February review

End of the second month. Still going, although not necessarily strong. Lately I’ve been feeling a little samey in my reviews, that you could mix and match several of them this month and get the same result. Is it me, or is it the songs? Sometimes its hard to write something fresh about a song you know little about, and that no-one else has written much about either.

There’s also been a few days recently where I’ve gotten a late start on a review, and had to get it out quickly to meet the daily deadline. Hopefully you haven’t noticed a drop in quality (or worse, a raise in quality). I haven’t been able to stay ahead this month, too many others things going. By coincidence one of the blogs I read is celebrating his  thirteenth anniversary today, thirteen years of blogging every single day. Technically, there’s been a few days where someone else has filled in for him, but still, how am I complaining about just two months?

This month I got 21 songs in, which is exactly where I should be on a monthly basis. Add in the start of the albums (with Boy and October), the Superbowl, a book and a couple of movies, and this monthly post rounds us out at 28. And yet I still feel like I should have done more non-song reviews than I did. Yet I’m not sure what else I should have done instead.

As for the songs, last month I said I had more highs and lows than average songs, so I should catch up eventually. Sure enough, there were many average rated songs this month, which might explain my dilemma above, where everything seems kind of boring for a while. But I did end up with a couple of good songs - and one great - as well as a few bad.

Here’s everything I reviewed this month, with the ratings I gave them:

 

The Superbowl 8

Jesus Christ 5

Boy 5.2

Staring At The Sun 6

Falling At Your Feet 3

 

Stranded (Haiti, Mon Amour) 2

Into The Heart 4

North Side Story (book) 5

http://www.u2365.com/blog/heartbreakhotel6

Deep In The Heart 2

One Tree Hill 6

Levitate 5

When I Look At The World 4

U2 3D (movie) 9

Helter Skelter 5

Satellite Of Love 4

Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses 7

No Line On The Horizon (song) 7

http://www.u2365.com/blog/everybreakingwavefilm 6

Volcano 2

Seconds 4

October (album) 3.5

This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now 4

Maggie's Farm 3

Mysterious Ways 9

White As Snow 2

Song For Someone 5

 

Song For Someone

Two somewhat dreary songs in a row, but at least this one picks up now and again. Song For Someone is a love song, or at least is purported to be. It has one great line - the first line - but the rest of it kind of meanders back and forth, although it ends with a kind of interesting verse. Musically not much to speak of, one of several songs on the album (Every Breaking Wave, Sleep Like A Baby Tonight, and This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now are the others) that are really kind of similar, in terms of a bit of a drone for the most part, kind of like much of the previous album, No Line On The Horizon. I actually think there has lately been a bit of a split within the band, with Bono and Edge going off and doing much of their own thing, and this has led to a number of songs like this, that are largely meant to be played acoustically by just the two of them. There is that feeling that Adam and Larry can be left out of some of the songs without being missed too much.

So to the great line, which is “You’ve got a face not spoiled by beauty.” I love that line, I don’t know why. Maybe because it does take a second to unwrap it, because you think when you hear the word beauty that he’s saying something nice, but when you rewind to the rest of the words in the sentence you realize it’s reversed. I do also like the couple of lines around the hill of Calvary (although I keep singing hills, plural), they are sung nicely and played nicely. The buildup music to hill of Calvary is probably the best part of the music in the whole song. And I admit there are times now and then that I do find myself singing the tagline, “this is a song for someone”, along with the song being stretched out to six or seven syllables. The fact that I do sing it now and then is probably what gained the song an extra point. Most of it is somewhat forgettable though.

I’m struggling to get a religious reference in here though. Hill of Calvary is the clear choice, but it’s not much of one. Not talking about religion, or God, or anything like that. Not doing a prayer, or a psalm, or a hymn. Not referring to God as love. I can’t even make the chorus into anything specific about religion. So I’m left with the hill, but I’m not quite sure how that fits into a love song. “I’m a long way from your hill of Calvary,” as in I’m a long way from your place of crucifixion? I don’t get that at all. If you were in love with someone why would you want to crucify them? Unless you take it as meaning ending the relationship, but why would you say that? Yeah, I’m a long way from ending this relationship? Doesn’t make sense to me, I guess I’m not reading it right. Not surprised about that, are we?

