"Even the awkwardly posed cover shot, a frozen moment of bad fashion in a watery wasteland (shot in the Dublin docklands, where U2 have been based even since), suggested a group ill at ease with their identity, completely out of sync with the angular coolness of their UK contemporaries. And yet, as the needle settled into the groove, the sheer sonic force of the music exploding from the speakers proved so wild and strange and dramatic it maintained the band's career momentum almost despite themselves."
- Neil McCormick, Daily Telegram columnist/pop music critic.
Quoted from the October 2008 reissue liner notes.
U2 quickly followed-up Boy with their 1981 release October. The album almost didn't happen. First, several of the band members were having a hard time reconciling rock stardom with their Christian upbringings and beliefs. In fact, The Edge quit the band citing God as his priority, only to rejoin a week later. Second, the band had to prepare this album while on the road supporting Boy. In March of 1981 after a show in Portland, Oregon, Bono's notebook was stolen by some girls who came back stage to flirt with the band. A year's worth of lyrics were gone, and Bono only had 12 weeks to reorganize his thoughts before they were slated to start recording. When they went into the recording studio in June 1981, they only had two songs prepared. Producer Steve Lillywhite, who also produced Boy, was not amused, and told the band to gets its act together pronto.
The resulting album is overtly religious and spiritual, and Bono's lyrics are scattered and disjointed. However, the music is also raw and powerful, what you would expect from a band recording on pure emotion. The recording sessions reaffirmed the band's believe in music as a positive force. And you can hear The Edge really start to find his electric guitar style with the use of lots of reverb and melody, which would become a lot more pronounced in future recordings (especially The Joshua Tree).
Although October was generally not well received, especially in the US, the single "Fire" became U2's first Top 40 hit in the UK, peaking at number 35. Also, listen to the bleak but beautiful piano melody played by the Edge in the track "October."
Incidentally, Bono did recover his stolen notebook, only 23 years later. A woman in Tacoma, Washington, found it in 1981 stashed in the attic of a house she was renting. She did not realize that it was stolen, and did not know how to get in touch with the band, so she held on to it until 2004 when a friend helped her contact U2's management to return the goods. Hopefully Bono gave her some tickets to their show.
Buy: October (1981, reissued 2008)