Heartland

Heartland is slow, languid, in general a relaxing and calming song. A description of a ride through the heartland of the United States. It builds as it goes along, gets a little faster, although faster is maybe not the right word. How about it adds more and more layers as it goes, starts with the bass, adds in guitar and drums, all at different levels picking up over time. Building toward a crescendo you might say, and it really is a wonderful crescendo. This is another of those songs where I could lay down and listen to it for hours on end. It mixes in well with several other songs on Rattle And Hum, like Hawkmoon, Love Rescue Me, and even God Part II. For that matter it also works with stuff at the end of The Joshua Tree, whose sessions it originated in. Exit and Mothers Of The Disappeared finished that album well, but Heartland would have worked really nicely with them.

I have driven Route 66, listened to this song as I did, driven the roads that have replaced the old route, and had many of the feelings that are expressed in the song. I haven’t been as far as Bono describes (only Texas and New Mexico) but I certainly feel like everything he describes are things I’ve seen. The obvious exception being the Mississippi Delta, which I have not been that far south on the Mississippi, but I thought of this song when I was in Memphis, thought of this and the others they recorded when they were at Sun Studios. Oddly enough I saw a tweet from Sun Studios to U2 today, telling them to come back again.

The obvious visual with the song is of course Rattle And Hum, the scenes from the movie where the band is playing around while the song plays in the background. They start sitting by the Mississippi, where the song is set (and somehow that visual reminds me of one of the Pride videos in Dublin, hanging about by the water there). Then they move on to Graceland, and you get several comments from the band during that, most especially from Larry. He is of course a big Elvis Presley fan, and it disturbs him being there, because as he puts it “I wish he hadn’t been buried in the back garden,” which although serious comes out as a funny line in some ways. And of course Bono breaks the rule he made, letting the camera film Larry sitting on Elvis’ Harley when he said they wouldn’t.

What’s interesting about the song is that it’s not only descriptive, but it’s also literary. Just yesterday I complained about him being descriptive in a song, and here he is doing it again, but this time I like it. It’s a different kind of descriptive though, it’s the poetic kind that really works well when Bono writes it properly. Best example is possibly “Freeway like a river, cuts through this land,” which is both descriptive but also makes you think of the way the road flows back and forth, that even though we feel like we’re taming the land, it still has a say in how it is going to be treated. Maybe a stretch on my part, but it is a song that will bring the poetry out of me.

My rating for Heartland: 6 / 10

Unknown Caller

Unknown Caller is one of those songs that is very mood-dependent. There are times when it comes on and I’m immediately pressing the Next button, and there are times when I’ll replay it two or three times in a row.  I can’t even tell you what I’m in to get that way, it’s not like I’m choosing songs based on my mood (haven’t done that for many years). In fact I usually will listen to random songs, on occasion I’ll pick something slightly specific to listen to (like today when I wanted to listen to Songs Of Innocence, and ran through it three or four times). It’s not too often when I actually say “oh, I want to listen to song X” and go listen to it. I’ve done it a little more this year, actually listening to the song I’m reviewing.

Really annoying sound at the start, with the car horn stuck on or whatever it is. Plus the birds, I don’t like their sound in the song, regardless of the point of them. I think there’s really a full minute of annoyance at the start of the song, before the real music begins. So when you look at the song as being six minutes long, you can chop a minute off right there. But when that music does kick in it sounds good, like an interesting song is right there for the grabbing. I don’t know that it quite makes it that far though. I don’t know why, this does seem to be one of those cases where each of the parts doesn’t quite make it to the whole. When Bono reaches into the “go, shout it out” lyric, the music seems to lose itself.

I don’t like some of the lyrics in the song either. Bono is usually at his best when he is being allegorical, or vague, or literary. In Unknown Caller he has a couple of lines that break this style, and I don’t think they work too well. The whole “restart and reboot yourself,” “force quit and move to trash,” everything in it that suggests using a computer. It just doesn’t work for me. Even though I use a Mac and the implication is that Bono does too (Windows users don’t force quit). 

The “sunshine, sunshine” at the start reminds me of “Sun shine, sun shine on me,” which was a line in an old U2 b side called The Three Sunrises, one of the b sides to The Unforgettable Fire single. Don’t know why it reminds me of that, it just does. Maybe it’s the lyric, maybe it’s the sound, maybe it’s the combination of the two.

Doesn’t it seem like I’m saying a lot of “don’t know”s in this review? That’s what I get from the song, I just don’t know if it is good or bad, and I don’t know if I like it or not. Even though I’ve rated it average, and I’ve rated a number of other songs the same, I can’t think of another song that I’ve reviewed so far that I’ve been so conflicted on.

My rating for Unknown Caller: 5 / 10

City Of Blinding Lights

If you haven’t seen all the videos that @U2 has been putting on YouTube for the Innocence + Experience tour, go look at them now. They have had some great coverage of the entire show, it’s not quite like being there but it is near to it. Take a look at the video for City Of Blinding Lights, they have transformed it once again, this time with a Stephen Hawking intro and all the video you see on the screen. It’s amazing. And they used it as the regular opening song for the Vertigo tour, with the light curtains coming down, when Bono would appear out on the edge of the heart, another great scene to see. Seems like the song brings out the inspiration for showmanship in the band.

City Of Blinding Lights is one of the few songs I have loved since first hearing it. From the moment it starts with the high pitched guitar and piano, with their twinkling together point by point, until it accelerates into the rest of the song as the drums and bass join in, it grabs me and doesn’t let go. Those moments where Edge is playing into the long whine of the guitar just sound great. I love the “Oh. You. Look. So. Beautiful. Tonight.” sound of the words, the cadence Bono sings them at, it is a huge raising of the spirits. 

So the point of the song appears to be about the big city, but it’s also about growing up. The city lit by fireflies, it could be the city that Zooropa was based on, it could be the stepping out into the world from wherever you come from. It actually fits nicely into the Innocence part of the current tour, because much of it is about the early days, about the band heading to the bright lights of the big city, “getting ready to leave the ground.” They’ve been using it on the tour as the opener for the encore, when really it could be the end of part one, or the beginning of part two of the show. Not that I should be telling U2 how to create their set of course (although I will, sometime later in the year).

“Blessings not just for the ones who kneel, luckily” is what Bono sings at the end, and this is his hint toward religion and the idea of God. See, there are people who say that if you’re not a true believer in their religion, if you don’t pray all the time, if you’re not “saved,” and most importantly if you don’t give them money on a regular basis, then you’re not going to heaven. But what Bono says here is far more religious than any of those people, his thought being that even if you don’t pray to him, God will forgive you and let you into heaven, because it is your actions and thoughts that make the decision, not that you were born in the right place or chose the right church to pray in.

My rating for City Of Blinding Lights: 8 / 10

Stranger In A Strange Land

My biggest memory of Stranger In A Strange Land was using it in a college paper, opening the paper with the quote “Stranger in a strange land, he looked at me like I was the one who should run.” It was a paper about American Indians, I don’t remember anything else about it, and I don’t remember what grade I got for it. I certainly can’t say it helped or hindered the outcome.

Reading the lyrics today makes me think of Northern Ireland, of British soldiers patrolling the streets of Belfast. Watching the locals for anything out of order, pretending to be friendly but all the while knowing the locals can’t stand them and want them dead. It doesn’t have to be Belfast, it could be Baghdad or any number of places round the world where there’s an occupying army trying to keep the peace. Actually a little googling suggests it might also refer to Berlin prior to the fall of the Wall, and talking about East German soldiers. Like I said, could apply anywhere.

Having gone back in time with the new shows in the Innocence + Experience tour, I am really getting the vibe that this song is giving off. There’s a whole sequence of Bono growing up in Dublin, and the Raised By Wolves and Sunday Bloody Sunday sequence, and Stranger In A Strange Land gives me that feeling again. Interesting, huh? I don’t think we’re going to see them perform this song, in fact they’ve never ever played it live (one time they played a snippet).

The song starts quick and loud, and you think it’s going to be this whole fast jumping thing, but then all of a sudden it slows right down. Talk about false advertising. Then we get about halfway through the song and that same intro plays again, but then we drift back down into the meander once more. We get drums, we get bass, we get guitar, but it’s all fairly standard fare from October. They show hints of having learned a lot about playing music, but it’s just kind of boring overall. You’re waiting for something interesting to happen, but it dies away into nothing at the end of the song, and it’s not very well missed.

One thing that I would take away from it is that the whole of the October album was about religion, as we’ve discussed before, but then we get to Stranger In A Strange Land and there’s no religious aspect in it whatsoever. In fact based on the content this song would seem to fit much better on War, which was based on exactly the same themes, the idea of strangers occupying your land and the conflict that follows. I wonder how it managed to get on October instead of War? Now, obviously War wasn’t done by the time October came out, but I could have seen them saying that it wasn’t a good fit for October, leaving it off, and resurrecting it for War. They’ve done that sort of thing before.

My rating for Stranger In A Strange Land: 3 / 10

The Ocean

If my math is correct, there are only about ten U2 album songs that are under three minutes, and most of them are on the early albums. Of these, I only found two that are under two minutes, and both of those were on Boy: Into The Heart, which is 1:58 on the US version, although it’s over three minutes on the UK version, so maybe it doesn’t count. The other one is The Ocean, at 1:35 I think it is therefore by far the shortest U2 song released on an album. Now, why is that? Because it was the early days, and they didn’t write them as long as they do now? Or because they needed some filler for their first album? Or maybe they just weren’t that inspired by the song.

This is another one of those songs with a trigger in it, in this case it’s the name Dorian Gray, which of course makes me think the line “A picture in grey, Dorian Gray.” Although there aren’t too many other lyrics in the song to cause a trigger, you don’t get too many words when you’re only a minute and a half long. There is one interesting line in there though, “I thought the world could go far, if they listened to what I said,” which is extraordinarily prescient for a young Bono to be writing. He has come back to that theme several times over the years, so I guess you could call this one of those genesis moments. He’s also come at it from the other direction, talking about his megalomania, so maybe that’s the transition, from thinking you can change the world to changing it to being somewhat full of yourself.

The song has a lot of guitar, pinging away at the top, and a bunch of drums popping in the background, but somehow I always think of it as a bass song. There’s an attempt to make sounds in the background that sound like the ocean, but it’s surprisingly annoying even despite the theme of the song. Would be a good song to play in an aquarium. The bass provides a depth to the song that otherwise wouldn’t be there, at times when I hear this song I’m trying to block out pretty much everything else and just hear the bass. It’s interesting enough, or maybe the rest of the song is boring enough, that it attracts my attention as a standout on the song.

Overall then, the rating below reflects the quality of the song, or lack thereof. I don’t think I have found a worse album song than The Ocean, it is one of those songs that I skip over almost every time it comes on. It is a definite contender for worst U2 song ever, certainly for those songs that actually made it onto an album. There are many non-album songs that are worse, and as I’ve said before there are many many non-U2 songs that I would rate lower than this.

My rating for The Ocean: 1 / 10

Mothers Of The Disappeared

In a very political career, U2 turned with this song to a hotly political subject, the disappearances of so many people in Argentina during the 1970s and 1980s, when there was a military junta in charge of the country. A topic that I know little about, that the vast majority of U2 fans and indeed non-U2 fans know little about, until it got publicity through this song and other places, raising awareness as sometimes it seems only Bono can do. In recent years, with changes in Argentina’s government, the actual Mothers have been getting results and finding information about their children, and former high-ranking officials have been convicted of crimes related to the disappearances. Not necessarily due to the U2 song, but it at least helped in some ways and raised attention everywhere.

