I’m riding high on a tide of musical euphoria. My new, favorite band is suddenly the hottest, coolest thing around. I see them in TIME magazine while I’m waiting for a haircut at my family barbershop. Their videos are playing on MTV a lot. Friends at college are blasting tunes from the Joshua Tree at night while we all hang out and just nod our heads to the riffs of the Edge playing his stuff. My girlfriend at the time gets a copy and we play it in her car while we’re driving around. There are states of mind that even to this day, songs like “Running to Stand Still” and “Mothers of the Disappeared” can conjure in me, taking me back to feelings and memories that resonate deep in my pond.

Along comes “Rattle and Hum”. This is an album that garnered some critical backlash, and rightly so to a certain extent. U2 was seen as trying to ingratiate themselves with other great musical performers, and perhaps acting too big for their britches. Bono’s soap boxing comments on the album during certain songs come to mind. This is where I started to hear complaints about Bono’s sanctimonious attitude, which at the time I felt was correct, but a lot of times I felt the people expressing those opinions were also motivated by jealousy. I saw the album as simply another U2 live album, about which I had a theory I believed at the time.

Looking back, it was pure delusion, but at the time I honestly believed that U2 came out with a “live” album between all their normal, regular albums. They used the “live” albums as an in-between artistic arch-stone. After Boy, October and War you had the live album Under A Blood Red Sky. Then They did the awesomely spiritual Unforgettable Fire. After that came Wide Awake In America, another live album. Followed by the supremely stunning masterpiece of Joshua Tree. So Rattle and Hum was just the next, natural “rest stop” album. The next album would, of course, be even more amazing by all logical standards.

So I ignored a lot of the criticism of Rattle and Hum, because in a sense I thought it was an in between project. If they were acting high and mighty, I felt U2 had a certain right to. What rock star wouldn’t want to take their rightful place with all the other legends, now that they’d hit the big time? At least that is how I looked at it. And I thought a lot of the music on Rattle and Hum was pretty good. I’ve never liked covers, so I didn’t care for songs like “Helter Skelter” – I have yet to hear anyone equal the Beatle’s original. But with songs like “All I Want Is You” and “Silver and Gold” sending me to the happy place, it was all I needed to tide me over.

I went through a lot of changes in the years I waited for the next album. I was struggling with my life’s purpose, romantic and academic failures, and I was developing the foundations of the person I would become. A rough time for me, you could say. Into this came Achtung Baby, the dark U2 album. At first, it was so different from anything U2 had ever done I was stunned. There’s a point in some great albums where you keep listening and the magic shoots you into space. You realize you’ve redeemed some unknown part of your soul from ignorance. It’s tough, though, because that moment is the same as the heartbreaker albums that you listen to, hoping the pieces will click together. And instead you give up and never listen to that album again.

With Achtung Baby, I discovered sonic secret doors and multiple meanings in every listen (and still do, to this day, though not as often). Being in the depths of despair, this album got me through some troubled periods just because it was so exhilarating to hurt and listen to music that hurt with you, or twisted with you through the grinder. There would be other “dark albums” in my life, but none so mysterious and elusive, loud and cool, or right to the core as this one would end up being for me. It’s very likely the album played a part in helping me graduate from college.

I’ll concede that Joshua Tree is the better album, but I’ll choose Achtung Baby every time. It’s associated with personal moments and inner depths in a way that can never be repeated or experienced again. It’s unique to me and I never get tired of listening to it. People who have experienced this kind of bonding with an album are fortunate (or cursed, depending on how you look at it) to have lived life like this, even for a short time. You could tell me Achtung Baby stinks, is overrated, and lacking talent and I couldn’t agree or disagree with you. When it’s this personal, there’s no right or wrong answer.

This album sustained me for a long time. Before I knew it, the time had come for the next “in-between” album. Zooropa came into my life during a moment of transition that was particularly tough for me. I found the occurrence a meaningful one because I considered this an interim album, even though it wasn’t “live”. It worried me that it was an actual regular album, but as a lot of the material came out of the dense creativity of the previous one, I looked at it as the standard “in-between” fare. A good one, mind you, as I enjoyed just about every song, and considered my experience of the album a spiritual one. If the “rest stop” album was this good, the next regular album would be even better than the last. Could even such an album exist? What would it be like? For now, I reveled in Zooropa and it sustained me through the beginnings of a dark trial in my life.

The funny thing is, I still hadn’t seen U2 in concert. And I still hadn’t bought and listened to October. There were gaps in my fandom, for various reasons having to do with limited mobility and funds. My maturity level had not developed in certain areas, but that is a tale for another time. For now, I was riding a U2 high.

I had no clue how apocalyptic the next album would be, nor how far my projections would come down.