Unlike the band profiles by the creators of the Under Review series like the early years of Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones - the album profiles are somewhat different animals, and because they showcase a single album in place of a series, there's a decidedly smaller amount of performance footage and stills the filmmakers can use to enhance the myriad interviews with veteran rock critics, historians, former music executives, and band managers.
Like the band profiles, U2 Achtung Baby isn't authorized by the band, label or management, but that doesn't mean there's a paucity of information and appreciative examinations of the album that formed a pivotal shift in U2's career.
Achtung Baby is a genuinely classic album, and the profile gives a concise intro to the band's prior style and albums before the group withdrew from public activities, and re-conceptualized their sound initially in Berlin as the mighty wall was coming down, and chunks of Europe were experiencing a new identity crisis.
With the involvement of Brian Eno as producer and peacemaker, the album slowly began to take shape, and after its release, became a major seller and re-established U2 as a major force in the music industry but with significant changes. As noted by the collection of critics and associates, Bono opted for a smoother vocal style and recurring religious symbolism in his lyrics; the Edge's guitar work reflected the potent emotions from a crumbling marriage, and Eno's involvement found a balance between the band's fractured camps who either wanted a wholly new and more experimental sound, or wanted to stay true to the rhythms of its recognizable style.
That information is helpful in assessing the importance of the Achtung Baby album, particularly after the self-aggrandizing Rattle and Hum concert LPs and film. Both elevated the band as mythic figures who hectored audiences about the origins and value of American music with an obvious pomposity, and the need to take back' music mishandled by lesser musicians and disingenuous folks. (There's admittedly some great cuts on the 2-disc set, but the album was part of a serious U2 overexposure wave.)
There's a few extracts from the concert film plus song clips to illustrate the dilemma of Rattle and Hum and U2's earnest quest to discover the roots of rock, and most of the visuals for the Achtung Baby album are clips from a few videos and the Zoo TV live show that toured the planet, but the clips themselves often run just under twenty seconds.
The Under Review band profiles are superb narratives of stills, audio interviews, newsreels, concert clips, studio recordings, and TV appearances; but their most important tool is the use of audio and video extracts that set up specific song influences, the band's experimentation, and the final touches that refined a song and album into a classic; without these aids interwoven between the critical interviews, most of the doc consists of lengthy discussions about music we either can't hear such as the David Bowie-Brian Eno albums that influenced Achtung Baby or the videos and Zoo TV clips that are far too short to let us assess and appreciate the extended solos, lyrics, and engineering the interviewed critics and historians are describing in static shots.
From prior entries in the Under Review series, we know that getting great facts is almost guaranteed by the producers, but the brevity or lack of substantive clips means the licensing costs for more contemporary band or album profiles must be pretty high.
To offset that problem, the profile's linear sttructure mostly a song-by-song appreciation, with three of the albums final cues covered in a deleted scene section makes it easy to simply pause the DVD, and spin the CD to get an idea of what's being referenced. It's not the perfect way to enjoy the profile, but it's fair to say most people who'll buy this DVD already own a few U2 albums, and have a basic familiarity of their pre- and post- Achtung Baby style.
© 2007 Mark R. Hasan