At last we've found what we have been looking for; Jaded by fame and complacent, U2 almost broke apart. But then their hunger for music was reborn.
The disappointing Pop album was rushed out to coincide with the world tour dates and it looked as if the band were beginning to lose their creative touch
Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen felt they were trying to sell a half- finished product - and it started to show.
As the band took the stage to sing the songs from Pop, they were terrified of failing their fans. Adam admits shaking and sweating with fear during those shows.
Those bitter memories made U2 determined to get things right with their new album, All That You Can't Leave Behind.
So they got right back to basics, stripping away all the hi-tech production techniques which they felt were starting to suffocate their music.
And according to Bono, they've succeeded in making U2's best album in years.
The album, produced by Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, is released at the end of this month and is filled with the type of pop songs which saw the band rocket to worldwide fame in the early Eighties.
The most touching all the songs is Kite, written by Bono about a day spent with his children.
Despite being regarded as one of the most down-to-earth superstar bands on the planet, Bono still felt that fame and fortune were leading him and the other guys to lose the plot.
He feared he wasn't spending enough time with his wife Ali and children - daughters, Jordan, 11, and Memphis Eve, nine, and one-year-old son Elijah Bob Patricius Guggi Q Hewson - so he decided to redress the balance.
Bono said: "I had a bit of a fright and the song Kite comes out of that. I hadn't been around for a while and was determined to do the proper dad thing.
"I took the kids to Killiney Hill in Dublin to fly a kite. Up it went and immediately down it came and smashed into smithereens. The kids just looked at me and said, 'C'mon, dad. Let's go play video games.' How cruel is that?'"
But Bono took heart from that experience and managed to pen a song out of it.
He added: "In our heads we've written 11 singles on this record. I suppose what I'm saying is that you should treat every album as if it's your last and your life depended on it. The new stuff has fire.
"It's not plastic. It's not silk. It's heavier than that. It's titanium soul. It's like a Beatles record in that every song feels like a single.
"They're tunes rather than just ideas. There's no storytelling or artifice. The record couldn't be further from that. It's about the pure joy of playing in a band, with or without an audience.
"You can download an atmosphere and dial up a groove, but there's a certain magic when three musicians and a dyslexic get together and play in a room.
"I'm very, very excited about the work. I think it's some of the best things we've done in many, many years. It's ecstatic music. There, that should put loads of people off."
The Edge also reckons they are getting back to their vintage best.
He said: "The new album is U2 the band, back to the mid-Eighties, we have decided to drop all the technology and get back to just drums, bass, guitars and vocals."
Even Brian Eno was in tune with the band's decision to get happy.
The Edge said: "The attempt was to do the most difficult thing in music, which is to create joy. That is extremely hard.
"It's easy to make melancholy. It's easy to make energy, it's easy to make cleverness, it's easy to make intrigue, it's easy to make glamour. But it's very hard to make joy. To make music that grips you and lifts you in some way. That's hard."
Last month, the band celebrated the completion of the latest batch of songs with a rooftop gig in Dublin for Top Of The Pops.
They performed on top the Clarence Hotel, which U2 own, for a mini concert which will be seen on the BBC chart show tonight.
But Scots could see the band as early as next year. They are now finalising dates and insiders say they are determined to include Scotland in their next world tour.
The release of the band's new single, Beautiful Day, on Monday will see them clocking up 20 years in the record business with their total sales now around the 80 million mark.
But while Monday's new arrival will be a big event, the early releases were not.
After getting their big break when they won a talent contest in 1978, they struggled to land a hit. Their debut album Boy failed to chart when it was released in August 1980. The first single, I Will Follow, also struggled to dent the charts, as did Fire and Gloria.
It wasn't until the release of their second album October, in 1981, that they got their Top 20 break.
Then the hits started coming thick and fast in the shape of New Year's Day, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Pride In The Name of Love and The Unforgettable Fire.
By the time The Joshua Tree - which went on to sell 15 million copies - was released in 1987, U2 were masters of the rock universe.
Achtung Baby, recorded in Berlin 1990 with Eno and Lanois then 1993's Zooropa and 1995's Passengers collaboration followed. Then came Pop.
But rather than jetting off to a hideaway island with his spoils, Bono continued to wear his political heart on his sleeve.
He campaigned for the release of Nelson Mandela and these days he spends much of his time fighting on behalf of Greenpeace, Amnesty International and Jubilee 2000 - the latter in order to Drop The Debt attributed to Third World countries.
Rubbing shoulders with world leaders such as Tony Blair, Pope John Paul II and President Bill Clinton has given him an insight into the machinations of power.
Bono, born Paul Hewson in Dublin 40 years ago, can even drop names of the men in charge of the purse strings in the US, such as House Budget Committee chairman John Kasich. He called Bono to find out whether he preferred Radiohead's OK Computer to The Bends.
Bono said: "Thom Yorke was a bit freaked out when I told him about that. He was like: 'You mean bad guys like our music too?'
"I have a new found respect for politicians. I think they work very hard. They're not as corrupt as I thought. They'd make much more money if they went into business, a lot of them. A lot of them genuinely see their role as public service.
"The boring thing about them is their lack of imagination. That's where we come in."
While his Mephisto stage persona may have been inspired by Elvis, Bono admits another great inspiration was Frank Sinatra.
He said: "I love Frank Sinatra. I loved singing with him. I wrote a song with Edge for him called Too Shots Of Happy One Shot of Sad.
"He never covered the song. But I sang it into his ear one night in a restaurant in Palm Springs. He could outdrink and out-talk most people. I rode with him once in a limousine. We were being filmed from the passenger seat when Frank leaned over said 'Bono, roll down the window about an inch'.
"I rolled down the window about an inch and I looked at him.
"He said: 'You need some fill, not just key lighting. It's an Irish face'.
"I just burst out laughing. To think that Frank Sinatra, who was in his late seventies then, was art directing an Irish pop star."
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|Publication:||Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)|
|Date:||Oct 6, 2000|
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