Personally I'd like at least one more album as good as JT or AB before I call U2 one of the all time greats, and this is looking at their full work. They are too inconsistent for that. I mean if we look at the presumed big 5 in rock (Beatles, Stones, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Who)....Studio wise are they up there ? Bono/Edge up there with Lennon/McCartney, Jagger/Richards, Page/Plant, R. Waters and Townshend in songwriting ?
Live, certainly they can claim to being one of the best of all time. Combine their performances, Bono being one of the best frontmen and their groundbreaking tours.
I would say at this point, U2 are a slight notch below the likes of the Beatles, the Stones, Pink Floyd, Zeppelin. I love the Who, but I'm not sure I'd put them in the same category as the Beatles and Stones. Another great album or two and they'd be close to but definitely not better than the Beatles and Stones. I would also say that U2 have aged far better than the Stones (who really haven't made anything good since the early 80s).
In terms of tours, yes, they are definitely one of the best live bands of all time, both in terms of entertainment, performance, and commercial success. You don't have the biggest tour of all time with a mediocre live show.
I should note that I'm not a huge fan of the Beatles or Stones, but as a musician I respect them and their high ranking.
As far as their post-Pop output (to answer an tha's question), the thing about U2 is that they've changed their sound many times throughout their career. There are some fans who enjoy all of the different sounds, some who jumped ship after AB, some who jumped ship after ATYCLB etc. This does not mean that the albums themselves are poor or lesser quality than earlier albums (so much of music is subjective), it just means that some fans don't like the 00s stuff.
There is a reason why people loved ATYCLB and HTDAAB. The albums had some incredibly well crafted pop rock songs. Pop rock isn't really my thing, so I don't like these albums as much as their late 80s/all 90s output, but they are still good songs. To call them uninspired or ordinary...well, I'd have to disagree with this because if they were, you wouldn't have so many fans (both casual and die hard U2 fans) who love those albums. You also wouldn't have so many critics who reviewed those albums so favorably.
I will agree that NLOTH was pretty uninspired in parts and that it was also extremely overproduced which wrecked songs that had potential. SoI was better in that it wasn't as overproduced and seemed to be more inspired, but still would have benefitted from less emphasis on achieving a pop music hit.
It will be interesting to see where they go with SoE. It very well could be a great album....or it could be another forced attempt at achieving pop music relevance.
Even though I voted for Songs of Innocence, I'm surprised to see How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb coming in last place on this poll.
I guess a lot of people feel like whomever wrote this list:
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This forum is pretty hostile towards 2000's U2, especially Bomb. I love the album but I'm definitely in the minority here.
Count me in the minority, too. ATYCLB and Bomb are very enjoyable albums if you listen to them without comparing them to U2's past albums.