It may not seem like it now, fifteen years and several albums later, but All That You Can’t Leave Behind was a very important album for U2. After the perceived failure of Pop, U2 needed a critical and commercial success in a serious way to not only get themselves back in the good graces of fans around the world, but also to build their personal self-esteem back to a respectable level. (Just to put it out there, I love Pop, Rattle and Hum, and No Line on the Horizon, so don’t think for a second that I’m criticizing those albums.) This is a cycle that’s repeated itself several times throughout U2’s career. Every three albums, it seems, with the exception of Boy-War, the band seem to find themselves in a position where they’ve got to put their continuing careers on the line after an album that is for some reason regarded as a failure. Usually these rough spots come hot on the heels of the band’s highest peaks, too. For example, we had the peak of The Joshua Tree, with the band’s first American #1’s, followed by the disappointing reception that met Rattle and Hum. The band then reinvented themselves and gave the world the acclaimed Achtung Baby and its accompanying ZooTV tour. Following that tour, the band stumbled again with Pop, so another reinvention was required which led to the multiple Grammy award winning duo of All That You Can’t Leave Behind and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (including the coveted Album of the Year for How to Dismantle…). That trend continued with the downturn of the band’s fortunes that coincided with No Line on the Horizon, to be followed by their acclaimed and current thirteenth album, Songs of Innocence.
It’s hard to imagine what would happen if the band released two ” bad” albums in a row, but fortunately, every time there’s a possibility of that happening they pull it together and release another album that would be be considered career-defining if it came from another less long-lived band or artist. It seems after all this time that the band thrives on pressure, and do their best work when the stakes are at their highest. Such was the climate surrounding U2’s tenth album in the weeks and months before it came out. U2 needed a hit in the worst way. Fortunately, the all-important first single that they came up with was “Beautiful Day”, which still stands as the band’s highest charting single since the turn of the millennium, and U2’s last single to crack the top thirty on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the US.
It’s obvious that U2 remain grateful for their success with Beautiful Day, or at least aware of it, as the song hasn’t missed a U2 show since its debut in the year 2000. Beautiful Day is one of those work-horse songs that U2 will probably continue to play as long as they continue touring simply because its become one of their signature songs. In fact, I’d venture to say that for an entire generation of U2 fans, it is THE U2 song. I don’t have a problem with the band continuing to play Beautiful Day, and that’s because it’s not difficult to imagine that there might not be a U2 anymore if it weren’t for the success of that one little song. All U2 fans owe the song a debt of gratitude, in a way, and I’m more than happy to continue paying up.
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