The last song on The Joshua Tree, Mothers Of The Disappeared joins Exit in forming a deep and dark ending to the album. Listening to the album, those two songs taken together have always left me in an introspective mood, as I said in my review of Exit. It’s not a bad thing, it’s really that emotional depth that you don’t often get in a song, even with many of U2’s songs. Don’t get me wrong, there are others, but this pairing is one of the best ones that U2 have ever done.

The words in the song are raw and emotional, this is very much the painting of a picture, one that you would sit and stare at for hours as you peel back the layers. There are actually surprisingly few words in Mothers Of The Disappeared, for such a long song, only four short verses, with only three lines each (I count “Hear their heartbeat, we hear their heartbeat” as one line, not two as it is partially printed on the U2.com site). Each line provides depth by itself, in a combination it really gets into you. Like I said, I could sit and listen to this and think deep thoughts. Now I think about it, this would be a really good song to play as I lay in bed before going to sleep, or if I can’t sleep, because it certainly calms the mind.

The song starts quiet and scratchy, slowly building up the layers - again - of sound, adding drums, guitar and bass sporadically, but louder and louder as the song goes on. It isn’t until 1:30 that Bono steps in, with the sound continuing with almost no change or break when he joins. After a couple of verses he takes a break while the music continues building, then he comes back in, and you can hear the emotion in his voice as he sings the last two verses. Then he is done singing, except for some ooo-ooohs, and there’s another 1:30 of music until the end of the song. It keeps building up though, louder and louder, until there’s a sudden break, like a cloudburst, back into the scratchy sounds as the song fades to the end. And as I write and listen I realize that the scratchy sound is quite possibly a way to simulate the rainfall that is talked about in the song.

My rating for Mothers Of The Disappeared: 7 / 10

Innocence + Experience initial thoughts

So U2 opened the Innocence + Experience tour on Thursday and Friday night. If you read my report from Thursday you would have seen several comments about the show, as I watched and listened while I wrote that night’s post. I was excited to be able to see and hear as much as I did, most of each concert, thanks to both iHeartRadio and various online versions.

Thank you to Periscopers who broadcast the first two nights, it isn’t as good as being there but I’ll take it any day. It is a marvel of technology that we could not have imagined even just a few short years ago. You think about U2 and the early days, and the documentation of what they did back then, all the gaps in the story. Now think of today, when any bunch of kids forming a band can record every single one of their sessions, learn from them all, and save them so that we can look at them thirty-five years from now. Oh yeah, and now extend that to every part of your life…

The other place to thank is @U2, who posted huge chunks of the show on YouTube the last day or two. I went back and watch all of their videos, it is like I said something you would not have seen even during the last tour. I wonder what effect that is going to have on the music business, are people going to stay away from shows if they can see them for free online? I will tell you what I know from history, which is that when television came along and began broadcasting baseball, people said it would be the end of crowds in the ballparks, but since then television coverage has blossomed and so have the crowds. It turned out that watching on tv pushed people to want to see games live. I hope and expect that to be the case for music as well, although a band like U2 probably won’t see any benefit, since they already pack the arenas when they tour. It’s the up and comers who should benefit the most.

But what about the shows? There was much online debate about which song would start the show, I was on the side of Cedarwood Road, but they went with Miracle instead. A very good choice. The theme of the show is clearly the early days, at least the first half is, and it worked really well. It did seem like they were telling a story about the early days in Dublin, through Miracle, Cedarwood, Iris, Wolves, all songs from the new album, which was also something surprising to me, how many of those they played off Songs Of Innocence. But they had the narrative down just right, mixing them in with some of their older songs, like Sunday (still don’t like the acoustic versions of Sunday as much as the full versions). 

Other notes: Fantastic video show. It’s no Zoo TV with the sensory overload, but it looks great. Really happy to see Bad show up on night two, hope it stays. Not happy to see Out Of Control dropped for night two though, hope it stays. Surprised to see Hands That Built America in there at all. How does Bono not cry as he introduces Iris? Glad to see them play When Love Comes To Town, it was a nice tribute to BB King. Odd that Still Haven’t Found closed night one, I don’t think it works as the last song, and note it was dropped for One on night two. I love The Troubles, hope it sticks around.

Overall after just two shows it’s hard to tell, they had originally said that the first and second nights would be different, but later said they wouldn’t. It’s not really possible to tell which way they’re going, in general the structure was mostly the same. It might take a while for the show to settle down, as they try different things and see what works. But overall, looking really good so far.

Don’t think I can give it an official rating, because I didn't see it live, and there’s a simple rule that U2 live is a natural 10.

When Love Comes To Town

BB King died last night, at the same time U2 was on stage for the first show of the Innocence + Experience tour. Unrelated events in most ways, of course, but I did notice the coincidence.

I saw BB perform during the Lovetown tour, as opening act for U2 and of course on stage with the band for When Love Comes To Town. That’s how big a deal he was, that they named the tour for him. I did not appreciate him at the time, all I knew was that he had sung with U2 so he was cool. Didn’t know any of his music when he and his band performed, so I just rocked out with everyone else. I don’t know that I appreciate him today either, I still don’t know much about his music.

I don’t know that I rate When Love Comes To Town as highly as I graded it. This is definitely one of those songs where I go back and forth, there are times when I will listen to it and enjoy it completely, but other times it comes on and I immediately hit the Next button. I don’t know if there’s any common denominator that makes me do so, if it’s the mood I’m in or what. As BB says, those are kind of heavy lyrics, so maybe it does need to be a certain mood to hear the song.

His appearance in Rattle And Hum sealed it for me of course, the scenes where he and Bono meet backstage (and Bono’s really amazing humility in the face of the great man, as he reads the lyrics), then the warmup on stage, and finally finishing the song live in front of a crowd. It is neat to see that backstage, out of the public eye kind of interaction, it’s something you don’t often see. And like I said, seeing Bono being star-struck is amusing, I bet he felt it much more back then, a decade into being in band but only a few years into being a superstar himself, as compared to now when people are starstruck meeting him.

I remember when I first heard this thinking that it’s all Bono for the first part, but then thirty seconds in BB steps in and you really feel like his voice grabs you. Deep and powerful, compare it to Bono who at the time (and still now) was much higher. It is interesting to see the two of them switch off their parts, at first it’s BB doing the chorus and Bono doing the verses, but then BB gets the last chorus and for much of the second half of the song it’s all BB singing, except for some yeah yeahs that Bono adds in (along with the backing singers). Wonder how they decided who would sing what?

It is hard to tell who is playing what on this song, I could think that one part is Edge, or one part is BB, when it could easily be someone else in the band. About the only thing possible is to tell the drums, and they are very standard issue playing on the song, well executed as always by Larry.

My rating for When Love Comes To Town: 6 / 10

Wire

I sit here tonight hunting streams, listening to iHeartRadio, and refreshing Twitter every ten seconds. Yes, that’s right, tonight is the night for the new tour. But while I want to be there, and am there in spirit, I have to write, and today I jump back in time some thirty years to the Innocence part of the band’s life.

Wire came off The Unforgettable Fire, one of those songs on the weaker side of the album. I’ve never really understood it, it hasn’t made much sense to me over the years. Like so many songs on the album, it has what I consider to be disconnected lyrics, another stream of consciousness that Bono was into at the time. Okay, so the song is about drugs, I’m not too hip on that topic (and never was) so maybe it is all over my head (or under it). But once again even though it’s a stream of consciousness, it is way more connected than anything I could do, and maybe it’s making sense for someone who is under the influence.

Starts with a little light guitar that gets louder and faster, a little jagged edge you might say, as the rest of the band kicks in. Then Bono comes in and everything else calms down a little, which I think is something that doesn’t happen very often in real life. But then he takes it up again and we’re rolling. I guess now that I think about it that this is one of the rockier songs on the album, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing for this album, although somewhat out of tune with the rest of it.

Anyway after all that, I end up reading through the lyrics and realizing just how many of them I actually relate to and think back on regularly. Those words that when I hear something it pings them into my head. The opening word, innocent, every time I hear that I think “and in a sense I am.” “The longest sleep,” “Such a nice day to throw your life away,” “I’m no dope,” these are all triggers for short bursts of memory. And speaking of “I’m no dope,” the very end is “Here’s the rope, now swing away,” according to U2.com, but I swear I have always thought that it was “swing on it,” which is an entirely different meaning to the end of the song. Or, maybe not.

And apologies for how disjointed this, I discovered it was impossible to write when the band came on stage, had to stop and listen. But iHeartRadio only played the first three songs, so I had to stop and finish writing this. And then of course I decided to stop again, and go find streams, links, Periscopes, anything I could. I can only say wow to the new tour, can’t wait until I see it live in person, it’s going to be fantastic. I might have to write some more on it in the next few days, too.

And sorry to any Wire fans who might have wanted me to be a little more focused.

My rating for Wire: 4 / 10

All I Want Is You

One of the few songs I have loved since I first heard it, All I Want Is You remains one of my very favorite U2 songs. Top ten definitely. When I get into the mood for this song, I have been known to listen to it over and over for days at a time (not all the time, but you know, when I’m driving to work, or listening while working or at home). It is one of those songs that I have tried to play on the guitar myself, and have had moderate success, perhaps more than any other song I have tried to play.

There are people who will tell you that One is not a love song, and that you shouldn’t play it at your wedding. Bono has said that himself. Well, they’ve said the same things about All I Want Is You, but I tried to have my future brother-in-law play it at my wedding, although he wasn’t able to, I didn’t really give him enough time to learn it. But the thought was there. I mean, like so many U2 songs I’ve already talked about this year, the lyrics are certainly ambiguous enough at times to make you think it could go either way.

I love the sound, slow and easy, the entire band works well together, and they bring all in various strings and things to the whole song. There’s a long ending of just music, with the orchestra playing away, and it really sounds fantastic. Of course I’m talking about the long version, which I much prefer to the short. The short is four and a quarter minutes, the long adds an extra couple of minutes and like I said has the band playing on at the end of the song, to fantastic effect.

For such a long song though it has surprisingly few lyrics. Looking at them online, they seem much shorter than most songs, even though listening to them I would have said there were more. Just the way they weave though. And this song also has the perfect kind of repetition, where he repeats the “All the promises” line three times, but makes it a little different each time (promises we made/make/break).

My very favorite version is the one that came on U22, the live version (of course) that rolls into Love Rescue Me. The pairing works well together, similar sounding songs, but it’s the All I Want Is You that is especially good. This is the particular version that I try and play on my guitar, following the U2 Guitar Tutorials site demos of the song. It’s the one that I can sit back, put in my earbuds, close my eyes and listen, pick out each part separately and just wallow in the sound. 

So, debate on the video? Okay. First of all, love it, it was so cinematic, quite possibly the best U2 video ever (and therefore the best music video ever, of course). The debate is whether the girl or the guy die at the end (sorry for spoilers, I assume you’ve seen this quarter century old video by now). I have to say that I have always thought that it was the girl, but lately I don’t know. I mean, why did she die? I guess the evidence for her dying would be the size of the coffin, and the fact that he is standing at the graveside, he throws the ring in and the strong man sees it and looks at him (which proves he isn’t a ghost). But him dying, well, if he fell from the swing and died, and turned into a ghost, that might explain some parts of it too. But I still think it’s her. It actually is really good to have it as a story, with the band an incidental part, sitting on the beach as the camera pans by, then walking later.