My rating for Song For Someone: 5 / 10

White As Snow

Written for a movie which I haven’t seen, so I can’t claim any knowledge of that. Supposedly about a pair of brothers, one who is a soldier in Afghanistan, and about one of them dying in the war, thinking back to his life as he does. I can’t say that I get that out of the song at all.

Boy, this is a dreary song. The music is based on an old hymn, which explains a lot, since it is turgid and boring and puts you to sleep. For this review I went to listen to the song a few times, and as it reached the end of the first time I realized I was long tuned out, that it was nothing more than background music to me. I’ve read a few reviews of the song that call it moving and sad, and I suppose it isn’t impossible to feel that way about it. But clearly from my perspective it’s not that at all, it’s just a song to skip over.

As I seem to do every day, a little talk about the religious aspects, which appear in every U2 song it seems. Now I’ve just told you that the song is based on a hymn, so that should be enough, right? But in this case I keep looking at the second verse, which begins “Once I knew there was a love divine,” and this to me is the subject saying they used to believe in God. The second line is “Then came a time I thought it knew me not,” which seems to be the common belief that you have reached a certain point where it is obvious to you that God no longer loves you or is interested in you. But then it goes “Who can forgive forgiveness where forgiveness is not,” which I struggle to try and unwrap. Too many forgives in that line, but you wouldn’t have an argument from me about the religious significance, especially when you couple it with the last line of the verse, “Only the lamb as white as snow.” The Lamb of God as they say, so bringing it together to point out the redemption part of the religious experience.

So having dug through that verse and pulled it apart, it’s interesting to take a look at the rest and see that it appears to be a lot more ordinary, talking about he and his brother driving, the land he is dying in, and then his life as a child. Goes back to the flashbacks of his life as he lays dying, but it’s most an unpoetic song, a little more narrative than usual. Yes, you can fit in the underlying themes if you want, but since this is such an uninteresting song, it’s really not worth it.

I confess I cheated on this one, because rather than letting the random number generator choose, I picked this song because it was supposed to snow here today. It did, but not much and it didn’t stick. It was as disappointing as the song.

My rating for White As Snow: 2 / 10

Mysterious Ways

Mysterious Ways. Just the name is a thrill for me. This is one of my favorites. One of their best songs off one of their best albums. Great sound, great lyrics, great bridge, there is little wrong with this song. And supposedly it also birthed One, so that’s extra points in its favor. I could listen to Mysterious Ways all day long. It conjures up images of sex, abandon, passion, excitement. I can instantly imagine the first few bars of the song, in fact I bet I could play this whole song through in my head and get it almost exactly the way they play it. Can’t play it on my guitar though, at least not yet.

The video for Mysterious Ways is interesting, filmed in Morocco or somewhere similar I think (what’s the deal with U2 and Morocco?), but what it really brings is the shot of Bono shimmering against the orange wall, which is one of the iconic U2 images from the Achtung Baby years.

Obviously the title can lead to a religious interpretation. A well-known saying, but of course the band put their own twist on it by saying “she” instead of he, leading to questions about whether it really means religion, or it means sex, or both. And then there’s “If you want to kiss the sky better learn how to kneel,” which is kind of saying to get to heaven, you better pray. I think the religious references, although intentional, are really just tangential to the story in this case. The clear look at sex is taken by the various videos, especially the live performances where Edge’s wife-to-be is belly-dancing around the stage and Bono is trying to reach her.

I mentioned recently in the review of Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses that I am still not sure about one of the lyrics in this song. Is it “Johnny take a dive” or “Johnny take a drive”? It’s dive, but I can never remember which is correct. And why would Johnny go diving with his sister in the rain? But lyrically it’s all about honoring women, putting them up on a pedestal, and in many ways talking about the power a woman can have over a man. Kind of the “beckon and he will come” sort of idea, which I don’t necessarily agree with, in either direction.

I really love the bass on Mysterious Ways, I think it drives the whole song more than almost any other U2 song ever. Think about it right at the end of the first verse, “you’ve been running away from what you don’t understand, love” and right then you get the boop-boom-boom-badoom-boom-boom (yeah, you try writing it) and that little bit repeats throughout the song and it is fantastic. Love it. I have seriously considered buying a bass guitar just to play this song, although I would mangle it badly enough that I might not want to listen to it any more. Poor tradeoff I think.

