With the world mired in a political cesspool, Bono has been strangely quiet.
Or maybe I’ve just tuned out all the noise.
Not one to keep his mouth shut, Bono, aka Paul Hewson, certainly must have something to say about the events taking place in the last year. And, with the extended free time from the coronavirus lockdown surprisingly little news from the U2 camp on new material. In fact, U2 has not released an album of new material since 2017’s Songs Of Experience.
Nevertheless, more than 40 years after U2’s debut album Boy, the band remains an influence to others and more than a die-hard fan favorite as sold out stadium tours just a few years ago attest. Good on them, too, for keeping it real since 1980 as singer Bono, guitarist The Edge, bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullins, Jr. remain the core and only members. No revolving door for U2 and, arguably at this point, if anyone of them leaves U2 dissolves. (Granted, the very early years of U2 had guitarist Dik Evans, brother of David Evans, aka The Edge, and very short-lived guitarist Ivan McCormick.)
Politics and activism aside, agree or disagree, and like or dislike their music, we can all accede on the talent of U2. They have a wide collection of hit songs, they don’t rely on the same formula album after album and, for many, the soundtrack of their lives includes this rock band from Dublin, Ireland.
U2 Boy Album Review
Seven years before The Joshua Tree which cemented U2 in the hearts and mind of the 80s generation, Boy was released. Initially overlooked – such is life with the debut album – Boy pretty much had one hit that remains a radio and concert favorite today. The 11 song, nearly 45 minute debut album Boy (released Oct. 20, 1980) starts out strong, holds its own for the first half before a slow fade and then getting stuck in a moment you can’t wait to get out of.
Fun Fact: A briefcase full of lyrics intended for U2’s next album October was either lost or stolen from a tavern where the band played on the Boy tour in Portland, Oregon. Bono was forced to rewrite all the songs for their follow-up album but in 2004 the briefcase was found in the attic of a Tacoma, WA house and returned to the frontman.
Boy opens with the gritty, post-punk and perhaps a touch of new wave “I Will Follow” which fully taps into the musical genre of the day. A tribute to Bono’s mother who he lost at age 14, the song delivers a tour de force for the band in an energetic quasi-punk rock trip.
The early finesse continues on “Twilight” featuring a great bass line and a guitar chord that talks. Bono mostly left in the foreground as Clayton and the Edge carry this one. “An Cat Dubh,” (wait, say what?) conveys a gothic rock cut reminiscent of Siouxsie and the Banshees. Translated in Irish as “The Black Cat,” “An Cat Dubh,”rolls right into “Into the Heart” which retains the slow ending of the “cat” track before picking up the pace but otherwise offers a foreshadow of the more bland U2 songs to come.
A hard-rocker in “Out of Control” sounds nothing like U2 until Bono chimes in and the loud and brash “Stories for Boys” to start the second half comes across a bit too repetitive but decent nonetheless. “The Ocean” offers one minute and 35 seconds of nothing.
A bit more complex drum work gives the vigorous “A Day Without Me” some depth but overall void of inordinate melody then ultimately dissolves in a bit of a disorganization and more mediocrity ensues with “Another Time Another Place.” Again, not bad. Just nothing joyously melodious that sticks in your head.
But “The Electric Co.” produces a nice upbeat tempo with a great bass line and guitar harmony. A fun, better crafted piece than the previous few tracks ending in a pretty explosive jam that salvages the last half of the album. Boy should have ended here on a high note because…
“Shadows and Tall Trees / Saturday Matinee” closes this album with a slow euphonious mess that goes nowhere melodically. “Shadows and Tall Trees” falls like an un-produced demo track and “Saturday Matinee” is a “hidden” instrumental (later moved as a separate 34 second song on the 2008 reissue of Boy) that starts around 4:40, five seconds or so after “Shadows and Tall Trees” ends, but it’s not really an instrumental, mostly noise and the whole thing doesn’t really fall apart because it never got going in the first place. No doubt you’d hit the FF button on your cassette player once “The Electric Co.” finished so you can flip the tape and get back to “I Will Follow.”
Boy exhibits all the hallmarks of a budget debut album release using the technology of the day. Stripped down, with a pedestrian sounding drum set, Bono as a more nasal vocal embracing a youthful plea while holding down the tone he carries today and a backing band with more than enough ability to take U2 to the next level.
A slight bit of tin – if only to date the record 40 years later – and the vocals sometimes getting washed out, all endearing qualities of a band on the rise releasing their first album that gets overlooked until the future platinum releases.
Debut Album Grade: B+
Overall Grade: B-
U2 Boy Songs:
- I Will Follow
- An Cat Dubh
- Into the Heart
- Out of Control
- Stories for Boys
- The Ocean
- A Day Without Me
- Another Time Another Place
- The Electric Co.
- Shadows and Tall Trees / Saturday Matinee