U2 / Achtung, Baby (Super Deluxe Disc 6: Kindergarten – Alternative Achtung Baby)

Achtung, y’all! In what may be some extended coverage of the reissue of U2’s Achtung, Baby, let’s start with the one audio disc in the Super Deluxe set that is 100% totally unheard by fans until now. This “Kindergarten” or “Baby” disc features the same songs in order, but in different, earlier, and/or somehow unfinished form.

These generally don’t qualify as demos — more like songs caught in various stages of undress. In some cases, they’re entirely dressed but would have a change of heart about what to wear.

Anyway, what you get in this post are first-glance impressions — notes on what’s different from the album versions, and a little analysis along the way. If you’re ready for what’s next, then attempt to start your Trabant and turn up the stereo …

Baby “Zoo Station”
Almost a minute longer, this version has probably the biggest time difference from its official counterpart, mostly due to a longer intro. A less distorted vocal actually helps with some lyrics — some are done, but Bono has yet to arrive at “Zoo station” for a title hook. Although this track is a little less produced, the fundamental leap from The Joshua Tree had been made. Some pleasantly woozy stereo guitars at the end.

Baby “Even Better Than The Real Thing”
Again, the whole sound is less processed/effected, so many of the parts are unmistakable but the feel is like a little peek behind the production wall to see what was actually coming out of instruments during tracking. This lyric is complete but still a work in progress, with a double-tracked (not unison) verse. I really like the prominence of the acoustic guitar at times in this version, sitting within the rest of the electronic noise. Edge had the full solo figured out by this point.

Baby “One”
Strummed acoustic instead of that lithe electric part to open, that’s a big change. The sound is more of two disparate sounds — the straight acoustic with a drum part just funky enough to create a juxtaposition with the six-string. Some synth/strings are there but further back. Bono has the lyric, and the vocal sounds very close to the finished (it may even be the finished). The original’s classic Edge electric figure from the last minute is here, too.

Baby “Until The End Of The World”
Keeping with the theme, you can discern a little more space between the main rhythm guitar and another acoustic track that I (again) think is terrific as some contrast in this environment. The rhythm track, guitar solo, and the lyric/vocal all sound finished as they are. Bono goes for a higher register in the bridge instead of dropping down. Congas hard left would be brought closer to the center of the mix in the end.

Baby “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses”
Different intro! The melody has some similarities to the final product but definitely isn’t identical, while the lyric has a little structure in common but is basically a fully different lyric in the first couple of verses. Edge sounds good but hadn’t quite arrived at the riff for the chorus. Another case where the chords and rhythm track sounds pretty much done, but various parts of the vocal, guitar, and production are still evolving.

This is the best example yet of why U2 often manages to be greater than the sum of their individual musical parts, and it echoes a quote from Brian Eno in Daniel Lanois’ documentary Here Is What Is: “how beautiful things can grow out of shit.” (Eno is making a larger point, and you should watch the 2-minute clip if you haven’t seen it.)

Not that this track is shit by any means. It’s further along than that. But anyone who’s heard the Hansa bootlegs knows just how un-platinum-selling they can sound while they are working out rough ideas in the studio. A lot of great art, and definitely anything they do to compete for that term, is never born complete right out of the womb.

This sounds like a snapshot of the song fairly far along in that process — good enough to make for good music but illustrating that, at least in this case, they did not stop at pretty good, even if that means totally reworking the lyric and continuing to look for that better guitar part.

Baby “So Cruel”
About twenty seconds longer than the original. Some final parts here but with more on the way. Bono has a full working lyric (except for the great bridge, which he has none of yet), but most of the verses would not stay. That said, the vocal is no guide vocal, it’s sufficiently committed. The alternate vocal and a couple of more easily isolated rhythm guitar parts make this interesting as an alternate version.

Ah, look at that, he has the last verse, one of the album’s thematic lynchpins, intact. Nice. Also, there’s an extra repeating riff Edge uses toward the end that would not make the final mix, for one last twist.

Baby “The Fly”
Sounds like a longer intro, but nothing worth mentioning. The arrangment and key musical parts are in place. The falsetto countervocal and guitar solo, both finished. Bass and drums, also done. (I’m starting to wonder how long Larry and other drummers spend in the studio waiting for the other members to subsequently get their act together. Or perhaps, what Larry goes and does while his mates are figuring out their parts.)

Main difference, other than some remaining texture/production, is a few phrases that would be polished and the absence of the outro rant.

Baby “Mysterious Ways”
A rough gang vocal in the chorus is not as ear-grabbing as the album version. Bono had not truly found the falsetto spirit he would embrace for the final mix. As with “The Fly”, The Fly as a character hadn’t quite fully inhabited him yet and you can hear that here. A whole lot of finished parts present, but ultimately the in-progress vocal probably makes this one of the lesser Baby tracks, especially considering all the remixes one can choose for an alternate “Mysterious Ways” listening experience.

Now this is an alternate version! Two strummy acoustic guitars and a keyboard that sounds a little like a tiny Farfisa. This sounds like a bunch of guys in a room (and I mean that in the best possible way).

Baby “Trying To Throw Your Arms Around The World”
Now *this* is an alternate version! Two strummy acoustic guitars and a keyboard that sounds a little like a tiny Farfisa. A few in-key but more organic backing vocal tracks. A kick drum with a steady four to each measure. This sounds like something that came out of Ireland, like a bunch of guys in a room (and I mean that in the best possible way). A generally complete lyric but not quite finished, and a good but working vocal track.

This has always been my least favorite track on the album, but with the final version’s production pretty much completely absent and replaced with an almost folk/stomp pub-like arrangement, this version is a lot of fun. A very welcome surprise.

Baby “Ultra Violet (Light My Way)”
And we are back to the conventional Achtung universe. Different Edge work on the intro. Love that lonnnnnnnng sustained primary guitar part, and it’s easier to focus on at this stage, since it’s the core of the mix with several other parts yet to catch up. Unlike the middle of the disc, the falsetto and indeed the vocal in general are ready to roll.

The twist here is that the lyrics that would eventually start the song are tucked back in the bridge. Nice change-up for the ear that has heard this a thousand times.

Baby “Acrobat”
Final tracks largely intact here. Like “So Cruel”, the lyric would undergo further revisions and resequencing, but the vibe is settled and he’s just sculpting at this point. One piece yet unwritten is the bridge, but the rest, including blistering guitar, is in place.

Baby “Love Is Blindness”
The arrangement is more haunted and slowly strolling — the relationship’s funeral march? — than the insistent album version, but there is some brief but pleasantly nasty intro guitar in a couple of spots. Bono had certain key phrases in these complete verses but there would be many changes. He had nothing at this point for the bridges.

This is a case where they had a clear vision of what they wanted to accomplish with the song, but they made a smart artistic decision, backed up, and improved the arrangement to convey the same thing (and conclude the record) in a much more effective way. A final homage to the band’s ability to reach beyond its grasp, largely through an innate sense of perseverance.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *