U2’s 1984 album, the Unforgettable Fire, was a major shift from their previous punk rock style to a more stadium rock sound. Featuring powerful tracks like “Pride,” “MLK,” and “America,” the album is a testament to U2’s unwavering passion and talent for creating music that inspires, moves and annoys [some] people!
Turned on by Rattle & Hum in the late Eighties, and inspired by the lush orchestration of the title track, I sought out The Unforgettable Fire. U2’s fourth record was a departure from their previous work and showed the band expanding their sound to embrace stadium rock. Working with producers Brian Eno, and Daniel Lanois the band moved to Slaine castle to live and work as one, harnessing the vast interiors to capture a wider expansive sound.
Whilst ‘Pride in the Name of Love’ is the standout track, it is the deeper songs that draw me in, and keep me hooked. The introspective ‘4th of July’ a rare instrumental track showcasing Adam’s bass acts as wonderful entry point to the growing, powerful ‘Bad’ which became Bono’s Live Aid showcase the following summer. Songs like Elvis Presley and America foreshadowed themes that would reoccur in Rattle & Hum and the Passengers soundtrack.
What was the Unforgettable Fire?
The title was given by U2’s manager (and Riviera creator) Paul McGuinness, who was inspired by a line in the Dylan Thomas poem ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’ which read: “The dying embers scarce glow/Unforgettable fire.”
Martin Luther King – MLK & Pride
According to the book U2: The Definitive Biography, Bono had read the biography Of MLK, ‘Let the Trumpet Sound’, finding connections between the civil rights movement in the United States and The Troubles in Ireland. He wished there was a figure in Ireland who had a vision like King’s. Apparently Pride started as a critisicm of Ronald Ragen’s nuclear policies but reworked to praise the civil rights activist.
Despite being a concert staple, Pride was never a number one hit in the either the UK or the USA. Ironically, Discotheque from the overlooked ‘Pop’ achieved what Pride could not – topping the UK charts in February 1997.
The album closer, MLK is an elegy to the late activist, closing out the album in contemplative mood, a style repeated on the Joshua Tree closer.
Rolling Stone were not so impressed with this album suggesting the album seems to ‘drone on and on, an endless flurry of chinkety guitar scratchings, state-of-the-art sound processing and the most mundane sort of lyrical imagery’ suggesting, ‘U2’s original power flickers through only intermittently.’
However, the best line of that critical mauling is the last. ‘I hope they won’t forget where their real fire lies the next time out.’ The next time out was the Joshua Tree…
U2 drummer Larry Mullen Jr later said of this period: “Suddenly we were hearing our songs on the radio and U2 is everywhere! It was like overnight success – except we’d been at it for about 10 years.”
The album cover was photographed by the legendary Anton Corbijn capturing the band outside the ruins of Moydrum Castle castle, a privately owned pile about two hours drive west of Dublin.
From a Sort of Homecoming to MLK, The Unforgettable Fire was U2’s first truly grown up and international album. Before the pomposity of Rattle & Hum, before the Glitz of Pop or the Grunge of Achtung Baby, this album was a mature mix of rock and reflection that still sounds fresh today.