U2 has never been a band to shy away from spectacle, from the blitzkrieg-like barrage of TV screens during the band's Zoo TV tour in the early 1990s to the megalomania of the PopMart Tour, complete with a 100-foot-high golden McDonald's-like arch, in 1997. Since kicking off a now 34-year career as one of the most successful rock bands in the world, U2 has continued to push the boundaries of conventional rock wisdom. In fact, since Bono, the Edge, Larry Mullen, Jr. and Adam Clayton first came together -- just four young lads from Ireland, joined by a dream to create beautiful rock music -- there has rarely been an instance when they settled for the status quo.
Remixes, however, are nothing new to U2. As Ralph Moore, an editor at Mixmag, writes, "U2 were one of the first bands to fully explore the idea that a remix could actually improve on a song's original grooves." In 1992, a Paul Oakenfold and Steve Osborne remix of U2's "Even Better Than The Real Thing" made it to number 8 on the music charts shortly after the original was released. While Artificial Horizon isn't a commercial release, there are plenty of gems to be found, like the almost transcendental sound of the "Staring at the Sun" ambient mix. This latest fan-only album, a follow-up to the Melon remix album released in 1995, proves U2 is unafraid to embrace experimentation, a facet of the band's personality that continues to be successful.
When U2 became "Rock's Hottest Ticket" in 1987, as billed on the cover of Time Magazine following the release of the Joshua Tree album, they were riding high on the success of a sound nurtured by producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, a duo that had helped the band craft their previous album, The Unforgettable Fire. It was a sound that solidified U2's standing as rock superstar, but it also marked the end of traditional rock tunes for the Irish band.
As the 80's drew to a close, U2 was growing weary of its "traditional" sound, having become a band that couldn't escape playing its own greatest hits on the road. On December 30, 1989, Bono told fans attending a concert in Dublin, Ireland, "This is just the end of something for U2... we have to go away and dream it all up again." By this, Bono meant that U2, for its own creative sanity, had to re-think the style of music they were churning out, and hopefully, dream up something new.
And new was exactly what U2 produced, along with the help of Lanois and Eno. After spending a tumultuous time in the recording studio, U2 re-emerged onto the music scene with a game-changing album. Achtung Babywas "raw", "rough" and "straightforward," as the Edge would tell U2's fan-magazine Propaganda around the time of the album's release. Nabbing the band another Grammy for Best Rock Album, Achtung Baby told the world U2 was unafraid to change. The album was full of industrial rock sounds and electronic tricks. This wasn't the U2 of the 80's, but a U2 ready to embrace, and often set the course for the future of rock music.
Since 1991's Achtung Baby, U2 has continued to reinvent itself. 1997's Pop delivered a full-blown electronic and techno sound, followed up three years later by a slightly conservative and familiar sound with 2000's All That You Can't Leave Behind. But, familiar doesn't mean old when it comes to U2, as 2004's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb proved, delivering "grandiose music from grandiose men," as Rolling Stone wrote in its album review.
Experimentation has paid off for U2, with their latest tour topping the charts last year, grossing more than $311 million, according to Billboard.com. All 44 concert dates completely sold out in 2009, often within minutes of going on sale to the public. While there is no word as to when U2 might have a new album ready for release, all of the young whippersnappers currently clogging the music charts should be on guard, because when U2 has something to sing about, everybody tends to listen.