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January 5, 2020 10:06 AM   Subscribe

How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb was U2's 11th studio album, released in 2004. Marked strongly by the then-recent death of Bob Hewson, it's full of reaching toward life and struggling with mortality. It's worth a revisit now, over 15 years since its release. Side A: Vertigo [video], Miracle Drug [background], Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own [video], Love And Peace Or Else, City Of Blinding Lights [video] posted by hippybear (39 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Or, as I like to call it The Album That I Played So Much My Girlfriend Broke Up With Me.
posted by Bill Watches Movies Podcast at 11:48 AM on January 5 [4 favorites]

Don't forget this early version of Vertigo: Native Son ed. Sorry see that it is there
posted by senor biggles at 11:51 AM on January 5 [1 favorite]

So Much My Girlfriend Broke Up With Me

Surely once would have been enough for any right-minded person to flee
posted by ominous_paws at 11:54 AM on January 5 [10 favorites]

Vertigo is, like, "I once heard a Sonic Youth song."
posted by sjswitzer at 11:59 AM on January 5 [2 favorites]

I've been giving Pop a re-evaluation recently, backing off from my stricture of no post-Zooropa U2. Because really, the Internet making Bono too readily apparent shouldn't necessarily mean their records are getting worse. And there's some good songs from the Pop era, particularly the Batman movie track and some of the remixes that appeared as single versions and b-sides after the initial release. It's fun to cobble together an ideal version of Pop from those, real catnip for music geeks.

But I'm afraid 21st century U2 is still (forgive me) an Edge too far. I was working music retail when Atomic Bomb, er, dropped and consequently heard it about a hundred times in the space of a month. It is, by a large margin, the worst U2 album I have heard. It's a grating "rock" album that noisily treads water for about an hour and then sinks without a trace. Just add Vertigo to your playlist and call it a day. For me, Pop is salvageable... Atomic Bomb is not. It almost makes me want to revise my stricture to no post-Joshua Tree U2.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 12:42 PM on January 5 [8 favorites]

Surely once would have been enough for any right-minded person to flee.

You assume sanity on both sides here.
posted by Bill Watches Movies Podcast at 12:57 PM on January 5 [3 favorites]

Desperate for new music while working in the oil field, I bought this album at a gas station outside Fort McMurray. I listened to it once and never bought another U2 album again.
posted by hoodrich at 1:12 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]

I mostly associate this album with Improv Everywhere's glorious fake U2 rooftop concert.
posted by Candleman at 1:39 PM on January 5

Guy can't even count to 4
posted by mrcircles at 3:19 PM on January 5 [3 favorites]

I'll be honest here -- this is the U2 album I always forget exists. It's like, I've followed them for decades, have seen every tour of theirs since Joshua Tree, even saw the Vertigo tour FOUR TIMES, and I still forget this album exists.

Wikipedia says that Bono feels this album is less than the sum of its parts, and I'd have to agree. It's chock full of truly great material, but it somehow just doesn't stick in the mind. So strange.
posted by hippybear at 3:21 PM on January 5 [2 favorites]

I was a huge U2 fan up to and including the Pop era, and I bounced so hard off Atomic Bomb that I couldn't even listen to the stuff I loved for a good five years. I don't know what it is about that album, but it disagrees with me on a visceral, pre-conscious level somehow.
posted by mattwan at 3:28 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]

Or, as I like to call it The Album That I Played So Much My Girlfriend Broke Up With Me.

Was this after play uno, dos, tres, or catorce?
posted by Huffy Puffy at 3:45 PM on January 5 [6 favorites]

I felt like this was the Rattle & Hum off of All That You Can't Leave Behind's Joshua tree. Some really good bits but unbearable to listen to all the way through.
posted by KingEdRa at 4:33 PM on January 5

I was a U2 fan from back when I was in high school and U2 was the opener for my friend Susie's band in Passaic, NJ. Post-college, I married a guy whose band opened for them on their Red Rocks tour and yes, they were really nice guys.

I can't explain it, but I have always found City of Blinding Lights just so moving. he best of the U2 guitar jangling like "I Will Follow" and when Bono sings, "Oh, you look so beautiful tonight..." it always gets me.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 5:39 PM on January 5 [5 favorites]

City Of Blinding Lights is an amazing concert tune, too. The whole crowd leaping and shout/singing...
posted by hippybear at 6:02 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]

"Yahweh" remains a stellar album closer. Love this album.
posted by riverlife at 6:04 PM on January 5

Man, this takes me back to Maddox’s eleven worst songs of 2004.
posted by the legendary esquilax at 6:30 PM on January 5

Man, this takes me back to Maddox’s eleven worst songs of 2004.

