U2, the Edge, The Unforgettable Fire and Delay

Hello today another blogarticle about U2 and the Edge and the sound they discoved by using delay.
For today I mainly want to focus on the change in the U2 sound and what this meant for later albums. In the next blog I will go into detail how you can create that sound yourself and I will also go into detail about The Edge and his use of the Volume Pedal. All of that is for next blog, for today mainly a short discussion about the change in the U2 sound which happened with the album “The Unforgettable Fire”

The album “The Unforgettable Fire” came out in 1984, by that time U2 was established as a well-known name, but their status as global Rock band was still growing. There are quite a few articles on the net about U2’s albums and the Edge and his use of effects. For most of the articles I write here I use my own experience and my own views of how I see U2 and how I experience their sound and songs. It is interesting to see that a lot of critics seem to see things in a similar way when it comes to “the Unforgettable Fire”: The album can be seen as a transitional album which sits in between the earlier albums “Boy”, “October” and “War” and the next album “the Joshua Tree”.

“The Unforgettable Fire” meant a change for their sound: More and more use of digital delay where the guitars would sit in between drums and bass and form a part of the rhythm rather than being part of the main structure of the song: Usually the guitars play chords and riffs and both of these from the structure and the body of the song. Not with U2, a lot of the guitar parts they created from about 1984 onwards form little embelishing parts which add detail to the song. They can be seen as the extras, and yes, these extras are important, but they do not form the body of the song. The bass from now onwards would lay down the harmonic structure of the song where the guitars could play around with the rhythm and some effects. A lot of bands have copied this approach, not literally, but you can see where there sound comes from. I am thinking of the Killers later work and ColdPlay. In a way ColdPlay can be seen as a modern version of U2, in their global status and their changes in sound throughout the years.

Some of these changes mentioned before were brought onwards by working with producer Brian Eno, but is it fair to say that U2 wanted a change in their sound themselves around 1984. As a result  of the changes in sound, U2 would become bigger and bigger, they had created a template with the sound of delay and other atmospheric treats which they were able to adapt over time, make the U2 sound work within the framework of time and the sound of the popmusic of the day.

Fastforward to the “Joshua Tree” album and we find U2 with a more American, traditional Roots Rock sound which has more in common with Blues and Folk music rather than a British Sound. Having said that, U2 always had that Irish sound, the Folk is in their sound, regardless of how hard they Rock, a song like “New Years Day” brings this all home, no matter what the critics write about “War” being U2’s rawest Rock Album. Truth is the U2 sound is a mix of so many different musics, which is a healthy aproach to making music. The digital delay gave them a more modern element which would help them to stay at the top of their game.

“Rattle and Hum” the last album of the 1980s would see U2 once more in the field of American Roots Music. It opens with the Beatles song “Helter Skelter” played with so much passion and energy. It is really hard to see why critics disliked the album so much. It was once again U2 doing what they do regardless of all the musical trends of the time.

The 1990s would see U2 with three more albums: “Achtung Baby”, “Zooropa” and “Pop”.  “Achtung Baby” was and is still seen as the most important album of all those three. Again it meant a change in sound, more electronic–think of the dance movement of the late 80s and early 90s— but the U2 sound was still there. “Zooropa” contains more softer songs and “Pop” is more beat-based music, more produced and less of a live-rock band sound.

Let me bring you now back to the song and album which started this discussion about the change in sound and the U2 sound in general. Here is a prime example of the U2 sound, complete with delay, harmonics and volumepedal bringing in sounds which remind you more about keys from a keyboard being touched rather than strings of a guitar being strummed.

Here another one, maybe this one is clearer and more in your face with regards to the characteristic U2 sound and its use of digital delay:

Here U2 themselves talking about the album, some of the changes ect.

That is it for today folks, for next blog I want to talk your through some of the specifics of that delaysound, what kind of set-up you can use, the use of volumepedal in that set-up to create other sounds.
Not pretending to know all the effects the Edges uses to get his sound, but I do listen closely, think and experiment. I firmly believe you can get close to some of the sounds Edge uses with only a handful of effects, but that is the stuff for next blog.
Enjoy for now, and hope to catch you soon again,