My rating for Mysterious Ways: 9 / 10

Maggie's Farm

U2 and the protest song have a long history together. Actually that history has tended to fade recently, I think. U2’s more recent protests have been couched in much more generic language, unlike say Springsteen with his most recent protest album, which hammers you over the head explicitly.

Maggie’s Farm is a song that I somehow know part of the lyrics to, and I have heard the U2 version somewhere. Somehow and somewhere? I have no recollection of seeing it or where I saw it? It was not released anywhere (a live version is on a charity CD, but I never owned it) and they only ever played it live in 1986 and 1987. So where do I know it from? And honestly the only part of the lyrics I remember is “I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s Farm no more.” Checking on YouTube I see a few versions, and I’m remembering the brown jacket that Bono wears in one or two of them, with the little tassels on the arms. I’m guessing I saw it or part of it at some point in time, and remember just the repeated line from it. It was probably shown on tv in some highlights thing at some point, probably somewhere around the Zoo TV tour. Seems reasonable. Anyway the song itself, I dislike the way they play it, it's a little too screechy I think. Edge kind of goes off a bit, I'm trying to think of another song to compare it to and I can't.

Whenever I’ve heard this song I’ve always thought of it as being about Margaret Thatcher, but it turns out to be much older than that. Written by Bob Dylan in the 1960s, it was revived when Thatcher came to power as a protest against her policies which pushed the ideals of the rich over the wishes of the poor. In the decades since Thatcher and Reagan took office, their policies have demonized poor people and caused much misery, while causing a pendulum shift in the movement of money to a rich and powerful elite. U2 have sung against this idea many times (Jesus Christ for example).

This is one of those songs that U2 latch onto for a time, that has meaning to that specific point in time or to the event they’re in. They’ve done quite a few covers in their day, although they’ve also called themselves the worst cover band in the world. Story goes that they started out playing covers (as every band does) but weren’t good at them so started singing their own songs, and the rest is history. But since then they’ve done covers of a lot of songs, some famous, some I’ve never heard of. Chances of getting a recording of U2 playing many of them is minimal. Looking through the list of songs they’ve played at U2gigs.com, I see things like All Along The Watchtower, which is obvious, but also Dancing Queen, that somehow they played 32 times on Zoo TV! Wow, I would never have expected that. I probably ought to go through the list and pick some of the more popular songs, if I can write about Maggie’s Farm (17 times played) I should be able to write about People Get Ready (91 times, appears to be the most times U2 have covered a song) or Help (71 times), right?

My rating for Maggie’s Farm: 3 / 10

This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now

I’m torn on Songs Of Innocence. As I’ve said before, I tend to dislike new U2 albums on first hearing, and it takes a few listens for them to warm up. Some songs take more listens than others. Songs Of Innocence has come and gone for me, I have found songs that I like a lot, songs that I dislike, and others that are lukewarm. This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now has fallen into the neutral zone. I have tended to think not too much of it, but then I have also found myself singing or humming the tagline now and then. So there is something there. Having said that, there are times when I’ve been singing This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now and found myself hitting the chorus for The Troubles (I start the section beginning with soldier soldier, and somehow end with you’re not my troubles anymore), so obviously I don’t quite have the song down or focused properly.

Interesting listening to seagulls at the start of the song, which hearkens back to Fez and Morocco during the No Line On The Horizon sessions. What’s the deal with having a few birds singing on the song? I mean, does it actually add anything to it? Or take anything away? I don’t think so in either direction, so I don’t think I get the point of it.

Recently I’ve been harping on about old songs, how they’re just a few words repeated over and over (like, one verse, one chorus, each repeated three times). I’ve said that I like U2 songs, especially more recent ones, where they have widely varied verses and don’t repeat too much. It adds a veneer of modernity, of sophistication I think. So it’s ironic that in this song I don’t like the verses, they irritate me both musically and lyrically. They drop into a weird sound as the verses start, and climb out of that sound when they end. Not sure how to describe the sound, it’s something like bass all round. The bright and bouncy sound disappears, we get bass, and Bono goes to a deep voice as well. Just odd. Somewhat deep, dark, mysterious maybe. Devil-like (I first wrote devilish, but that sounded a little too playful for the mood I was trying to express). Creepy. Even the lyrics in this section don’t sound very nice. “We’ve come to colonize your night and steal your poetry.”