My rating for All I Want Is You: 9 / 10

Down All The Days

Down All The Days is an early version of Numb, at least much of the music is the same, but the lyrics are very different. It’s somewhat difficult to review the same song twice, but I’m going to try here, especially since I haven’t gotten to Numb yet, so I can say a few things now before I do that song. I’m not a big fan of Numb though, so I hope that doesn’t color this review too much. 

The song came out of the Achtung Baby sessions, and was discarded for that album, although the band revisited it for Zooropa, taking the music and creating Numb out of it. Now, much of the music is different, but there are many parts that were clearly ported directly from one song to the other. Actually by a minute or two Numb isn’t very noticeable, we’ve switched mostly away from the Numb sound into the sound of Down All The Days.

Something that seems to come to me as I listen to the song is the idea of the lyrics being from the Joshua Tree while the music is from Achtung Baby, which might explain why it didn’t work. If you listen just to the music you obviously get it being more modern or whatever the appropriate word is there, because the song ends up showing up on Zooropa. But try listening just to the words sometime, and tell me that they don’t sound like they could come from The Joshua Tree, or perhaps more appropriately from Rattle And Hum. They do have that almost American West sound, something that you get maybe with Hawkmoon, or perhaps the feeling that comes from Heartland. And like I said, that could be why the song didn’t really work, it was trying to mix the two different sensations together and coming up with one mish-mash. Maybe a bit where they hadn’t really gotten out of the Rattle And Hum mode and into the next album just yet.

So what is Down All The Days about? I can’t really tell, and you’re probably not surprised to read that. Remembering that it is an unfinished song, but there are lyrics to hear. The first part is couplets which are sort of opposites (“My lips are dry, they’ve tasted water”), which are therefore senseless. Meaningful? No. Actually, thinking about just one of the lines (“My heart is heavy, it hears the distant firing”) makes me wonder if maybe the song is from a veteran’s perspective, which I can somewhat see if I look back.

Then there’s the title, which is repeated quite often during the song, especially during the middle sections where it repeats several times in a row. And a final section, which Bono pretty much speaks, or reads, rather than sings, and it is not very coherent both in terms of being able to be understood, and when you do actually go read the lyrics, in terms of making any sense at all.

My rating for Down All The Days: 5 / 10

Zooropa (song)

Achtung Baby had such a different vibe from The Joshua Tree/Rattle and Hum that it was in many ways a shock to the system to be listening to it. In contrast it set up Zooropa in some ways, so that when the album came out there was some preparation for wildly different. But even then you couldn’t be prepared too much for the first song, the title song, which somehow managed to be six and a half minutes long, with the first couple of minutes of that being just strange noises coming out of your speakers, before the song proper kicked in. And when it did, it got itself into the weird section pretty quickly and stayed there for a while.

Something I will admit is that I sometimes conflate this song with Zoo Station, and both of them with Zoo TV, for the simple reason that they all have zoos in them. Now, Zoo Station and Zoo TV go hand in hand, at least that’s the right album. But I have to remind myself that Zooropa is a separate entity to Zoo Station, even though it also got into the Zoo TV tour. Confused? You should be. I don't mean the music, I mean just the titles are confusing.

So to the strange noises: it starts with a humming sound, then quickly a buzzing in the background which appears to be voices, many of them. Slowly additional sounds are added, a piano, a wailing voice, everything gets louder, then the guitar starts and everything else fades. Drums and guitar begin. Bono says “what do you want” and the song begins. A bunch of advertising slogans are sung for the lyrics, with repeated zooropas being sung between them. Finally we get some real lyrics, not just the slogans.

So, what’s it all about? Is it a new direction the band is going in? No compass, no map, no reason to go back. Don’t know the limit of what we’ve got. They could be signaling a new direction, although despite my first paragraph I would tend to say that Pop is much more a new direction from Zooropa than Zooropa was from Achtung.

If I were to take on the movie theme again, it would be some kind of sci-fi movie, I think. There is definitely a growth into something, or coming out into a new world sort of theme, throwing off or escaping the old to get into the new. Although it might also have a horror aspect to it, because you have those voices following you in the background, off to the sides, and maybe it’s trying to escape from them too.

Although Bono has said it’s supposed to be a futuristic city, with a person coming up out from the underground and being assailed by all the advertising, all the noise and sensory overload, if you will, kind of like we got at the start of the Zoo TV concerts. So, possibly I’m in agreement with him there.

And it all ends with a whiny screeching sound, which is really annoying. It might be a sound that has been following through the song, but quietly, and at the end it punches out into the open and irritates.

My rating for Zooropa: 5 / 10

The Unforgettable Fire

When I first listened to the album The Unforgettable Fire I wasn’t sure what I was hearing. I was coming backwards from The Joshua Tree, and the difference between the two is quite profound. The Joshua Tree is a rock album, whereas The Unforgettable Fire at times feels like an art project, one of those “experience” albums people release. It has the clearest influence from Brian Eno of any U2 album.

The Unforgettable Fire is a mix of songs, everything is either good or bad, there’s nothing in the middle. In fact it is the only U2 album where I have no songs rated either a five or a six. Ironically though the average song ends up in that middle ground, because I have half the songs rated highly and half the songs rated poorly. It leads it to be one of those albums that the average rating doesn’t really work on too well. 

The most well-known song is Pride, but the best song is Bad. I absolutely love Bad, especially live, I will tell you that it just barely missed the cut for getting a rating of ten out of ten. It is a song that draws you in, gets into your soul in a way. There are in fact other songs on the album that do that too - the title track and Promenade especially so. Just like the album, it took me a while to warm up to the title song, and as so often has happened, it took a live version of the song to get me really into it. Maybe that’s why I didn’t like this album initially, because I didn’t have live experiences of it, and the songs that I rated poorly were also ones I haven’t heard live much and the band hasn’t played live much, if at all.

