When U2 released Zooropa, its eighth studio album and my #9 album of 1993, the band was coming off a run of blockbuster albums that sold 10+ million units apiece. The Joshua Tree, Rattle and Hum and Achtung Baby had cemented the Irish rockers as the world’s biggest band.
So this album’s left turn in the direction of electronic dance music was unexpected and risky. But it paid off, both creatively and commercially. Zooropa didn’t sell as well as its predecessors, but it did move 7 million copies and it won a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album.
The Random iTunes Fairy has a sense of humor.
In preparing my posts for the Decades 1983 series, I had just gone through a prolonged internal debate about whether to include U2’s album War. On the one hand, it was the band’s first Gold record, an important milestone for one of the greatest rock bands. On the other hand, the album isn’t very interesting (to me) beyond singles ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ and ‘New Year’s Day.’
And then there’s the fact that I know my most frequent reader is not a fan of U2. Why torture poor Dana, I figured, and during a global pandemic, no less? So I passed.
U2’s 2014 album Songs of Innocence is best remembered as the record Apple uploaded for free to every iTunes user, a move Tim Cook described as “the largest album release of all time.”
It was also a move that revealed just how little relevance U2 had to the new generation, as the predominant reaction by millions of young people was “What the hell is a U2 and why is it on my phone all of a sudden?”
Continuing my look at the year 1991 in music, I’ll now count down my personal top ten albums of that year.
At #10 is U2’s Achtung Baby, the band’s seventh studio album and the first proper follow-up (setting aside the soundtrack album Rattle and Hum) to 1987’s classic The Joshua Tree.
Achtung Baby was a massive hit, with 18 million copies sold worldwide, second only to The Joshua Tree among their discography.
U2’s latest album, Songs of Experience, debuted at #1, giving the band #1 hits in every decade since the 80s (they are the first band to achieve that milestone). Many of those sales were the result of a deal that packaged a copy of the album with tickets to their current tour, a gimmick many acts are adopting to boost album sales.
As gimmicks go, it’s not as audacious as the one they tried with their previous album, 2014’s Songs on Innocence, when they automatically uploaded copies of the album to every iTunes customer in the world. That didn’t go over so well.