U2 were big news in 1981. Not quite the sort of big news they were to become over the course of the next quarter of a century, but big news nonetheless. Following the success of the band’s debut album, Boy, in 1980, expectations were high for the Dublin band’s second album, October, one year later.
Despite the excitement further generated by the lead-off single ‘Gloria’, which is all wailing and edgy guitar (yes, appalling pun intended), and something of a mini epic, the album itself is a largely disappointing body of work – coming across as slightly rushed, a little sparse in places, and it generally lacks the pure adrenalin rush of the band’s debut.
There were, of course, a few mitigating circumstances; from all accounts the band were left ill-prepared due to a series of unfortunate circumstances – short on studio time, short on a full set of lyrics, and still very much feeling their way as a unit.
All of the future stock standard U2 trademarks are present and accounted for on October however – impressive vocals, that familiar chiming guitar, tight rhythms, and loads of echo-infused atmospheric percussion. It’s just that none of the tracks are all that memorable – certainly not relative to the rest of the U2 catalogue – and beyond ‘Gloria’, nothing really reaches out to grab you by the scruff.
Themes are similar to those found on Boy – boredom, rebellion, isolation, and oppression. The most predominant theme though, is one that U2 would continually return to over the years – faith/religion.
The band earn full marks for the raw energy levels evident on October, and you can still detect the prevailing sense of hunger, plus a determination to get some kind of message across. In that context, October does at least match its predecessor. Steve Lillywhite again offers a deft hand with production.
‘Gloria’ is quite rightly the album’s flag-bearer, but ‘Rejoice’, ‘Fire’, ‘Tomorrow’, ‘Stranger In A Strange Land’, and the dreamy near instrumental ‘Scarlet’, are all at the very least half decent album tracks.