Me, my top tied two are Zooropa and How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb.
I'm pleased that someone here appreciates what an excellent album HTDAAB is. It's my second favourite after Achtung Baby - both albums that are all killer, no filler, just back-to-back perfectly crafted songs that didn't need any time to grow on me.
More than any other U2 album, Achtung Baby feels like the night, which is the best part of the day. LIB contains the lyric "I don't wanna see / Won't you wrap the night around me?
", and the whole album has a thrilling, comforting darkness about it. From the giddy euphoria of Zoo Station to the final slow-dance into hell, it's a fully immersive experience where every part of the journey is just mind-blowingly great - there's not a single tiny detail I would change. Bono's voice is the best it ever sounded, and I love his processed vocals on the opening track. The utter perfection of One is properly spine-tingling; it's almost too good to be the creation of mere mortals. It's clever how they take Biblical imagery and transform it into universally accessible love songs (UTEOTW, Mysterious Ways). So Cruel is a thing of stunning beauty. It's the most rocking album of them all - nothing makes me feel more alive than The Fly's guitar riff (and *oh*, that falsetto chorus). And then there is the passion and desperation of Ultra Violet, and the defiance of Acrobat... how can one album have SO MANY indescribably superb songs? It's confident, sexy, deep, poetic, layered and flawless. Even the booklet smells amazing. And of course the album is even more impressive as a sonic reinvention and a healing process for the band, plus it had the best promotion and tour that the world will ever see. In short, Achtung Baby is head and shoulders above everything else by U2 or any other band. A true masterpiece.
As for the best album released since I became a fan, HTDAAB simply has everything. It's exciting and fun, it sounds fantastic from start to finish, it rocks in places and is incredibly poignant in others... there's romance and bitterness and even a sense of humour, with some amusingly quirky lyrics. Unlike most U2 albums, there aren't any weakish tracks to drag down the overall star rating. It was so much better than expected that I literally cried with happiness throughout my first spin of the album, and couldn't wait to listen again and again - it didn't leave my CD player for months.
Vertigo has been played so much that I guess it's lost some of its initial impact, but that single was such a brilliant surprise when I first heard it, with the kind of groove and attitude that I never thought we would hear again. SYCMIOYO is so bittersweet, I can almost never get through it without becoming choked up. Hidden behind the weird hippie title of Love And Peace Or Else is an explosive *beast* of a song, dripping with the same delicious darkness that I love on Achtung Baby; I don't have the words for how awesome that guitar outro is. City Of Blinding Lights is everything I hoped it would be and more - the way that intro builds, the structure and energy and the glorious beauty of it. All Because Of You is another one I really enjoy rocking out to. A Man And A Woman is just gorgeous in every way - gorgeous melody, gorgeous lyrics, gorgeous vocals... one of the tracks I immediately had to replay when the album finished. Original Of The Species is particularly lovely too. Yahweh didn't sound like a promising title, but it positively bursts with the kind of pure joy you rarely hear on U2 records. And just so we don't have to end on a heartbreak, we then get the sexy playfulness of Fast Cars to leave me dancing and smiling (which is also a rare thing at the conclusion of a U2 album). I love how the very last thing you hear is someone in the studio remark "Pretty cool" - talk about an understatement! This album makes me FEEL STUFF and all of that stuff is good. It's a big, bold album that knows what it's doing and just *works*. I felt really proud to be a fan during this era and I'm glad it was hugely successful for them - it deserved to be.
Not saying there aren't plenty of songs on other albums that I love more, but as complete albums, these two are the most solid for me.
Are you going to expand on why you love your favourites, Ian? As someone who adores them both, I would like to read your thoughts.