U2 | All That You Can’t Leave Behind | (Universal Music)
Five out of Five stars
With the release of All That You Can’t Leave Behind exactly 20 years ago on October 30, 2000 to be exact,U2 were coming off a disappointing run of albums, a series of releases dominated by the Pop album and its various live offshoots, all of which found the band on the outer fringes of critical and commercial favor. They had gone off on a decidedly different experimental tangent that had alienated some fans but simply bewildered others. In fact, U2 had long since progressed from their post-punk poster boy status of their earliest efforts to a band better known for stirring arena-sized anthems and music of relevance and importance. Yet either through self-indulgence or simply a desire to make some “statement” of sorts, they had seemingly lost their ability to write rock songs that could connect on a pure and positive level.
In fact, it had been nearly ten years since their last album of real relevance, that being Achtung Baby, and the group was sorely in need of offering up songs that would not only make them radio-ready once again but also relevant to an audience weaned on their gut-wrenching, guitar-driven delivery. To accomplish that task, they reconnected with the two men who had helped them achieve that singular standard — Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. As a result of that choice, they were eventually able to find their way back to the musical mainstream. Indeed, the new album took its cues not only from Aching Baby, but also from The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree, efforts that not only benefited from the two men’s involvement, but also established a standard that U2 now found themselves endeavoring to live up to.
Originally dubbed U2000, the new album found the band meeting the challenge head-on, and the series of singles it spawned — “Beautiful Day,” “Elevation” and “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” — remain among the most memorable of their entire canon, each imbued with he kind of overarching hooks, lyrics and melodies that became instantly ingrained in the collective consciousness. It was little wonder then that it helped them recapture the praise they had garnered so early on. According to Wikipedia, All That You Can’t Leave Behind remains the only album to have multiple tracks gain Grammys for Record of the Year, courtesy of “Beautiful Day” in 2001 and “Walk On” in 2002. It also came as little surprise that All That You Can’t Leave Behind achieved the ultimate accolade —a Grammy for Album of the Year.
The band described the album as a summation of their past lives and their experiences up until that point, as well as an effort to tie up those varied scenarios and reconcile them with the place where they had arrived. A document that details the very essence of U2’s stirring sound and sensibility, it succeeds admirably. From the opening onslaught and celebratory stance of “Beautiful Day” and “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of,” through to the drive and determination evident in “Walk On,” “Wild Honey,” “New York,” and the final songs that follow, it adds up to another musical masterpiece, one that stands tall alongside the others in the band’s collective cannon.
In marking the 20th anniversary of this landmark album, Universal has gone all out with a sumptuous five CD deluxe box set that includes the original album, multiple remixes of several songs from the track list, and, as a special bonus, various B-sides, outtakes and alternative versions in addition to a pair of live discs documenting a live performance from Boston culled from their Elevation tour. Suffice it to say, all the addendums measure up as far as the greatness of the original effort is concerned and each underscores all the adulation originally accorded.
That’s affirmed immediately with disc two, the one that boasts those B sides and other additives in the bonus bonanza. The upward spiral of “Levitation,” the sumptuous sound of “Summer Rain,” the unlikely tribute to Johnny Cash titled, appropriately, “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town” and a lofty acoustic take on “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of.” All affirm the fact that the band had fully ignited their prolific prowess. Likewise, the two concert discs find them in full incendiary mode, igniting the crowd with sheer presence and passion. Naturally, songs from the new album took precedence, but with the inclusion of such classics as “I Will Follow,” “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “Where the Streets Have No Name,” and “With or Without You,” it’s quite clear that the recent material was of the same standard as the offerings that had elevated them to success and stardom so early on.
Granted, the remixes will likely be of interest mainly to audiophiles and those that enjoy exploring certain sounds that lie well below the surface. However it’s the 32 page hardcover book of photos, boasting handwritten notes from photographer Anton Corbijn, and the other additional add-ons — lyrics, a poster and complete track credits — that truly help make this a sumptuous audio and visual bonanza that’s almost certain to ignite a full fan frenzy.
Few other reissues offer this kind of cause for celebration, one well worthy of the original effort. As the title implies, it’s clearly one that ought not be left behind.