Ireland’s Cultural Impact: U2

Written by Linda Rafferty on 10/07/2023

Who is U2?

Ireland’s Cultural Impact: U2

For over 40 years, Irish post-punk band U2 have established themselves as one of the world’s biggest and most influential musical acts, and a pillar in the pantheon of truly great rock groups. Comprising of singer Bono (aka Paul Hewson), guitarist and keyboardist the Edge (aka David Evans), bassist Adam Clayton, and drummer Larry Mullen, the band have become synonymous with Ireland’s mod-ern musical heritage, and are to this day one of the country’s most successful musical exports.

The Band History

U2 band

Though forged in the flames of punk rock that swept Europe in the late 70s, U2 are globally re-nowned for their distinctive sound and unique identity, partly in thanks to the Edge’s reverb-drenched and minimal guitar riffs, and Bono’s larger than life quasi-operatic vocals. Formed while attending secondary school, the bands early records have been celebrated for their intense spirituality, their raw and youthful presence, and their commentary on social and political issues (the latter of which would become a staple of their discography). Their success in the studio was mirrored in their live perfor-mances, which quickly became renowned as inspirational and a must-see event.

Their first album entitled Boy opens with the head-bopping and soul-igniting ‘I Will Follow’, which remains a fan favourite of U2’s live setlist even to this day. However, it was with the release of the multimillion-selling The Joshua Tree in 1987, featuring such hits as ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ and ‘ With or Without You’, that U2 became undeniable superstars. Their follow up Rattle and Hum arrived in the form of a double album and documentary movie, as the band explored American roots music - blues, country, folk, and gospel.

Rattle and hum - u2

U2 reinvented itself with the turn of the decade, reemerging in 1991 with their album Achtung Baby. The sound was heavily influenced by European experimental, disco, and electronic music. With this came a stage show that trafficked in irony and self-deprecating humour in equal measure, qualities that were virtually absent from the bands music in the 80s. This newfound freedom in expression paved the way for the 1992 Zoo TV tour, which has been hailed as one of the most technically ambitious and artistically accomplished large-scale rock spectacles ever staged. Despite the flashier exterior, U2’s lyrics remained obsessed with matters of the heart and soul. The dehumanising aspects of the media and modern technology remained a recurring theme on subsequent records, even as the band im-mersed itself more and more in techno features.

u2 concert

In 1997, the band rush-released the album Pop in order to fulfil contractual obligations for a stadium tour. The album was greeted with heavy criticism from fans and critics alike, receiving the worst re-views the band had seen since Rattle and Hum. This prompted another reinvention, this time a bold push forward as the band sought to reassure and recapture the hearts of fans by making music that reinforced its 1980s post-punk roots. The aptly titled All That You Can’t Leave Behind was released with the turn of the millennium, and its follow up How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb in 2004 were both heavily focused on riffs and individual song-strength rather than an over-arching atmosphere and a sense of mystery. With this, they succeeded in reestablishing themselves as a commercial tour-de-force.

Bonovox - Singer u2

U2 then took five years before the eventual release of their 12th studio album No Line on the Horizon in 2009. The group supported the album with a monstrous world tour that stretched over two years. It was interrupted however in May 2010, when lead singer Bono underwent emergency surgery after injuring his back during rehearsal in Germany. In 2014, U2 sought to modernise the band’s output with Songs of Innocence, which was largely produced with the help of Danger Mouse. The album was released at no cost and with no choice to all customers of Apple’s iTunes Store several weeks prior to its physical release. This move aroused controversy and a plethora of negative press, while the music itself was received with mixed opinions. Many complained that the songs from the Songs of Innocence era, as well as the 2017 follow-up Songs of Experience sounded static and did not punch with the same strength of past releases. Despite this, the band continue to garner high sales and sell out virtually every concert they play to this very day.

At the time of writing, U2 have won more over 20 Grammy Awards, including album of the year for both The Joshua Tree and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.

The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005.

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