So to the question of what the album is about. The phrase The Unforgettable Fire refers to the detonation of a nuclear bomb, if I remember correctly they took it from a Japanese art or history project on World War Two. But that is not very thematic, and neither is most of the album. You have something like Pride and MLK, which both talk about Martin Luther King, then you have Bad which is about drugs, The Unforgettable Fire which could be nuclear war, and so on. Nothing specifically sticking together in that lot.

The thing about The Unforgettable Fire that keeps coming back to me though is the idea that it is something very cinematic in a way. More than a decade later U2 would get back together with Eno and make the Passengers album, which was designed as a set of theme songs for movies. If I were to describe The Unforgettable Fire I would describe it in that same way, like they created the idea with this album and used it, then it was a decade later the idea came back to them. For many if not most of these songs it is very possible to close your eyes, listen to the music - and sometimes the words - and feel images running through your mind brought on by it. It usually leads to something very calming, and the feeling that you could be watching the end credits of a movie with the soundtrack running over the top. For most of it, it really does work that way, and perhaps that’s the theme that is missing from the album when you listen to it intentionally.

I can’t help feeling that this is a really good album that just misses a mark, that it should grab me much more than it does. But then there are times, like in the paragraph above, where it grabs me and won’t let go, and it’s those times that I want to get into it. Like the songs themselves, the album as a whole has a split personality, that if I’m in the mood it is fantastic, but if not then I just want to get it done with.

My rating for The Unforgettable Fire: 5.5 / 10

Bono

Happy Birthday to Bono, turning 55 today.

I’ve mentioned it several times before, but Bono gives me conflicting emotions. He is the heart and soul of the band which has been such a huge part of my life. He has also done so many other things with his life, and that’s where I get that conflict, because many of them have been so embarrassing to me because of my fandom. I find myself wanting to defend him so often, and I don’t know why. He’s a big boy now, he can handle himself. So why do I often feel so defensive about him?

In the early days he was all about the hair and the intensity. People began to know him as the singer who was really passionate about his music and his politics. He definitely wore his heart on his sleeve, which caused him problems at the time and since. Especially with his characters like MacPhisto, which many people conflated with the man himself, and he’s carried that with him ever since. People now often see him as a parody of himself.

I have no problem with Bono or the rest of the gang being super-rich, they’ve performed over the years and deserve it. What bothers me is the folks who want to talk about it, either the media highlighting his investments in things like Facebook, which have made him a billionaire, or the opposite side, the people who when he talks about philanthropy say that he should pay for things himself. I’ve complained about that before, so I won’t do it again, at least not too much.

I think it is fair to say that without Bono there is no U2, more than any other member of the band. On the other hand, I think that Bono would be a very successful person in life regardless of what he set his mind to, and I doubt that would be something as simple as being a clerk in an office somewhere. I think he was born to be in showbiz. I often say that he got in line twice for charisma, he clearly has it in spades. So to imagine him in a dead-end job is impossible, if he wasn’t in U2 he’d have been in some other band, or on stage somewhere (maybe not, his acting isn’t that good), or doing something where he’d have a whole lot of fame.

His latest phase is what I guess you would call “getting old.” Sorry, Bono, but it’s true. Any time I see new pics of him I think “wow, he got old,” which may be a reaction to the bike accident, but then it might have been happening before that. Dislike the new hair, too. And I think the fact that a few times I’ve seen pictures lately I’ve thought “he looks like an old lady” is not a good sign, he might be heading into that craggy, Keith Richards or Bruce Springsteen old geezer look. Happens to the best of us, I suppose, at least he doesn’t look like Adam.

I think I might sound a little bitchy in all this. I don’t mean to, like I said at the start I love him and the rest of the band. I can’t imagine the day they give it all up.

The Tonight Show

U2 have appeared on pretty much every late night show they possibly could. Not even looking at the old days, and not even looking overseas, here in the US I’ve seen them on a bunch of shows. They’ve done Saturday Night Live, where the network lost all sorts of credibility as they cut the show while the band played on. They did a week on Letterman a few years ago, playing a song a night all week while they introduced the new album. And they were supposed to do a week on the Tonight Show last year to introduce Songs Of Innocence, but Bono’s bike accident messed that up.

So tonight they were back on the Tonight Show, a whole episode dedicated just to the band. Now I have to admit that I knew most everything that was going to happen, because I pay attention to the band and knew they actually filmed it all earlier this week. I knew the songs they were going to play, knew the bits they were going to do. Bono on the bike, already saw the pics online, just needed the punchline, which didn’t make any sense. Subway performance was fun, although it was obvious it was them from the start. My wife asked me what I would have done if I’d been down there, if I would have recognized them. I replied that I would definitely have said “F**k, that’s U2.”

The music: They played Beautiful Day, which has become the go-to hit for the band, the more recent song that everybody knows. Wow, I just wrote that Beautiful Day is more recent, when it is fifteen years old. Time flies, huh? It was hard to tell but there were a couple of moments when I thought Bono’s arm did look a little stiff, but then there were moments when he was swinging it freely, so who knows how well it will hold up? And they played Song For Someone, which seems like it is intended to be another song they want everyone to know and sing. I reviewed it way back when, thought it was about average, and haven’t changed my opinion much since then. They also played Angel of Harlem, according to reports, but it never made it to air, good job once again NBC (at least they posted it online, and it turned out really good, with the Roots joining in). And the audience sucked, all those eighteen year old girls lined up along the edge of the stage, with the prettiest one at the end for Bono to hold her hand, yeah right. They better get out of my way when I’m in the GA in Chicago.

