Newsweek DECEMBER 31, 1984 - by Jim Miller


It's not often that one of the world's most popular - and exciting - young rock bands is attacked in the press for promoting "the hocus-pocus of Christian enlightenment." But then the group called U2 is no ordinary rock band. All four members hail from Dublin, Ireland - hardly a rock hot spot. Three of them are Christians who make no secret of their convictions. Opponents of violence, they made a point of launching their stirring pacifist anthem Sunday Bloody Sunday in war-torn Belfast, Northern Ireland. The band's unusual public stature was confirmed last year by Ireland's prime minister, Garret FitzGerald, who asked the lead singer, Paul (Bono) Hewson, twenty-four, to join a government committee investigating the problems of unemployed youth.

To many fans, of course, U2 is simply a rock band of rare passion. Earlier this month in Worcester, Massachusetts, in the second concert of a whirlwind American tour - they will return for a two-month visit next February - U2 showed off the bravura style that has won it a fervent following. As usual, the spotlight was on Bono, a lyrical singer, and Dave (The Edge) Evans, twenty-two, the band's brilliant lead guitarist. Playing droning clusters of notes and using chiming, bell-like timbres, as well as abrasive, buzz-saw textures, The Edge creates an electronic wall of sound that has an elemental power - it is, as he describes it, "emotionally saturated." For all the nervous jangle of the music, its sheer scale and Celtic overtones create a weird, primordial resonance: the Worcester concert may have taken place in a vast indoor arena, but it was easy to imagine yourself watching the sunrise at Stonehenge.

"The message, if there is a message in our music, is the hope that it communicates," says Bono, whose intensity and seriousness are rare for a rock musician. His religious faith, he adds, is "a very personal one. I'm very wary of people who bring 'the message' to the masses. Sure, belief gets us out of bed in the morning and gets us onstage at night. But the way it affects our audience is that we feel a responsibility to give everything we have onstage."

The band members' interest in politics grew out of their first trips to America. "People were throwing money on the stage during the Bobby Sands hunger strike," recalls Bono. "But what was that money for? Those dollars were arriving in the streets of Belfast and Derry as weapons and bombs. Some things are black and white - but the troubles in Northern Ireland are not. I know: I'm the son of a Protestant mother and a Catholic father." The song Sunday Bloody Sunday, says Bono, was meant "to take the image of Northern Ireland out of the black and white and into the grey, where it truly belongs."

The band's ambitions have never been modest. Several years ago, Bono predicted that U2 would become a great rock group, on a par with The Beatles and Rolling Stones. The band's latest bid to join the pantheon is the Island album The Unforgettable Fire. Co-produced by Brian Eno, champion of free-form composition, the record defiantly ignores most of the clichés of hard rock - even those coined by U2. On one side are textured electronics and random imagery, climaxed by Elvis Presley And America, an all-too-effective evocation of Presley's catatonic stupor in his last days. On the other, better side are three great pieces of numinous hard rock. A Sort Of Homecoming is a hymn for patriotic mystics. Pride (In The Name of Love) is a clanging elegy to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. And Wire, with the Edge playing eerie harmonics on slide guitar, is one of the best examples yet of the band's unique brand of raw, wind-swept rock. Some critics have poked fun at the lyrics of the songs. But even on Pride, the most earnest one, the words matter in large part because Bono sings them with such fierceness and fervour.


The band was formed in 1978 by drummer Larry Mullen Jr. The only member with previous musical experience, Mullen had been kicked out of a marching band for having long hair. At the time, he, bassist Adam Clayton and the others were all students at the Mount Temple Comprehensive School in Dublin. In the context of their neighbourhood's hard-drinking ethos, rock "was something to believe in," says the Edge. U2 - the name has no special significance - first came into prominence in England in 1980, with a swirling album called Boy. From the outset, the group's atmospheric style - one of the few truly original styles to appear in the '80s - represented an odd but effective fusion of two rival rock archetypes: the didactic grandeur of The Who playing Tommy and the sleekly modernist David Bowie of "Heroes".

By 1983, when Sunday Bloody Sunday was released, it was clear that U2 had become one of the most influential new acts of the decade. Its sense of idealism and minimalist approach to guitar-based rock have already inspired the British bands Simple Minds, The Alarm and, above all, Big Country. "We've taken the love that was a part of '60s rock and the anger that was a part of punk," says Bono. "We want a spiritual side to our music as well as a raucous and rowdy side. I think we have never achieved the balance we're looking for, and perhaps never will. But that's what we want from our music - freedom, I suppose. And a little bit of humanity."