Achtung Baby is the seventh studio album by Irish rock band U2, released on 19 November 1991. The album arrived nearly two years after lead vocalist Bono announced the band would have to "go away and dream it all up again", following the mixed response to 1988's Rattle and Hum. While recording Achtung Baby, there was a rift between band members over the direction of the band's sound. Tensions almost prompted U2 to break-up until the band rallied around the writing of the album's hit "One".
The album marks a dramatic change in the band's image and sound, with the band being heavily influenced by alternative rock and electronic music. Their music also features more detailed production, more guitar effects, and darker, more personal lyrical content. The results were considerably more adventurous than their previous efforts, yet Achtung Baby was very commercially and critically successful, winning a Grammy Award and having sold approximately 18 million copies worldwide.
The band embarked on the elaborately-staged, multimedia-intensive Zoo TV Tour to support the album.
The album's new sound was a source of conflict in the band because The Edge and Bono favored the new sounds they were coming up with while recording their sessions in Berlin, while drummer Larry Mullen Jr. and bassist Adam Clayton were partial to the band's traditional sound. The conflict amongst the members of U2 very nearly led to the band breaking up, but the fighting subdued after The Edge, struggling with two bridge sections for the song "Ultraviolet (Light My Way)" was encouraged to combine them by the band and producers Eno and Lanois. The band rallied around the riff and was inspired to write the song "One". It changed the band's outlook on the album, helping bring them back from the brink during recording sessions. "One" was responsible for a renewed sense of optimism towards the material they had already recorded. Leaving Berlin on a high note, the band was able to complete the rest of the album in Dublin.
Achtung Baby was also darker sounding than previous efforts, thanks in large part to songs such as "The Fly", "Acrobat", and "Love Is Blindness", which deal with themes of helplessness, broken relationships, and (in the case of "Love Is Blindness") violence in the name of love. The spiritual yearning of U2's 1980s work began to take on a more existential, despairing element in Achtung Baby. The band's political activism moved to the AIDS crisis and environmental issues. At the same time, the band also took on a lighter tone, electing to use irony rather than earnestness in its music and public appearances, and poking fun at its own self-importance during the 1980s. This evolving outlook culminated in the pleaful soul-searching (and jaded skewering of contemporary life) on 1997's Pop and would not subside until the more hopeful tracks on 2000's All That You Can't Leave Behind.
Other tracks included the distorted opener "Zoo Station," the danceable single "Even Better Than The Real Thing," and the thumping rocker (and future live favourite) "Until the End of the World," written for the soundtrack of Wim Wenders' eponymous 1991 science fiction film. The song may be an allegorical afterlife confession of Judas Iscariot.
Achtung Baby expanded the group's fanbase. New fans were perhaps drawn in by the hit song "Mysterious Ways" and the ballad "One".
The U.S. LP is the only American release to contain the uncensored picture of bassist Adam Clayton naked. On the U.S. CD and cassette, his private parts are censored with a black "X" or a four-leaf clover.
As for the album's title, "Achtung, Baby!" in German means "Attention, baby!" or "Careful, baby!" Frequently used by the band's engineers during the making of the album, the phrase came from the Mel Brooks film The Producers.
Achtung Baby was the first of 9 albums to feature 3 songs to reach the top of the Modern Rock Tracks.
The album is frequently cited as one of the greatest in rock history. In 1998 Q magazine readers voted Achtung Baby the 15th greatest album of all time; in 2001 the TV network VH1 placed it at number 65. Also in 2003, Q declared its third track, "One", "the greatest recorded song of all time". It was voted #11 on Spin's "Best Albums of the Last 25 Years" list. In a 2007 VH1 countdown, "One" was named the #2 on its list of "Songs of the 1990s". Entertainment Weekly named Achtung Baby the #3 album of the last 25 years.
Later that same year, another single disc bootleg of the tapes was distributed underground. Called "Studio Session '91", this single disc contained material of songs that were near completion. Most notably; "Heaven and Hell", "The Darkest Night", and "Blow Your House Down". Interestingly, none of the "Salome" mixes were included on this disc.
Since these songs were leaked very early in the production process, they provide a rare insight into the band's songwriting process. On the same note, many of the ideas—including eight different takes of the song "Salomé"—were frustratingly undeveloped, so the bootleg remains a curiosity strictly for hardcore fans. Bono says, "There were no undiscovered works of genius, unfortunately, it was more just gobbledy-gook.
Some of the ideas were revisited—there are, for instance, early instrumental versions of "Even Better Than the Real Thing" and "North and South of the River" (the latter of which wouldn't be recorded by the band until 1997)—and one song—the B-side "Where Did It All Go Wrong?"—was even officially released as a rough composite of the two takes available on the bootleg. There are also a handful of developed ideas that were wholly abandoned, such as "She's Gonna Blow Your House Down", a song the group had been working on since the Rattle and Hum days.
|United Kingdom||2||4x Platinum||1,200,000+|
|United States||1||8x Platinum||8,000,000+|
|1991||"The Fly"||UK Official Singles Top 75||1|
|1991||"The Fly"||The Billboard Hot 100||61|
|1991||"The Fly"||Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks||2|
|1991||"The Fly"||Billboard Modern Rock Tracks||1|
|1991||"The Fly"||Billboard Dance Music/Maxi-Singles Sales||44|
|1991||"Mysterious Ways"||UK Official Singles Top 75||13|
|1991||"Mysterious Ways"||The Billboard Hot 100||9|
|1991||"Mysterious Ways"||Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks||1|
|1992||"Mysterious Ways"||Billboard Modern Rock Tracks||1|
|1992||"Mysterious Ways"||Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play||42|
|1992||"One"||UK Official Singles Top 75||8|
|1992||"One"||Billboard Adult Contemporary||24|
|1992||"One"||Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks||1|
|1992||"One"||Billboard Modern Rock Tracks||1|
|1992||"One"||The Billboard Hot 100||10|
|1992||"One"||Billboard Dance Music/Maxi-Singles Sales||44|
|1992||"Even Better Than the Real Thing"||The Billboard Hot 100||32|
|1992||"Even Better Than the Real Thing"||Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks||1|
|1992||"Even Better Than the Real Thing"||Billboard Modern Rock Tracks||5|
|1992||"Even Better Than the Real Thing"||Billboard Dance Music/Maxi-Singles Sales||35|
|1992||"Even Better Than the Real Thing"||Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play||27|
|1992||"Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses"||The Billboard Hot 100||35|
|1992||"Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses"||Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks||2|
|1992||"Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses"||Billboard Modern Rock Tracks||7|
|1992||"Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses"||Billboard Top 40 Mainstream||28|
|1992||"Until the End of the World"||Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks||5|
|1992||"Until the End of the World"||Billboard Modern Rock Tracks||4|
|1997||"One"||Canadian Singles Chart||19|