I think I like this album because it’s the underdog.
October barely made it onto U2’s early career retrospective, The Best of U2: 1980-1990, and it didn’t even get a listed track!
The most casual U2 fan could probably rattle off song titles from The Unforgettable Fire, War and maybe even Boy. But nobody seems to talk about October, and the band itself doesn’t seem to acknowledge the album’s existence.
And that’s odd because October isn’t anywhere near a sophomore slump.
U2’s 1980 debut, Boy, was certainly youthful. There wasn’t a single hint of the songwriting sophistication that would mark the group’s latter-day work, but it certainly possessed all of the energy trademark of a U2 show.
The members themselves were barely out of their teens when they recorded Boy. By the time October came around, they had matured, and so did their writing.
"Gloria" was far more nuanced than anything on the previous album — a joyous guitar riff giving away to a contemplative chorus.
Piano and acoustic guitar determine the tenor of "I Fall Down", rather than the Edge’s boisterous electric guitar. "I Threw a Brick Through a Window" hints at the band’s more rhythmic side.
A number of tracks fall back on the post-punk drive of Boy — "Rejoice", "With a Shout (Jerusalem)", "Is That All?".
But another facet of the band begins to emerge more fully on October — the reflective, haunting side introduced on the last album by "An Cat Dubh" and "Strangers And Tall Trees".
The title track is just Bono accompanied by a piano. Uillean pipes thread through the ethereal "Tomorrow", "Stranger in a Strange Land" has a flashy intro, only to pull back.
October is the album on which U2 hadn’t completely grown out of its post-punk amateurism, but the band wasn’t close to their commercial sheen either. It’s obvious, though, they wanted to get there.
The songwriting still feels raw, and whatever sophistication could be gleaned probably wasn’t entirely by design. In other words, October possesses all the qualities emblematic of U2 without any of the latter day rock star trappings.
These guys were still boys. They hadn’t yet become men.