October 1, 1984. U2 takes a few steps outside of their comfort zone and delivers what’s considered to be their first “great” album.
Now, that’s no slight to Boy, October, or War. Truth be told, those are the U2 albums I find myself going to the most often when I need a fix. And it’s easy to make an argument for the greatness of any of U2’s early releases. But there are a couple of things that set The Unforgettable Fire apart from that particular pack in terms of importance.
First, The Unforgettable Fire was the first album U2 recorded at Slane Castle; their first three albums were recorded in Dublin at Windmill Lane Studios. The main difference between the two locations (aside from one being a friggin’ castle?) Slane Castle had space for the band to record live. Windmill Lane didn’t. Given the band’s goal at the time to connect and move their songwriting and performance in new directions, having this space was crucial.
Second, the Unforgettable Fire sessions marked the first time U2 worked with producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. Moving away from producer Steve Lillywhite and into collaboration with Eno and Lanios again signaled U2’s desire to broaden their creative horizons. The fruits of their partnership are evident from the very first track: “A Sort Of Homecoming” has a spaciousness and a conceptual vibe not like anything the band had done to that point in time.
The Unforgettable Fire was an album of new beginnings for U2, which is strange to say for a band that released their debut album only 4 years earlier. But given the moments they’d experience at Slane Castle in the years to come and the unique relationships that would bloom with Eno and Lanois, it’s what I’m saying. And it’s important.