unforgettable Fire through Achtung Baby where somehow their songs managed to cross boundaries and work on multiple levels.

    To me the biggest failing of Pop is that it just feels unfinished. I think the band even confessed to this suggesting the songs needed more work before they were ready for an album. As I recall they had to make concert dates they already had setup. So Pop got rushed. A lot of the rest of the songs aren’t bad. But they really feel more closely tied to that third era of U2 than the phase 2 “ironic period.”

  38. Yeah, Clark, I do think they’ve tended to put a lot of thought into crafting a “First Single” for every album, which loosely sets the tone for the album, but is more about setting audience expectations that “This is a new U2!”

    Trip Through Your Wires was it for Joshua Tree. That harmonica wailing was such a big departure from Unforgettable Fire. And then Desire from R&H, The Fly from Achtung Baby, Numb for Zooropa, and then the ones you listed, plus Get On Your Boots from NLotH.

    It’s great marketing, if nothing else, because it builds so much anticipation for an album of fresh U2 sounds.

  39. Clark Goble says:

    Trip Through Your Wires (like everything on Joshua Tree) is a great song. I’m not sure it was crafted to be the big single. Was it even released as a single? (I was like 15 at the time and remember the big concert on the roof video but nothing for that) I just don’t notice the move really until Pop. For instance there’s nothing in Achtung Baby that cries out as “the single.”

    What’s jarring in the post-Pop albums is just how different the big single is from the rest of the album. Whereas before Pop they blended in pretty clear. It’s not that Discoteque is *that* removed from some of what’s on pop. (Nothing like what you see with Dismantle and Atomic Bomb where people were shocked at what the rest of the album was like) Mofo is pretty similar in some ways. Then there were the tracks from that time that didn’t make it on the album that were similar too. I think Lady With the Spinning Head ended up as a B-side release although parts of it ended up in various songs as I recall.

    The weirdest album is No Line on the Horizon which doesn’t really have “the single” track. The closest is Put on Your Boots that I think was intended to be that way. However every time they do that “let’s sing flat on purpose” it drives me bonkers. Overall though every time I listen to the album I think, “hey, that’s a lot better than I remember. It’s actually good.” Then as soon as I’ve finished playing it I forget about it. That’s kind of how I feel about most U2 after Achtung Baby except for All That You Can’t Leave Behind. (That album has echoes of the soul of their earlier stuff but overall ends up feeling like a shadow of what once was)

  40. Yeah, Trip was used as the lead in for Joshua Tree. Either the first single or at the press conference or teaser show. Everyone was like “um…that doesn’t sound like U2 and Brian Eno…”

    I can quite remember because I was 7 or 8 at the time, but they’ve done that with every album since.

  41. Clark Goble says:

    BTW – I completely agree that Edge is doing some really interesting stuff on Pop. It’s just that so many of the songs just aren’t good IMO. I just brought it up in Apple Music. They all feel like interesting starts of songs early in the studio development period. Discoteque feels the most finished. Even the two songs I like most on the album, Staring at the Sun and Last Night on Earth feel like the music is in some ways working against the song. They’re just off even though I think both of those songs could have been amazing songs with a little more work.

  42. It’s clear why this site is called BCC and not Sound Opinions.

    You guys have no idea what you’re talking about. You ranked 11 and there are 13 studio albums. And let’s not forget the other live albums besides Rattle and Hum.

    This is like claiming you left out the Book of Lehi because it was sealed when it’s all widely available and you just decided to ignore it.

  43. Clark Goble says:

    I think they were trying to forget Songs of Innocence. Which honestly isn’t as bad album as often portrayed. But the mess they and Tim Cook made of the release probably primed people to dislike it more than usual. I think it actually has catchier tunes than No Line on the Horizon and probably is on par with Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. (Which is admittedly damning with faint praise) But all the post All You Can’t Leave Behind show that the curse that happened to the Rolling Stones wasn’t unique to them. I can’t think of too many *groups* (as opposed to individual artists) who can make it past 20 years of solid records. Honestly making it to arguably the mid 90’s and perhaps to 9/11 with great or at least good music is pretty unusual.

    The ones who do are usually individual artists like Eric Clapton or artists who after years of mediocrity suddenly have a renaissance. (Think Johnny Cash’s Rubin years or some of Robert Plant’s “roots music” stuff)

  44. No Line on the Horizon, Under a Blood Red Sky to name two. And then there’s a list of subscriber only albums from U2.com.

    I could see leaving off the subscriber specials but UABRS is a core part of the discography and song collection. Especially since it features two songs in regular rotation in concerts: Party Girl and 11 o’clock Tick Tock that were only otherwise available as Singles or as a B side.

  45. UABRS is an EP, so there. Songs of Innocence gets lumped in with No Line under Pop. See the description in #11.

  46. Steve, actually UABRS is not an EP. Neither by their own declaration, their publisher’s nor the industry definition: (I’m going to do what Mormons and lawyers do best – hold concepts to a proper definition)

    In the United Kingdom, any record with more than four distinct tracks or with a playing time of more than 25 minutes is classified as an album for sales-chart purposes. They also have 4-5 songs.

    UABRS is alive album with 8 songs that runs 35:29 and was released as a companion to U2’s concert video Live At Red Rocks which was part of the War tour. It represents a significant moment in U2 and rock history. Leaving it out is actually akin to slicing off Jacob from the Book of Mormon.

    Like I said, you guys should stick to what you know. You’re more interesting then.

  47. Wide Awake in America – definitely an EP and like Omni can be readily sliced out and nothing is missed

  48. That was supposed to say Jarom, not Omni.