If there was a list of things a pacifist should never say, "or else" would probably top it.

Heh apparently the subtleties of circa 2004 U2 are a bit above Maddox's head.
posted by atoxyl at 7:33 PM on January 5

Thanks for this. You hit what I like about this record — the way death’s closeness makes you notice every part of your life and vitality. I’m laughing at how disappointed early u2 fans are that u2 can’t write raging political bangers forever. But how’s it not revolutionary or relevant to wonder, forex, if your old, flawed heart can still love the same partner after all this time, or to plead with your daughter to not make the same (lucky) mistakes you did? The last revolution is in the heart and mind, where we (sometimes) decide to put aside rage and defiance and reinvest in human nurturing.
posted by toodleydoodley at 9:37 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]

A Man And A Woman is nearly but not quite an excellent song. Every time I hear it I'm compelled to re-write it in my head, finding the potential and leaving out the awkwardness.
posted by Eleven at 2:50 AM on January 6

This is the album that made me stop caring about U2 -- which is not to say I hate it, I'm mostly indifferent to it, but more that I listened to it, went "huh, well, okay," and then didn't think about it any more or what the band might be doing next. When their next album showed up I didn't feel the need to go out of my way to get it or listen to it, and when I did I was mostly unmoved. Repeat for the next two albums as well. I don't actively dislike any of them (although I think No Line on the Horizon is definitively their least interesting album). I just don't see them as essential, or essentially interesting.

It doesn't change my opinion that U2 is one of the great rock bands, or that they have some of the best rock songs of the 80s and 90s; they are and they do. But for me nearly all long-running popular rock bands have a relevance frontier -- the point at which their albums, whether good, bad, or indifferent, stop being events and start being output. For the Rolling Stones, that was Tattoo You; For REM, Monster; for the Cure, Wish; and so on. For U2, I'd say it was All The You Can't Leave Behind; everything after that, starting with this album, is sort of extraneous.

I mean, I'm willing to be wrong; I'd be happy to hear a new U2 album that just blows me away and makes me re-evaluate them as artists. I'd be happy to hear it, but I'm not holding my breath for it.
posted by jscalzi at 5:30 AM on January 6

"Vertigo" always reminds me of that South Park episode.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:04 AM on January 6

I’d have to say I stopped caring after Achtung Baby. Aside from maybe one OK song per album after that, I basically don’t bother.

Having mostly finished rebuilding my collection of favorite songs and artists (I am unsurprisingly bourgeois), it turns out most of my favorites have gone the U2 route.
posted by drivingmenuts at 6:18 AM on January 6

I remember I liked "Zooropa"......I think I have a CD of "Pop", so I must have bought it, but I don't remember any songs from it.

The only huge, chart-topping, stadium-filling band who quit before they overstayed their welcome, that I can remember, is The Police.
posted by thelonius at 6:49 AM on January 6

I’m laughing at how disappointed early u2 fans are that u2 can’t write raging political bangers forever

I said 'pretend you've got no money'
She just laughed and said 'oh you're so funny'
I said 'yeah?'...
posted by Cardinal Fang at 7:02 AM on January 6 [1 favorite]

I actually like this one way better than Zooropa and Pop. Sometimes You Can't Make it on Your Own and City of Blinding Lights are both pretty great.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:21 AM on January 6

I'm not sure, but I think this is where U2 started their relationship with Apple. Apple promoted the iPod and iTunes with Vertigo (YouTube), which may have boosted the prominence of the song (MSN track-by-track notes), and there were the three special U2 iPods (Every Mac), which Bono promoted or celebrated at some point (image source:
posted by filthy light thief at 7:38 AM on January 6

I really love "Vertigo", but I can't think of anything else on this album that I might have heard.

However, I can tell you that my sense of time is so fucked up that, had "This U2 album was automatically downloaded to every Apple iPhone" been a Jeopardy question, my answer would have been "what is that album with 'Vertigo'?", and I would have been off by a full decade.
posted by hanov3r at 7:51 AM on January 6 [2 favorites]

I remember that happening (the great U2 giveaway) but I don’t remember why people got so wickéd pissed about it. It was like someone peed the Wheaties to distract them while the the family schnauzer was stolen level of pissed.
posted by drivingmenuts at 8:08 AM on January 6

Well, people who still care about their iTunes library are usually pretty particular about how they like to have it organized, what they have in it, and so on. And the idea of being compelled to suddenly have a new U2 album in it did not sit well with them.
posted by thelonius at 9:04 AM on January 6

I will seize the opportunity of this "U2/iPhone debacle" derail to post what I consider to be one of the greatest tweets of all time:
@dwineman (Sep 11, 2014)
Evolution of music sales:
1. Pay a lot
2. Pay a little
3. Pay anything
4. OK fine, just pay once a month
5. Fuck you, now you own a U2 album
posted by Banky_Edwards at 9:24 AM on January 6 [4 favorites]

