I was pretty much a U2 fan from the get go. My brother, Quince, is only a few weeks younger than Bono…so U2’s debut release was as about as contemporary as it could get for him!
I was half the age, only just coming up to my 10th birthday, but the album spoke volumes to me too. Possibly more so because I feel, in retrospect, Boy was a VERY aptly titled album. It denotes all those elements of the first U2 release. Bourgeoning, adolescent, insular, self-absorbed, centred on school and friends and the opposite sex…grappling with the things we all go through in adolescence. Trying to make sense of our place in the world and what we’re here for.
I listened to Boy last night. Has it aged well? I’m not sure. It has an immaturity about it. It mostly looks inward and hardly projects outwards. And I can still hear it with the ears of my early teenage self. I was very aware of U2 in 1980 but it wasn’t until 1983/4 that I really got into them myself. And that is when I got heavily buried into the early albums. Boy is very much my early teenage album. And it takes me back to all those things I was feeling then. All those hang ups and stuff. Thinking that Bono was the best thing I’d ever seen – but he was just one on a list.
It is a good album. I can see why they got early plaudits for it, but I can also see why it was just an early stepping stone and not an absolute breakthrough. I feel it is age-defining and age specific. It is very much rooted in the feeling of 1980 and one’s teenage years.
Alert: I am about to make THE “comparison”. It can’t be helped.
Compare it to say, Simple Minds’ Empires And Dance and well…there is no comparison! Compare I Travel to I Will Follow:
I Travel – European dance. Pulsing energy. Dazzling with lights of cars, planes, trains. Cities cruising by in a head of haze. Exposing you to the dilapidation of the east and the extravagance of the west.
I Will Follow – a boy grappling with becoming a man “a boy tries hard to be a man, his mother takes him by his hand / if he stops to think, he starts to cry – oh, why”. Chalk and cheese! And barely a year in age difference between the lyricists.
What would I have listened to more then – Empires And Dance or Boy? Well, it’s easy to say that Boy won out as I only vaguely knew who Simple Minds were in 1983/4 and I certainly didn’t know of them at all in 1980!
What do I listen to more now? The most rhetorical of questions! We all know! This blog isn’t “Larry-elle’s U2 Space” that ‘may contain a heavy dose of Paul Hewson’ after all now, is it?!
For me, Boy is now definitely “of its time”. A nostalgia trip. There were obviously hints of the maturity of the band there. I hear it in different songs now to what I used to. Songs that I probably didn’t like as much or felt a little more indifferent to back then. I have always loved An Cat Dubh (it took YEARS for me to find out it meant “The Black Cat”. You gotta love pre-Internet days. Lol) and its segue to Into The Heart. Into The Heart these days makes me cry. It’s so tender! It has hidden maturity because it is an adolescent mind already feeling nostalgic for the innocence of childhood. Probably a marker on Bono thinking of his mum. That yearning of her still being present.
The last time I was a bit harsh on Shadows And Tall Trees – I guess because that line of “Mrs Brown’s washing is always the same” is the most dominant line in the song for me – because of the way Bono delivers it. But it is a rarer one on the album as it projects outwards rather than looking as much inwardly to the self. But when it does look inwardly, it’s more about how is one going to face up to life and what to do about it “do you feel in me anything redeeming, any worthwhile feeling / is life like a tightrope, hanging from the ceiling.”
The musicality of it is barebones, and raw. Like skinny kids that are slightly malnourished and thirsty for water, food – knowledge. Experience. “Songs of innocence.” It’s very sparse but very bright. There can be darker elements too. There has always been a dark mood to The Ocean. And there is darkness or at least dullness and greyness to Shadows And Tall Trees.
I enjoyed listening to Boy again last night. I don’t visit U2 often these days, but when I do, I still have an “experience”.
Happy Anniversary, Boy. You make a girl feel old! Lol