Then it jumps into the old man section(s), and those are interesting. “…I never listen so how could I have something to say,” isn’t that the refrain of every parent?  You also get the soldier soldier sections, and those are just repeats of each other without any lyrical differences (a cardinal sin),   but also oddly enough the “Soldier soldier” confuses people, I’ve had more than one person ask what they’re saying there. Not sure why, it seems clear to me, but then I’m a person who would listen to the song fifty times (and read the lyrics), versus just once or twice.

My rating on This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now: 4 / 10

October

This album is why I didn’t do these reviews in chronological order, because I thought that if people were reading reviews of October for a few weeks they would never come back again. For those of you who haven’t heard the sports term sophomore slump, it refers to a player who had a great first season but doesn’t play as well in their second. Normally you talk about regression to the mean, where by definition someone who’s had a really good first year isn’t likely to hit those heights again in their second. Doesn’t mean they got worse, just means they started really well. In sports there are many players who go on to great careers who have suffered through a sophomore slump.

October is definitely U2’s sophomore slump, and I may not be breaking any surprises to tell you that it is by far U2’s worst album. In my ratings October is a full point worse than the second worst album (in my view), and to tell you how much that actually means, if you take the second worst album (no spoilers) and add a point to it, you’re going to cover six other U2 albums. So being a point below is really significant.

Nothing out of October has stood the test of time. Scarlet got a bunch of airplay during 360, but solely thanks to Aung San Suu Kyi, and ironically it got confused a lot with Rejoice, because of the lyrics. Gloria got a lot of playtime on the Vertigo tour, not sure why, but none of the rest of the songs have been played since the 80s. And simply put, they don’t stand up well. They are fairly generic rock songs and most of their sound is from that era. I was in fact quite impressed with Songs Of Innocence, because the goal of that album was to sound like the early 80s and they succeeded so well that I thought several of those songs could have fit on October, and made it a better sounding album.

So are there any redeeming features to this album? Well, I Threw A Brick Through A Window sounds like The Fly at times, so you could argue that there’s some inspiration happening there. Gloria is decent, although like I said it doesn’t get much time these days. No, perhaps the best thing that came out of October is the video for Gloria (on a barge in the middle of nowhere), and the photos of the band in both the album and elsewhere, which serve as one of the defining images of the band in the early 80s. Much more so than Boy, those photos are what people look at and think of when they think of young U2. Especially the ones where they’re out at the dock, standing around looking moodily at the world, you see those photos repeated any time someone is writing about early U2. Edge and Larry trying to look cool, Adam with his bizarre white fluff of hair, and Bono who by now has perfected the art of standing sideways and staring off in a different direction to the rest of the band. Okay, so I guess Bono’s sideways stare is one thing that has stood the test of time.

I haven’t touched on religion yet, this album is one of the more religious ones, and came at a time when three quarters of the band were leaning heavily into religion. There are clear influences, obvious things like Rejoice and Gloria, and numerous other references throughout. They tend to neither improve or detract from the album in any way, it can pretty much stand on its own without them. If I were to say it’s a bad album because of the religion I’d be totally wrong.

Overall I don’t tend to listen to October much. If it comes on I will just as likely listen as skip a song, unless it’s a live one. There’s no shame in being U2’s worst album, as I said in my discussion of ratings, the worst U2 song is still better than most anything that anyone else has ever produced. Although thinking about that there are a number of albums I have by other bands that I would listen to before I listened to October much.

My rating for October: 3.5

Seconds

I was a teenager in the 1980s, but the whole nuclear war thing really passed me by. I never felt that anything bad could happen. It just didn’t seem possible that someone could start a nuclear war. I read all kinds of books about it, like Clancy and that sort of thing, but it was all just stories. I guess the end of the real threat was with Gorbachev, but really that could have gone either way, instead of choosing openness he could have been pushed into war.

Seconds is about a nuclear bomb being built and detonated in an apartment, the kind of scare that became much more prevalent about 20 years after the song was released. If I were being worried about anything today, it would be this, the idea of terrorists building and detonating a bomb in a city, or several cities at the same time. That would be absolutely destructive to any society, you would never have people living in a city ever again.

