It's only fitting U2's first album was called Boy. Filled with references to boyhood and the transition to manhood, the band's debut effort (produced by Steve Lillywhite) is a collection of songs displaying an abundance of innocence and youthful optimism in the face of adversity.
At the time of the album's release, Gavin Martin in NME dubbed it "one of the finest debuts ever released."
Still working on their image as a band, it's humorous to see the liner notes credit the songs as being written by Bono Hewson, Larry Mullen, Adam Clayton, and "The Edge" Evans. Soon enough, though, Bono and The Edge would lose their surnames and quote marks. A scant 13 years later, the same foursome would be the hands that built Zooropa; 20 years later they'd still be topping the charts, collecting awards, and changing the world one song at a time.
While the band's popularity would eventually extend far beyond the north of Dublin, the same character on display in this album continues to echo in the band's work today. On Boy in 1980, Bono sings of returning to the heart of a child in "Into the Heart"; during the Elevation Tour of 2001, he would find himself surrounded by thousands of passionate and devoted fans as he performed on a heart-shaped stage.
Also telling are the lyrics to "A Day Without Me," which includes the lines, "I started a landslide in my ego. Look from the outside to the world I left behind." Such are the themes that would, in part, constitute U2's canon.
Like a boy, the album is a snapshot of a band that has yet to find its own voice and identity. As a result, there's a cold exterior and a distant feeling to the album.
(Photos courtesy of U2.com)
An odd mix of pop, goth, and rock, the album represents in equal parts the band's early talent and the musical climate in which they started - one in which acts like The Rolling Stones and David Bowie continued at the top of their game and a new sound was emanating from bands like Talking Heads and The Cure.
Nonetheless, there are some genuine U2 gems in the package. "I Will Follow" and "Out of Control" offer a glimpse of the stadium band yet to come and even now they're still invigorating these anthems when performed live.
During U2's historic second night at Slane Castle in 2001, "Out of Control" received an introduction by Bono reminiscent of his introduction of the tune 20 years earlier when they opened for Thin Lizzy at Slane: "We're U2, we're from the north of Dublin. This is our first single. We hope you like it!"
It's the stuff of which goose bumps are made.
After 10 years of song crafting, U2's catalog would become so strong and diverse only "I Will Follow" wound up on the final set list for The Best of 1980-1990. "Out of Control" and other early tracks from Boy, namely "Stories for Boys," "Twilight," and "An Cat Dubh," were relegated to B-side status on different versions of "The Sweetest Thing"'s single release. Released in support of The Best of 1980-1990, that tune was itself originally a B-side to "Where the Streets Have No Name," one of the massive hits from 1987's The Joshua Tree.
Based on the strengths of Boy, U2 could be seen as a band holding a lot of musical promise. Based on the strength and character of the bandmates, though, U2 could be seen as a force to be reckoned with in due time.
Overall Rating: 7.2/10
• Originally published at Interference.com on 04-30-2003 at 12:51 AM
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