All the Songs on U2’s ‘Achtung Baby’ Album Ranked

Achtung Baby was an unexpected reinvention from U2. Inspired by club culture, industrial music, and alternative rock, the album found U2’s four members dumping the self-serious scowls they’d sported on the cover of their biggest album, The Joshua Tree, and cracking wise-ass smiles instead. Achtung Baby was still a heavy album, with lyrics inspired by The Edge’s divorce and squabbles between the bandmates themselves, but the album still showcased a group that had finally learned to loosen up. In short, it marked the moment when U2 became cool.

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Ranking the 12 songs on Achtung Baby is tough. It’s the musical equivalent of deciding which one of your children is best, or which one of your cats deserves the last remaining can of food. In truth, there are no bad songs on Achtung Baby—just songs that aren’t quite as luminous as “One,” as funky as “Mysterious Ways,” or as anthemic as “Even Better Than the Real Thing.” Below, we’ve attempted to do the impossible by ranking the album from bottom to top.

12. “So Cruel”

Achtung Baby‘s creation coincided with the end of The Edge’s first marriage, and this track explores the wreckage of a ruined relationship. It’s sparse and lovely, driven forward by electric piano and punctuated by a sky-high chorus that finds Bono leaping into his falsetto.

11. “Acrobat”

This song became something of a white whale for U2 super-fans who attended multiple concerts during the ’90s, hoping to hear a rare performance of “Acrobat.” It’s an angsty alt-rocker with an unexpected drumbeat that borders on a waltz. Equally unexpected is Bono’s usage of the word “bastards,” marking the band’s first song to boast an expletive. 

10. “The Fly” 

“The Fly” became an integral part of U2’s early-’90s reinvention, with the song itself inspiring Bono to dress up as a leather-clad, sunglassed rocker during the Zoo TV tour. (He called that character the Fly, too.) Like many songs from U2’s catalog, the song shone even brighter during the band’s concerts, where The Edge handled the song’s falsetto chorus.  

9. “Trying to Throw Your Arms Around the World”

“A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” certainly is a clunker of a lyric, but the rest of “Trying to Throw Your Arms Around the World”—which Bono wrote about a hedonistic night out on the town—helps the song regain its balance. Achtung Baby is often a dark album, and this track helps lighten the load. Once again, “Trying to Throw Your Arms Around the World” truly hit its stride during the Zoo TV tour, where Bono pulled a new fan onstage every night for a champagne toast and serenade.

8. “Love Is Blindness”

“Love Is Blindness,” Achtung Baby‘s final track, opens like a funeral hymn and ends with an extended, overdriven guitar solo. It’s a pitch-perfect ending for an album that found U2 trading the bright, sun-streaked soundscapes of The Joshua Tree for something nocturnal-sounding. Jack White covered it years later, but the definitive version can be heard on a bootleg recording from U2’s homecoming performance in Dublin, Ireland, in August 1993. 

7. “Until the End of the World”

Despite the Biblical references to the Garden of Eden and the betrayal of Christ, “Until the End of the World” sounds like a devilishly good time. The Edge’s guitar intro offers plenty of syncopated funk, and his solo is a showcase for the melodic instincts that made him not only a great instrumentalist, but a great songwriter, too.  

6. “Zoo Station”

Achtung Baby opens with the sound of grinding gears and thunderous thuds. All that industrial noise quickly gives way to a gem of a song that makes room for drum loops, vocal distortion, and keyboards galore. An album like Achtung Baby needs a proper introduction, and “Zoo Station” is more than that—it’s a declaration of rebirth. 

5. “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)”

The song’s astral, atmospheric intro might sound like something from The Unforgettable Fire, but The Edge’s dance-friendly guitar pattern is pure Achtung Baby. “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” is equal parts disco throwback and contemporary salute to Happy Mondays, whose Madchester sound gave Achtung Baby some of its source material.

4. “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses”

The “Temple Bar Remix” of this song, which streamlines the arrangement, could’ve sounded right at home on The Joshua Tree. In the Achtung Baby version, though, U2 purposely muddies the water with waves of feedback and noise. When the meteoric chorus finally hits at 1:45, it’s like the parting of the sea. 

3. “Even Better Than the Real Thing”

“Even Better Than the Real Thing” is perhaps the best thing that’s ever happened to the DigiTech Whammy, an early-’90s guitar pedal that created the song’s multi-octave effect. What follows is a near-perfect combination of mood and melody, with a kinetic chorus that’s matched by Bono’s demand to get elevated—You take me higher!—during the final stretch.

2. “Mysterious Ways”

The video for “Mysterious Ways” was filmed in Morocco, an appropriate setting for a song whose combination of conga-fueled percussion, wah-wah guitar, and slinky groove all adds up to U2 at its sexiest. The song is, suitably, a tribute to sexy women, punctuated by some of the best lyrics—including If you want to kiss the sky, better learn how to kneel / On your knees, boy!—of U2’s new era.

1. “One”

Written in a 15-minute burst of inspiration, “One” arrived as U2 struggled to come up with new material in October 1990. They’d relocated to a studio in Berlin, hoping to gain inspiration from the disassembly of the Berlin Wall. The mood was dark, but the plan worked. “One” is a heart-achingly gorgeous song about the walls we build in our own lives, sung by Bono in a voice that registers regret, resilience, and the vast space between the two. 

Photo by Rob Verhorst/Redferns

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