The song is interesting in the way it shows a breakthrough in writing by the band, in turning themselves toward protest music - not the traditional kind that you would think of when you hear that term, but the more awareness kind that U2 certainly made famous throughout their career. The War album is where they sort of took off on this path, several songs being in the vein of “what the heck is going on and how do we stop it?” Seconds is a wide look at a global problem whereas Sunday Bloody Sunday was more specifically aimed at their homeland.

Big drums at the start remind us of Larry’s history in a military band of sorts, and you get the bass driving the song throughout, the rhythm section really coming together here. Edge does a lot of singing in Seconds, there aren’t too many songs where he sings this much (although there are the occasional Numb or Van Diemen’s Land where he does pretty much all the singing). It is a nice change of pace for the band, Bono’s higher voice contrasts nicely with Edge’s deeper one, and I think it helps in making the song sound like an increase in urgency as it goes along.

Seconds has that weird little bit in the middle (“I want to be an airborne ranger”) that I guess fits in the context of the song but if you were to feature something like that in a different song it would sound very odd indeed. No, it’s not right of me to say that, because if you are going to come up with something like that, you can probably come up with it in an appropriate way for another song too. But I can’t think of many - if any - songs where there is an absolute pause in the song for ten seconds before it continues. There are some where the music stops but starts again right away, just not like this.

Speaking of stopping abruptly, just yesterday I was complaining about the end of Volcano, where it comes to an end quickly and doesn’t sound right. Seconds comes to a stop just like that, but in this case it sounds much better, more planned and fitting in with the continuity of the song. Singing “say goodbye” several times, then the instruments coming to a stop at just the right time.

My rating for Seconds: 4 / 10

Volcano

I have to admit that my son likes this song. He likes it for one reason though, which is that he likes repeating the word “volcano” as it plays throughout the song. Annoying at times, but not that much. What’s annoying is that this is a bad song, and I keep thinking it’s because of the repeated volcanoes, but it’s more than that. This feels like a song with potential, like it could have been good, but just isn’t. I could argue that once I see it played live, it might sound a lot better in whichever version of the song that is, but I very well admit that even being live won’t help it.

Each time Bono sings the word Volcano in the song, it irritates me. He sings it in a weird way, breaking it up into the three syllables, and I don’t like it. Further to that, it sounds like he could be singing something else (I don’t know what), and so any time someone else hears it, they have to ask what it is he’s saying there. And then I have to be embarrassed to say that yes, he’s saying volcano. In other words it’s not clear or obvious.

I do feel like there’s some good lyrics trying to break out of this song, but not many of them. Basically the first two lines offer a lot of promise (“The world is spinning fast tonight, you can hurt yourself trying to hold on”) but I don’t see much to redeem any of the rest of the song. And musically it’s kind of raw, which in some albums you would call it under processed, but given the goal of Songs Of Innocence, you could actually think back to the early 80s and place the music in that era. So, for that purpose the song is well done.

I don’t know how they did the music at the start, the sort of springy sound, and yet again I don’t know if I like it. It sounds interesting in a way, but I could also take it as creepy. This song really seems to be giving me conflicting thoughts, doesn’t it? I strongly dislike the bridge, which is odd because I usually like them a lot, the little change in the middle of the song. And having just recently said that I prefer my songs to have a distinct end instead of fading away, this one goes and has a really abrupt end that doesn’t sound right at all. It’s like they were singing and playing away, and suddenly someone said cut, and they just stopped playing.

So when I think about it, I generally don’t have positive thoughts of Volcano. It is a new song so maybe it will grow on me some day. Of course, since I almost always skip over the song, I don’t give it much of an opportunity to grow. This is a problem with poor songs, you give them a short chance but they slip down the list and can never seem to make it back up again.

My rating for Volcano: 2 / 10

Every Breaking Wave (film)

A few days ago a short film called Every Breaking Wave was released. I didn’t know much about it, I’d heard about the filming in Belfast and the complaints surrounding it, that people thought it was a shoot for a U2 video and thought that U2 were using the Troubles for their own gain. Clearly not, and another example of why you shouldn’t jump to conclusions.

Spoilers ahead? Possibly. Watch the film before you read this, it’s only 13 minutes long. I hope the link above remains good, if not google the name with Aoife McArdle (director).

This is tangentially U2, based on the name and the music in the film (both Every Breaking Wave and The Troubles featured in it), but I’m reviewing it anyway. I already reviewed Every Breaking Wave the song.

