At the end of 1989, Bono announced the band would "go away and dream it all up again", which left fans and the press wondering if it was his way of hinting the band would call it quits soon. It was just the opposite: a dramatic re-invention and sound. Achtung Baby came into the world with distorted guitars and vocals, dense percussion, with an industrial-influence and lyrics inspired by a surreal story about Berlin.
Critics raved over the band's new sound and ability to "create moods", specifically praising The Edge's guitar playing.
'Even Better Than The Real Thing'
Achtung Baby's second track has roots in 1988's Rattle & Hum sessions. The Edge composed a chorus guitar riff that was shelved and later re-discovered by the band in 1991. Bono once described the lyrics as being a reflection of the times with people who sought instant gratification over the truth. Richard Branson repeatedly requested the song to advertise his Virgin Cola to ironically compete with Coca-Cola's "The Real Thing" tagline.
Recorded in Berlin, "One" was U2's breakthrough song after two months of tense studio sessions with Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. wanting their sound to go in a different direction than The Edge and Bono. With lyrics inspired by the band's fractured relationship at the time and the recent reunification of Germany with the destruction of the Berlin Wall, the song would go on to become a symbol of unity.
The track was ultimately composed in 15 minutes.
'Until The End Of The World'
Written for director Wim Wenders for his 1991 film "Until The End Of The World" with William Hurt. The song describes a fictional conversation between Jesus Christ and Judas Iscariot. Patti Smith would go on to cover the song which she described as "finding dark, bottom-of-the-bottle desperation in its lyrics."
'Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses'
The song is reportedly U2's least favourite song on the album. Bono once said, "It's a song I feel we didn't quite nail on the record because there was another whole set of lyrics that were dumped and I wrote those quickly and off we went." Adam Clayton agreed, saying the band has "never really been able to play the song live," though it has been known to pop-up as an acoustic arrangement when the band is on tour.
Originally developed as an acoustic track with a piano motif, the embittered love song "So Cruel" has its emotional roots in the separation between The Edge and his first wife Aislinn, whom he had been in a relationship with since high school.
Martin Gore of Depeche Mode called the track "Bono at his best" in terms of the song's haunting lyrics about self-doubt and betrayal.
Bono once described the subject matter of "The Fly" as that of a phone call from Hell from someone who enjoys being there and wants to tell the other person on the line all that he's learned. Bono adopted the persona of "The Fly" with his slicked-back hair and dark, goggle-like glasses for the band's Zoo TV Tour.
The second single off of Achtung Baby, the music video for "Mysterious Ways" was filmed in Morocco and featured distorted views of Bono and a belly dancer. The belly dancer was incorporated into U2's live stage show during the Zoo TV Tour and occasionally makes an appearance in more recent tours with the band inviting fans to dance on stage during their song.
'Tryin' To Throw Your Arms Around The World'
A tongue-in-cheek song about stumbling home drunk after a night on the town, was a staple during the band's 1992-1993 tour, but hasn't made a reappearance on tour since then.
'Ultraviolet (Light My Way)'
"Ultraviolet (Light My Way)" is another song on the familiar theme of women as a spirit, juxtaposing Bono's lyrics with the band's 1980 song "Shadows And Tall tress" off their Boy album. The song marks the beginning of the end of Achtung Baby, as it winds down the album alongside "Acrobat" and "Love Is Blindness" – all songs that explore the act of how couples reconcile the suffering they have imposed on one another.
Never performed live, "Acrobat" deals with themes of hypocrisy, moral confusion and alienation, all topics the band explored on their 1993 follow-up album, Zooropa. Bono's coda to "dream out loud" is a recurring theme in "Acrobat" and in the opening title-track on Zooropa.
'Love Is Blindness'
Originally developed during the 1988 recording of Rattle & Hum, Bono took to the piano to write the song with initial plans to send it to Nina Simone to record.
The end track of Achtung Baby also finds its musical roots in the end of The Edge's marriage, who found catharsis in the guitar solo ending, reportedly snapping several guitar strings during the song's recording.