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U2 - Boy

2008-12-18 14:12
U2 Boy album cover
I think I have better taste in friends these days, but I'm still in love with U2's Boy. I feel about it a way I'll never feel about any of their other albums - brilliant though these are, they seem bloated by comparison, with political piety and the lavish attentions of their producers.

Boy is a kind of concept album - a plotless narrative portrait of a kid going from the cusp of adolescence 'til early manhood. It's full of dreams, loaded with hormones, and hungry for experience. It's also about discovering loneliness, fear, and the first urges to escape, into comic books in one of my favourite tracks "Stories for Boys" or from convention in the posed moodiness of "Shadows and Tall Trees".

Produced entirely by Steve Lillywhite, Boy doesn't sound much like other U2 albums. At first. But listening to it over and over again, you'll hear the seeds of traits that made them the biggest rock band in the world. Later producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois are often credited with discovering the special "spaciousness" of their sound, but it's there already underneath Lillywhite's kickingly crisp production.
They already sound unlike anyone else of their era, writing anthemic punky pop rock at a time when everything was either bleak new wave, or empty spandex crap. A few embarrassing lines aside, U2 displayed flagrant integrity and intelligence in dealing with the existential crisis of adolescence, when everyone was still treating it as a joke. And when most original bands lacked skill and polish, The Edge, Bono, Adam, and Larry were hot musicians and already serious showmen who created together like a mad machine.

But Boy is still free of U2's later blown-out sounds - a styling choice that turned them into a grandiose parody of themselves.

It's all about forging some sense of who I was in relation to the world, which suddenly, dizzyingly, had expanded in beautiful, terrifying and challenging ways, presenting new moral choices, drugs, politics, sex, and spiritual doubts. And being a fragmented, impressionist album lyrically, Boy's text was malleable enough to absorb any meaning I gave it, particularly because I couldn't really hear half the real lyrics in the first place.

I think without Boy, I wouldn't be quite the same person I am today. And I certainly wouldn't be the same kind of rock 'n roll fan.

- Jean Barker

Boy study notes
The re-release of Boy comes with the lyrics, which weren't originally printed in the SA cassette sleeve

And it comes with liner notes! In the form of a passionate tribute to the album from former NME writer Paul Morley, who reviewed the album back in 1980.

The album art features hilarious black and white photos of the then teenage band looking SO serious and deep - and awkward. And a few extra photos of the boy who modelled for the cover - his name is Peter Rowan and he grew up to be a well known photographer.

Cool quote: "The first thing we recorded together was A Day Without Me, which we thought was pretty good then. But when you listen back to it, it’s probably quite childish, but everyone seemed to like it so I was asked to do their first album.... Everyone was in such a good frame of mind, ideas would just flow. All the silly noises on I Will Follow in the middle section, me and Bono... I’ll always remember this... Bono was breaking bottles in the back and I had a push-bike upside down on its saddle, turning the wheels and running a knife along the spokes..." - Boy producer Steve Lillywhite in production notes published on

Boy was the first album I ever bought. I was addicted to it from first play on CNA's in-store turntable, maybe from the moment I first saw the cover photo. A week later, a friend sat on my bedroom floor listening to my proud new discovery, and she flicked her high brown ponytail scornfully: "This is so depressing. Don't you have any A-ha?" Of course I didn't. I wasn't cool then, either - in fact, I'd only discovered Boy six years after U2 released it.

What to read next: Kalahari

Toy Dupper 2008-08-21 07:54 AM
U2 Well written, way to go Jean Barker and mweb for a great review on a legendary album!
Hennie Muller 2008-08-21 08:21 AM
U2 : THE Band. U2 must be the greatest band ever. Everyone for their own, but in my opinion, the greatest band ever.
G 2008-08-21 09:03 AM
U2 Jean, its very obviously that you are a lover of U2 from the bottom of your soul. Brilliant review, resonates with me completely!!! And thanks for letting me know about the new release!!!! Aaaah the good old days, when music was real....
Jan Carstens 2008-08-21 09:13 AM
U2 My first encounter with U2 was with the LP Boy. What a pleasant surprise it was. Amazing how many people love or know their music, but do not have any LP or CD. Love 'Out of Control' and really appreciate it more on their nusic DVD "Going Home".
J 2008-08-21 10:14 AM
U2 Now, if only we can get them to come back and play in SA
Jerrie Pelser 2008-08-21 11:10 AM
Agree I agree with you 100% . Boy is my favourite U2 album as well. I just love the raw sounds on this album - so much better than the refined sounds of later on. I have to say however that Achtung Baby comes in at a very close second place.
will 2008-08-21 11:26 AM
Seminal The first time I heard "I will follow" I was 16 and sacked out on my bed after surfing. It was a sultry, humid Sunday afternoon in KZN and that seminal, jangling guitar burst through my topor. And so began my enjoyment of U2. If David Gresham ruled, we'd still be listening to Eurovision Song Festival winners. I first read a review of a U2 elpee in Scope magazine (!) written by Gus Silber. Great writing, Jean!
colleen figg 2008-08-21 11:54 AM
Boy Kicks after all these years SAY NO MORE! Wonderful, outstanding album! I need to get it again!
Niel 2008-08-21 03:35 PM
Cool! "I wasn't cool then,..."! How uncool is/was/will always be A-ha or whatever they called themselves. You were high cool to have U2 and not the other lot.
Lise Beyers 2008-08-21 03:45 PM
All U2 albums until the disasterous All I can't leave behind When U2 decided to save the world, they seemed to have lost their art of music. All the music prior to this album is brilliant. If I id have to choose, it would be between the Unforgettable Fire and of course, With or without you.
Riaan 2008-08-22 07:59 AM
Fully agree When I read this, i immediately started playing the album on my iPod. Great article that takes me back to my youth. I remember first listening to Boy with headphones during a history lesson. It was awsome. U2 take themselves far too seriously these days.
Linds 2008-08-27 09:22 AM
Rattle and Hum/Joshua Tree I completely LOVE this band.... what absolute genius music :D But I would have to say that the top spot in their discography would have to go to Rattle and Hum or Joshua Tree. No memory associated with U2 music is bad for me... good times seem to follow this good music :)
Chris 2008-08-29 10:34 AM
Boy 'Boy Oh Boy' Nothing better.
Michiel 2008-08-30 08:07 PM
Boy - U2 Clips too short to make a "buy" decision. Guess many of us will never know.
choc 2008-11-18 06:43 PM
Boy! Suffice to say, in my opinion, they were a one hit wonder. Boy the album and to a lesser extent War, were their best.The rest , in my opinion, rode on the laurels of these 2 albums, and now....well Bono is to full of himself!

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