[Review] U2: October (1981)

The murky, spiritual second album is the band’s red-headed stepchild.

Kronomyth 2.0: We all live in a hallowed submarine.

As a Christian, my general dislike of “christian” music troubles me. Some of it truly touches my soul, but most of it sounds like warmed-up country leftovers to me. Not that October is Christian music in the sense that most are familiar with, but it does wear its faith on its sleeve. The album’s opening track is its grand statement. Gloria gives glory first to God, and the band is rewarded for their faith with their best song to date. As you wait for another moment like that to follow, however, it becomes clear that U2 is still learning how to shape its energy and creativity into grand sonic statements.

There is some backstory to October that suggests the band was both pricked by their conscience and pressed for time. I’m sure someone has written a book about it somewhere. Regardless of the cause, the effect is an album that is murkier in vision yet still distinctly the vision of U2. I realize that’s not a very helpful sentence. Think of U2 recording their first album with a fog machine on a Sunday morning; October sort of sounds like that.

There are those who will tell you that U2’s second album is an underappreciated gem, and more power to them. I can certainly hear where repeated sittings with October would breed the kind of familiarity that forms loyalty. Yet the same could be said about The Cure’s Seventeen Seconds or Siouxsie and The BansheesJoin Hands, and if you’re going to champion every underdog you might as well be reading Amazon reviews right now.

The group is too interesting and too talented to make a boring album, and Steve Lillywhite is too good a producer to let them. That said, October is a bit, um, ponderous. Maybe it’s the lyrics (which feel half formed), maybe it’s the piano, maybe it’s the dreamlike interludes of October and Scarlet, or maybe it’s all those things together. Ultimately, I think the lack of a second strong single (Fire isn’t it) and a general unfinished quality to some of the songs (e.g., I Threw a Brick Through a Window, With a Shout) unravels the tension that made you stand up and take notice of Boy and pledge your allegiance to War.

Original elpee version

A1. Gloria (4:12)
A2. I Fall Down (3:39)
A3. I Threw a Brick Through a Window (4:53)
A4. Rejoice (3:36)
A5. Fire (3:50)
B1. Tomorrow (4:36)
B2. October (2:20)
B3. With a Shout (4:01)
B4. Stranger in a Strange Land (3:57)
B5. Scarlet (2:50)
B6. Is That All? (3:02)

All titles written by U2.

The Players

Bono (vocals), Adam Clayton (bass), The Edge (guitars, piano), Larry (drums) with Vincent Killduff (oillean pipes, bodhran). Produced by Steve Lillywhite; engineered by Paul Thomas.

The Pictures

Sleeve layout by Rapid Exteriors. Photography by Ian Finlay.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and cassette on October 12, 1981 in the UK and the US (Island, ILPS/ICT 9680), Australia and New Zealand (Island, L/C-37670), Canada (Island, ISL-9680), Japan (Island, 25S-44) and Mexico (Island, LPR 25021) with picture innersleeve. Reached #11 on the UK charts and #104 on the US charts.

  1. Re-issued on elpee and cassette in 1983 in the US (Island, 90092-1/4).
  2. Re-issued on compact disc and cassette in the US (Island, 842 297-2/4).
  3. Re-released on remastered 180g vinyl elpee and compact disc in 2008 in the US (Island/Universal, B0010829-01/02) and remastered 180g cream vinyl elpee in 2008 in the Czech Republic (Island/Universal, 7792804) with booklet.
Posted in U2

2 thoughts on “[Review] U2: October (1981)

  1. I agree. “Gloria” is such a cool song. Pity (?) it doesn’t get overplayed like most songs from The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby.

  2. I received October as a wedding gift from my college roommate (and best man) in May, 1982. He was a U2 fan and thought I needed to hear how “Christian” this album was, since my bride and I were serious about the faith. I struggled through the album and found its high points, but never totally connected. Didn’t connect later, when I saw them live in 1983 and they almost literally brought the house down (the house being Shea’s Buffalo Theatre; the balcony was bouncing above our heads). It wasn’t until The Joshua Tree that a definite connection was made. What can I say, my mind was somewhere else, musically-speaking: it was all that other Christian music I was listening to. I could hook you up…there really was some good material out there back then. Not so much now.

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