On War, the third studio album by U2, Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen, Jr. were at their most politically charged...and they took a lacerating, energetic approach to getting their messages across.
Released in early 1983, after the adolescent innocence of Boy (1980) and the abstract spirituality of October (1981), U2 stormed the international charts with War. Three singles hit the airwaves starting with "New Year's Day" then followed by the club-worthy "Two Hearts Beat As One" along with one of the greatest protest songs of all time, "Sunday Bloody Sunday". Everything about this album stands apart from anything they had done before or have done since.
Musically, it was fierce. It was a response to those who felt they were too sincere and not "punk" enough. It is much harsher than any other U2 album. The Edge's guitar feels different...much more raw. Listening to it now, I can hear the same riffs that we hear on more recent works, but, on War, it sounds unpolished, more visceral. The closest album, musically speaking, seems to be 1991's Achtung Baby, but Achtung Baby is missing the lyrical muscle that Bono provides throughout War. Without War's underlying messages and overall theme, the music would lose a valuable partner.
Larry Mullen, Jr. claims the drums were "real basic" and hoped to "make it more complicated on the next LP". But the drums drive so much of this album. Every U2 fan has struck some surface to the cadence of the military-like intro to "Sunday Bloody Sunday" (some of you may be doing it right now!). The hard-edged "Like A Song..." and "Two Hearts Beat As One" showcase his powerful drumming as well.
I was just learning to enjoy adolescence when I first heard War. My older brother had the vinyl and I played it and played it. The black and white cover concept...the stark contrast between the letters stamped in red, "U2/WAR", the missing lyrics (words to only six of the ten songs were provided), and the black and white photo of "the boy"...that boy...hands clasped behind his head, cut lip, piercing stare. We wondered who he was and wondered about his story (turns out he's Dublin photographer Peter Rowen). There was, in 1983, a sense of mystery about this band that exited for good four years later with the release of The Joshua Tree. I didn't know them during this time of War. I didn't have internet, I didn't have much information about them. I only knew...they were political, they seemed like they were on my side, and they were coming. They were going to be big...so like them now before everybody jumps on board.