Not bad for a band that almost threw in the towel. U2’s stellar debut was always going to be difficult to follow up. Throw in chaotic writing and recording sessions and an existential crisis, it’s almost a miracle that October is as good as it is.
There are some seriously fine moments. None more so than Gloria, which not only demonstrates the spiritual preoccupations of 3/4 of the band, but is an exultant lead single with a ravishing final chorus - and a bass solo, of all things. Elsewhere, The Edge and Larry Mullen Jnr are given some fabulous time in the sun with the entrancing I Threw A Brick Through a Window. There’s also an increasing sense of atmosphere creeping into the soundscapes - take the Irish-tinged Tomorrow (complete with uillian pipes and one of U2’s many heartfelt songs about Bono’s late mum), The Edge tinkering on piano in both the pretty October and buoyant I Fall Down, and the wobbly but potent ambience of Fire.
Apparently the recording sessions for October were tumultuous and the album does lack a little bit of polish as evident in songs like With a Shout (Jerusalem). It’s endearing in many ways, especially on the thrown together Is That All?, with it’s recycled guitar riff and lyrics that although simple, have always piqued my curiosity. Bono sounds as unsettled as he ever has been, and when he pleads “is that all you want from me?”, you wonder who he is asking. God? The Shalom mob they were hanging out with? The music industry? His Mum? Himself? Or us?
There was a lot more that we wanted from them. U2’s predicaments would be resolved and October seemingly got the band’s existential crisis out of their system in a surprisingly effective manner. There is a lot of feeling in this one and a fascinating mood beneath the surface. Rejoice in the fact that they didn’t call quits.