I used to love Jimmy Fallon when he was on Saturday Night Live, he was really funny. Too many shows to count where he would start giggling during a skit, that was always hilarious. He went on to his own show, Late Night, where he was still funny. But now he’s doing the Tonight Show, he seems to have been given a humor transplant, because he is frankly not that good any more. You still see it at times, but mostly he just seems like he’s had a bit of a damper put on him. His zaniness has disappeared, and I suspect that NBC told him that he could have the job but he would have to tone down slightly. Sad.

But plenty of credit for the band, the rating below because they were live (well, live five days ago), and nothing beats live U2.

My rating for U2 on The Tonight Show: 9 / 10

Some Days Are Better Than Others

I’m not sure how I feel about Some Days Are Better Than Others, it’s one of those songs that sometimes it is enjoyable and other times a bit irritating. It seems to be a whole bunch of sayings, glued together with the words “some days,” which really kills me on the repetition thing. It’s intended though, so that makes it better, I suppose. But then again maybe that’s why I switch back and forth on the song.

It’s a weird bass sound on this song. Hard to describe, but if I was to try I’d probably say that it sounds a little whiny. Is that even possible, for a bass to sound whiny? Maybe moany would be a better word (if it’s a word at all), I think a bass can certainly sound moany. The guitar is not really noticeable unless you concentrate on it, in which case you realize it is off tripping on something, doing some weird stuff. There’s also a point about halfway through where the guitar goes even more crazy, screeching out for a few seconds, and that’s really just annoying. It comes back again at the end

So to the lyrics, every line is a switch up of the words. You know what I mean, right, like the very first line is “Some days are dry, some days are leaky,” taking the two opposites and pushing them together. And it happens over and over. I’m not really sure what the point is for all this. Just finding opposites to make a song out of? There’s really no theme other than that. If anything the theme is to say what people the world over say about the weather: “if you don’t like it, wait five minutes and it’ll change” (which is totally not true, for example here in Texas if you say that in June you’ll be off by three months, since the weather from June to September is exactly the same: hot). Point being that it’s just pointing out switching back and forth between options and days.

Zooropa itself wasn’t a complete dud, I have it graded slightly below average compared to the rest of U2’s albums. The problem was that it was a big letdown after the highs of The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby. It ended up being a kind of leftovers album after Achtung, and many of those leftovers were mediocre. Some Days Are Better Than Others is one of those songs, a leftover that has barely been warmed up. If it had been a b side to something it might be considered decent. Maybe if the music had been a little different, a little more bouncy or a little faster, it might be okay. I don’t know. It does feel like some of the songs that appeared on something like the U2 7 mini album, fun little throwaways. Some of those ended up being quite enjoyable in their own right, and I think with some more work and a slightly different direction, Some Days might have gotten there too. Unfortunately it is what it is.

My rating for Some Days Are Better Than Others: 3 / 10

I'm Not Your Baby

My minimal knowledge of Sinead O’Connor is her appearance on Saturday Night Live where she tore up a picture of the Pope. I often think of the line she sang at the time, “we are confident in the triumph of good over evil.” It may be the thing she is most famous for, it is in my mind. I actually had to go read her Wikipedia page to find out the songs she is famous for, and learn that the only one I really remember is “Nothing Compares 2 U,” which isn’t even her own song.

So it came as some surprise to me as I read the page that she has had several involvements with U2 over the years. She has done soundtracks with both Edge and Bono (separate ones, that is), including the In The Name Of The Father soundtrack, which I did know Bono was part of. And then she did this song with U2, I’m Not Your Baby, for the soundtrack of a Wim Wenders movie, End Of The Violence, which I’ve never heard of.

It starts with a bunch of seagulls, or at least seagull-like sounds, for reasons I am not at all aware of, but maybe part of the movie? The noises in the back of the song make it sound like it is being sung in front of a live audience, but I don’t think it really is, just some interesting effects. Bono is singing the first part, and then you start to hear Sinead joining in. It’s hard to hear at first, she sings very softly, softly enough that you’re not sure if she’s even singing, but as time goes by she gets louder and clearer, and all of a sudden they’ve switched positions, she’s the dominant one and Bono is sitting in the background for a while. It’s a really interesting way of doing things, I think it sounds good that way, rather than the more sappy kind of “you sing a line, then I’ll sing a line” duets that you usually get. They’re much more involved with each other in the song this way.

Is it a great song? No. Good, yes, but not great. There’s really a lot in it that I suspect I haven’t gotten anywhere near the layers that will be found in it. The music is good but nothing really stands out, although the really noticeable part is the title, which is repeated so many times as to be irritating. But is there a point to the song? If I was to say anything, it would be to say to speak straight to someone, to not couch your language with them. The obvious part is again the title line, “I’m not your baby,” which I think is being said by a person to their significant other, after being called baby by them. One of the verses is clearly about that, anyway. But as I keep reading I think it’s more about relationships, and maybe the idea of getting close to someone and getting a little freaked out about that. But again, what do I know?

My rating for I’m Not Your Baby: 4 / 10

Another Time, Another Place

First albums are difficult for anyone, it takes a lot of work just to get to make one. Then you make it, put it out to the public, and hope that it’s good enough to get to make another one. And sometimes, even though it isn’t very good, and has some songs that kind of suck, you do get those opportunities to keep going, and you end up becoming the biggest band in the world.

And that’s the case with Another Time, Another Place, which is kind of a dull song, nothing interesting either lyrically or musically. I can’t tell you what the song is about, it doesn’t seem to have much of a theme or much of anything. Or at least I don’t get it. It also suffers from the repetition thing, which I think is more than half the song.

