It’s a bit of a weird juxtaposition, this. On the one hand, you have October – a mish-mash of unfinished songs that was panic-released by a record company desperate to cash in on the perhaps unexpected commercial success of its predecessor, Boy. You’d be forgiven for thinking this was a rash decision, but against all odds, October is a spectacular triumph, its incompleteness giving it a raw edge that somehow adds to its charm and enhances it, to the extent that there’s a very strong case for suggesting it is their very best album. Whereas Pop…well…Pop just isn’t.
That’s not to say there aren’t some great songs on it. There are several, most notably probably the gorgeous ‘If God Will Send His Angels‘ and the thrilling number one smash that was ‘Discotheque‘; where Pop falls down though is that, in its eagerness to please, it feels like it’s trying too hard to do so. The guitar effects on here often sound dated now, and they do come across as a little masturbatory at times. But I don’t want to be too churlish about it, for Pop is still a good record, albeit one that sits on the lower rungs of the U2 ladder. It’s perhaps a little ironic that an album so heavily reliant on The Edge has a lot less edge than much of their other work.
So let’s return to that rough around the edges yet starkly effective October for now. It’s easy now to forget that, back in the day, U2 were considered very much members of the ‘alternative bands’ fraternity, and one listen to ‘Fire‘ or ‘I Threw A Brick Threw A Window‘ reminds us exactly why that is. No big choruses here, and nothing to obviously suggest the stadium filling colossus that our quartet were later to become. Yes, you could argue that ‘Stranger In A Strange Land‘ sowed the seeds of their world dominance, but by and large, October is simply a stunning set of highly spiritual, passionate and ever so slightly otherworldly compositions, loaded with striking religious imagery, that reveals different layers with each subsequent listen. It still sounds fresh almost 40 years later – a real triumph.
I wish I could say the same about Pop, I really do, but it’s merely an album that exists. I mean, I’m glad it exists, purely as a historic document of where U2 were at that particular moment in time, and there are some lovely moments like the beautifully tender ‘If You Wear That Velvet Dress‘, which is quietly affecting with a dark ambience that marks it out as an obvious highlight. However, in recognising this, it seems they overdid the ‘moody’ thing from that point on and the result is a rather disjointed affair that initially sets you up for a real white knuckle experience, but then, once you’re strapped into the rollercoaster, trundles along at the speed of the old Alton Towers ride Around The World In Eighty Days. Which was pleasant enough but not something you were ever going to queue for a second time. It’s understandable that the band themselves were disappointed to the point that they decided to re-record and remix most of the tracks on Pop, but such is the band’s stature that even one of their ‘lesser’ albums is probably still worth seven out of ten. October, on the other hand, is a strong nine, making the overall rating of the two releases easy to work out!
October and Pop are out now in collectable cream and orange vinyl copies respectively by UMC.