Pop is hugely underrated and probably last time a band of their stadium status dared not give people what they want.
posted by Damienmce at 9:50 AM on January 6 [2 favorites]

Many thanks for folks letting this thread appreciate the band and not turning it into something super negative.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 5:15 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]

Okay, so... Back in 2006, I saw Pearl Jam at some show I can't remember right now, I'd have to look it up. On my way out of the show, there was this guy in the stairwell who looked at me and for some reason said "are you going to see Pearl Jam in Honolulu?" I said back, as I was walking, "I can't imagine doing that". He yelled at me as I went on down the stairs, "They're opening for U2."

All my hair stood on end. Pearl Jam, probably my #1 favorite band, opening for U2, probably my #1 favorite band. How could this even be happening? And how could I possibly get a ticket? And am I really stupid enough to do this?

It turned out that U2 had needed to reschedule a date at Aloha Stadium for some reason, and they were offering up any tickets returned after the original date was cancelled as new concert ticket offerings, so it wouldn't have to be resale. I could get them day of sale if I was quick (and I usually am).

So I got a ticket. One seat with excellent sight lines, really an ideal place to watch the show. The Vertigo outdoor show was entirely different from their indoor show, which I'd already seen three times on various US legs of their tour. Giant video screen, satellite stage out in the crowd (instead of the circle ramp which they used indoors), really a different show.

Pearl Jam played a set designed to pull in casual fans who were attending and to remind others of who they were while still rocking the fuck out of the place. At one point Eddie appeared on top of one of the sound sheds out in the crowd, singing with the band, wowing the crowd. I have that poster hanging on my wall right above my computer desk where I sit right now. It's beautiful.

U2's set included an encore with Pearl Jam doing Rockin' In The Free World, a Neil Young song that is a staple at the end of Pearl Jam shows. Their entire set was really alive and full of surprises. It was an amazing experience all around, truly, for someone like me.

I had zero money to do anything special in Honolulu. I was only in town for 56 hours. It was the same weekend as the anniversary of Pearl Harbor and also was the weekend of the Honolulu Marathon, so there were like 100,000 extra people in town aside from the U2 crowd (and don't forget the regular December tourists!), so things were a little chaotic everywhere I tried to wander. And it was the stupidest thing I've done, so much money for just one night (really), but man, I wouldn't trade it. Musical heights were hit for me that night.

I have audio bootlegs of both Pearl Jam and U2 from that night, and a really great amateur 3-cam shot video of the U2 show. I haven't been able to find a bootleg of the first opening act, Rocko And The Devils, which was a bunch of members of the sound crew (I think Rocko was Edge's guitar tech), so if you ever find it out and about, MeMail me.
posted by hippybear at 7:30 PM on January 6 [5 favorites]

I should probably state, my love of seeing U2 in concert is entirely divorced from what album they're touring for. U2 live is like very very few other things on the planet, and they have always gone so far beyond expected and created utter musical magic for me every time I've seen them. I've seen every US tour I could get to (all the big ones) since I first saw them closing night on their Joshua Tree tour when BB King opened for them and they debuted When Love Comes To Town. So over 30 years, lots of shows.

I have other bands, too... but there are few that do what U2 do. Highly recommend.
posted by hippybear at 7:40 PM on January 6 [3 favorites]

The song is a 6/10 but to my ears Vertigo is one of the most amazing recordings ever.

UPDATE: Ok, I just relistened for the first time in years, it sounds like shit, at least the Spotify version does, weird.
posted by Cosine at 11:59 AM on January 7

What bitrate does Spotify run at?

My CD sounds really great (I have a nice little soundbox of a living room so I get to listen intensely), and my ripped file to my iTunes sounds pretty good too.

It's a really well-engineered album overall, truly. It works better as part of a shuffle, which is strange for a U2 album. Most of them have a through-line.

(If you've set U2 aside, I'd suggest checking out Songs Of Experience, which I think is their strongest album in ages. It's aging rock stars writing about being aging rock stars. It's not brilliant, but it's better than most of what they've put out post POP, IMO.)
posted by hippybear at 9:26 PM on January 7

hippybear, was that the show when PJ's set was cut short by turning off the band's sound?
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 3:33 AM on January 8

No, PJs set was a warm-up set and was set for around an hour from the beginning. It was not cut off. I can believe they've been cut off, though. I've been to some seriously long-ass "like, aren't they completely violating some kind of curfew law" concerts. 12:30, 1am...
posted by hippybear at 8:54 PM on January 9

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