Early sound, a little odd to me now, both the guitar and the drums sound a little off. Let alone Bono’s voice, which just sounds weird now. It was the early days, I don’t think his voice had even broken by then. One of the comments he made in the Rolling Stones Files book was that he was learning how to sing, in an interview in 1985 or so. Sorry, I’m not going to check the exact quote, or the date. But it did amuse me, that a guy who had been the lead singer for a rock band for several years still needed to learn how to sing. It does make me think, because there’s some kind of thought process that these guys just pop up fully made and ready to go, whereas the truth is that they need to learn. Bono needs to learn to sing, Edge needs to learn to play, and so on. Even though they have a certain level of natural talent, which gets them through the beginning, they still need practice time. It’s like that saying about needing 10,000 hours of practice to become a world class talent at something, which if you think about it is so long that you do have to be really good at something to be able to get that amount of time. But if you also think about it, let’s say you get to play guitar for six hours a day, then in that case you’re talking 1,600 days, or five years until you know what you’re doing. Or enough time to get past Boy and October and into War, if you count the years before Boy as well. Okay, ramble over.

There’s a section near the end of the song where Bono speaks some gibberish, it’s something that is debated online about what he says. Rumors both German and Gaelic, but most people seem to think that’s it’s just a bunch of nonsense. Bongolese is the term used for when Bono randomly spouts sounds that mimic words but aren’t. It does sounds somewhat guttural to me, suggesting German, but I doubt it. I’d be more convinced of that if it was around the Achtung Baby era, but it’s about ten years too early for that. It does amuse me the amount of effort that people put into trying to understand Bono though, since it is most likely just sound. I don’t know why someone hasn’t asked him what it is, these thirty years later. Or maybe they have and he doesn’t know.

My rating for Another Time, Another Place: 4 / 10

Flower Child

“On the fifth day of May she was breaking away…”

One of those rarities that wasn’t released on an album, Flower Child came out on the Complete U2 after being left off All That You Can’t Leave Behind. It would have been a nice fit on that or any of the later albums, it is soft and slow, but somewhat bouncy. Maybe a little too acoustic, the drums don’t add much and the bass is almost non-existent. I should say they’re there, they just don’t add much. I could see Bono and Edge playing this song while Adam and Larry take a break. Of course it’s never been played live, and probably never will be, so that scenario is unlikely.

The song is 4:56 but for some reason I think it sounds a lot longer, I would have guessed at something like seven minutes long. There are four separate verses, each sound similar but it’s kind of like starting a new chapter every so often, with somewhat of a different phase to the music each time, but that doesn’t make it a bad thing. I like the song enough that it could stand to be longer. Although in total it isn’t making as much sense as it possibly should.

So what’s it actually about? Not sure, really. I think it’s Bono talking about his daughter, at least that’s the obvious interpretation given the song title. The chorus says “The seeds that you sew, you want to watch them grow,” which may be another hint towards that theme. On the other hand, it may instead be about a relationship. Read through the first verse, “George was the street where you first faced defeat,” as in a relationship fight, which goes on to her being cold and you giving up and going drinking (“the Liffey dry”). And then later it talks about hurling at her door like a dog when she needed a man, as in you’re hanging around desperately waiting for her. These tend to be things you wouldn’t think about your kid (I hope), so maybe it is more this than the child thing.

There’s a reference to Holy Joe, who is presumably not the same one as in the song, although they were from a similar timeframe.

The boat heading north facing south, is it taking a trip north and south of the river? Just one of those little reminders that pop up now and then.

Ultimately I don’t know, I feel like I should like this song, like I want to like the song, but as I try and dig deeper into it, I’m not sure that there’s that much to it. It is kind of wishy washy in the lyrics, and I tend to prefer lyrics that have a point (wait, did I say the opposite somewhere else?). I guess I should say I enjoy it but I don’t seek it out. Or maybe I should say that I feel like it is on the verge of being a good song, but doesn’t quite make the step it needs to.

My rating for Flower Child: 4 / 10

Blow Your House Down

I seem to be on a bit of a roll with the really good b sides/ unpublished songs. Today we get Blow Your House Down, one of the extras that came on the Achtung Baby deluxe edition. Again from the fertile period of the late 80s and early 90s we get a song that could have been a really good fit on many of the albums they’ve released, instead of being relegated to a twenty year anniversary special.

Really good drums, they stand out as both being loud and clear, and in this case pushing the song along. Several times, during the chorus and at other points, the hard beat of the drums switches into where Larry is apparently banging the drum with one hand and the cymbals with the other, really punching up the song at that point. In fact I have to say that the drums seem to dominate this song, they control the sound throughout, and the guitar is really not that noticeable except for a few select points in the song.

Right at the start someone says “One, two, three, four” as the drumsticks beat together, and obviously that would be Larry talking, but I don’t know why I think it sounds more like Adam’s voice. That would be weird, right, the bass player saying the one two three four lead-in while the drummer hits the sticks? And I can’t even say that I know their voices well enough to tell the difference, especially with the little you hear from Adam, so maybe I’m just imagining things.

I enjoy Blow Your House Down until I start to think of the lyrics. Again this seems to be a song about an ex-lover (“Why, though I’m glad you’re gone, Do I want you tonight”), trying to tell you to stay away, that she’s only going to cause you problems. But the rest of the lyrics, or rather the point of the lyrics, is really kind of obscure. I would say that it sounds like Bono trying to be artsy, or literary, but we know he is and this one kind of is a miss. Don’t get me wrong, it’s interesting, it just doesn’t grab me like much of his stuff does.

The chorus, “she’s gonna blow your house down,” is repeated a little too often for my liking. It certainly seems like one of those opportunities for Bono to take the words and twist them a little, make them slightly different each time and keep it interesting.

There is a bridge near the end which I have to say sounds somewhat like a Beatles song. You know, that wishy washy kind of music, hippy dippy, other words that rhyme with each other. It’s the part that starts with “The wave” and ends with “devil’s hands,” which if you haven’t heard the song you have no idea about what I mean. But listen and you’ll hear it, they just suddenly switch into that lame kind of music for a moment.

My rating for Blow Your House Down: 5 / 10