Blood, sweat and tears from the globe-bestriding Dublin quartet. Plus their 10 greatest albums.


Back Story

  • ORIGIN: Dublin, Ireland
  • CORE MEMBERS: Paul “Bono” Hewson, David “The Edge” Evans, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen, Jr.
  • GENRES: Rock, post-punk
  • YEARS ACTIVE: 1976-present

One man’s gauche is another man’s heartfelt; one man’s art another man’s pretention. And so it is with U2, loved and loathed in equal measure almost from the moment Larry Mullen Jr pinned a musicians wanted ad to the noticeboard at Dublin’s Temple Mount school in 1978 and shanghai’d Paul “Bono” Hewson, Dave “The Edge” Evans and Adam Clayton. From the start, rock’n’roll for The Larry Mullen Band (as they were originally to be called) was an opportunity to bite off more than they could chew.

At first, with pals the Virgin Prunes they provided a provincial beach-head for post-punk, The Edge’s frigid guitars providing a platform for Bono’s unfettered hollering. Then Ireland-only singles (Three, and Another Day) tempted Chris Blackwell’s Island label to the table; cue a run of chiming albums that soundtracked their inner struggle with a brand of charismatic Christianity that Edge, Bono and (less enthusiastically) Mullen had embraced back in Dublin. By the commercial breakthrough of 1983’s War album (New Year's Day became their first UK Number 1 single that March), they’d been born again, but this time in red-blooded rock...(continues below)


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Thematically, a struggle between the sacred and profane, the earnest and honest, would define their progress, while periodic sonic reinventions would save their skins. The Unforgettable Fire (1983) saw the debut of Brian Eno behind the faders, and the ethereal result horrified a label hoping for another War. But it was only when U2 resisted change (as they did on 1988’s über-trad, half-live Rattle & Hum) that they disappointed. Bono called the subsequent Achtung Baby (1991) “the sound of four men chopping down the Joshua Tree”, and the complicated, eclectic result set them fair for the complicated, eclectic ’90s.

“Spending time with Bono is like eating dinner on a train. Feels like you're moving, going somewhere.”

Bob Dylan

In the new century, they’ve thrived (’04’s How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb debuted at #1 in America, toppling Eminem) and their “wobble” (mixed reviews for ’09’s No Line On The Horizon) was followed by the biggest-grossing rock’n’roll tour of all time. Why so durable? Because, alone among their contemporaries, U2 move at the same speed as contemporary popular culture. "Spending time with Bono [is] like eating dinner on a train,” wrote Dylan in Chronicles Volume 1. “Feels like you're moving, going somewhere." Strap yourselves in; it’s a bumpy ride.