U2 Remasters: Boy, October, War, Under A Blood Red Sky

Like The Joshua Tree, the inaugural title of the U2 reissue series begun last year, the recently released double disc sets of the band’s first three albums and their initial live release are truly deluxe packages. Bound like books and enclosed in slipcases, the CD graphics of the archival sets, replete with historical detail, expand on the originals. The liner note essays can be a bit melodramatic, yet The Edge’s own recollections on the recordings, original sessions and B-sides, live shows and alternate takes are the epitome of informality.

Boy (UME)****:  Containing early versions and remixes of tunes and performances that would ultimately comprise U2’s 1980 debut, the fourteen tracks on the 2008 bonus CD contain most of the idiosyncrasies of punk of the time: the structure of material like "Out of Control" and the fey performance of on "Twilight." Fascinatingly, given how Bono’s visibility rose over the years, the sound of The Edge’s guitar is the dominant trait of these recordings, as on the final version of the studio album, even beyond the instrumental "Things to Make and Do."

October (UME) ***: It’s not altogether surprising U2’s follow-up was not the same purposeful declaration of identity as its predecessor. Forget the sidestories about Bono losing his collection of lyrics prior to recording–the quartet might well have found it necessary to step back in order to step forward this early in their career anyway, just as they have subsequently done during later stages. It makes sense in the context of the halting studio work then, that this bonus disc is comprised largely of live recordings: it was on stage the band experienced most of its growth at the time and these versions of "Gloria" and "I Fall Down" find the band actually embracing its growing pains.

(UME) ***1/2: This 1983 album is no more or less of a piece than Boy. In fact, the first two cuts on CD two, "Endless Deep" and "Angels Too Tied to the Ground," sound like nothing so much as outtakes from that first album. That the majority of these bonus tracks are remixes and "New Year’s Day" appears in three versions foreshadow the techno/dance/electronic adventures of U2 albums to come in the next decade, so, depending on the individual listener’s fondness for the style, the collector’s devotion to completism, or the pure music lover’s fondness for the rambunctious live versions of songs from October, "I Threw A Brick through A Window" and "Fire,“ the single CD remaster of War may or may not suffice.

Under A Blood Red Sky
(UME) ***1/2: The original live release was an EP never meant to be the commercial or aesthetic encapsulation of the band, and it remains less than essential here, even remastered for additional sonic punch. Yet pairing the cd with a DVD of the concert film serves the purpose, as do all these remasters to some extent, of consolidating and reinventing the U2 persona: watching Bono parade the white flag in the rain at Red Rocks suggests more than just one simple anthemic point of view. As Anthony DeCurtis ever so artfully implies in his essay, U2’s elevation of themselves was, in profound contrast to their predecessors, peers and successors, a means to a greater end, but always grounded in their bond as a band.

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