One of the more fascinating parts of the generally fascinating Rolling Stone interview with Bono is his discussion of each of the U2 albums. Bono is, not unexpectedly, perhaps harsher on his lyrics than I would be although his comments often strike me as being really perceptive regarding each album’s relative strengths and weaknesses.
One comment that really struck me was about How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. Bono said (and I’m paraphrasing because I don’t have the interview in front of me) that it was perhaps their strongest collection of songs but that the whole was not more than the sum of its parts. Bono found that particularly annoying. (For a point of reference, he said that Achtung Baby was a counterexample – the whole of that album is more than the sum of its parts.)
Now I really like Atomic Bomb as an album. I agree that the collection of songs is amazing. But do I agree with Bono’s assessment? I’m not sure. As I thought about it though I started to think of albums that are better as albums then they are as individual songs. I immediately thought of Sgt. Pepper (Beatles). Then as I thought more I came up with Tommy (the who), Layla (Eric Clapton / Derek and the Dominos), Band on the Run (Paul McCartney), Plastic Ono Band (John Lennon), Beyond Nature (Phil Keaggy) and Brothers in Arms (Dire Straits).
But what about other albums I would also consider great? Are there other great albums that are more like a collection of great songs than a really coherant whole album? I think I would put one of my all-time favorite albums in this category – The Beatles’ Revolver. Who’s Next and Close to the Edge might be other examples.
So perhaps there are two ways to have a great album: 1) have such a killer selection of songs that the album reaches greatness just by the sheer heft of the material or 2) have an album that works as a whole, so that each song is better because of the company that it is in. I’m thinking of albums that really knock me out here – all of the albums that I’ve listed are albums that I put in some of the all-time-great-album category and, surprisingly, they seem to fall into both of these camps.
I’d love to hear some other examples of great albums and which of these categories readers think they fall into.
9 months ago