I can’t say I know much about the troubles in Northern Ireland, I have a basic understanding of it from far away. I’ve never been in any situation like that, never want to be, but I can see it reflected all over the world. I can’t condone terrorism, I don’t see the need to kill others for much of anything, although there is that whole living under the barrel of a gun thing. Better to die on your feet than to live on your knees. I can very easily see myself being on either side of things in pretty much any war, simply depending on when and where I was born.

I have to confess I had no idea which character was which when it came to the skinheads. From scene to scene I couldn’t pick them apart, so I didn’t know which one was the lead for most of the early part of the film. And as I watched I kept looking for band members, was expecting Larry to be one of the skinheads (or their dad). I also kept looking at the posters on the walls, trying to see if there was a U2 poster (didn’t see one, probably not punk enough).

Amazing end, that he will help the enemy who had given him a beating earlier. And that there will be just as many civilian victims as military, which tells you something about the indiscriminate nature of bombings.

I didn’t like that they subtitled it, I understood the words just fine.

The film is meant to be powerful, and it is. I’m not sure it’s great though, but it’s good. Possibly too short, I think that it could have developed the characters and the love aspect more than it did. That might have broken the point of the film though. Hard to tell the timeframe involved, whether a few days or more (I think more, given that by the end his head injury has nearly healed). One thing I really didn’t like was that after the bombing, he opens the door and she is gone. My expectation was that she was dead, but no, she’s down the street. If a bomb went off when you were outside your boyfriend’s house, would you check on him, or wander off somewhere else?

I’ve actually had my own ideas about films/videos for both these songs while listening to them. I can say I wasn’t too far from the story in this film. Maybe I’ll tell you about them someday.

My rating for Every Breaking Wave (film): 6 / 10

No Line On The Horizon (song)

No Line On The Horizon ends up being one of the better songs on the eponymous album. It is an album that I don’t think is much loved by U2 fans - certainly not by non-U2 fans - and I find myself in a minority. The song itself is smooth, somewhat relaxing but with moments in it of excitement. To kick off the album it’s perfect, it kind of reflects the album as a whole, that last sentence could describe the album to a T.

The lyrics are interesting, I really don’t know what they are about. They seem to be a slight mish-mash, it’s the chorus that I end up liking the most, but the music itself is the most interesting thing on this song. Given the images on the album, I’m trying to imagine the ocean, but I don’t know. The separation between sea and sky? Or the non-separation as the case may be. The verse that begins with “Every night I have the same dream” is my favorite part, although I’m not sure again about the traffic cop line. Or the tongue in the ear.

I also dislike the first few seconds, don’t know what the noise is there and I don’t know if I like it. Listen to it live on From The Ground Up and that disappears, Edge instead playing some quick guitar which does sound much better. I think I tend to prefer songs that both start and end clearly. Been listening to some of the fade out songs that U2 have, and most of them I wish there was a definitive stop point. Of course there are exceptions to the rule. You know, like 40.

So having said all that, what is it about this song that has me rate it so highly? Clearly the whole is greater than the sum of the parts in this case. I really feel the bass and drums working well in this song, maybe that’s what makes it. They just seem to come up and down at the right points within the song, not that they don’t usually but it is really quite clear here. Most U2 songs are led by Edge’s guitar, but occasionally they let the rhythm section take over and dominate a song. When they do it ends up sounding like this, not quite perfect but certainly very good.

One of these days I ought to take a look at the length of song titles and see how they match to the song’s rating. A while ago I had that theory about the album titles, that the longer the title the better the album, but that was in the day when they didn’t have any album titles longer than three words. Don’t think I continued that idea after they started putting in album titles that were so long you needed to come up with an acronym for them. So does that still hold up now? And how about the songs? A quick look at my ratings list does show both long and short at the top and the bottom, so maybe it doesn’t work.

My rating for No Line On The Horizon (song): 7 / 10

Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses

If this song is about a breakup - which it is - then it’s probably the most awesome breakup ever. Does that make sense? Well, combine some rocking music with some excellent lyrics and you’ve got Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses. It’s quite a lot happier musically than you would expect for a song about a breakup. Who is the song based on, you ask? I like the piano playing on occasion in the background, giving it a bit of structure. And the weird sound right at the start, I love it and wish I knew how they did that. And I love that the song gets faster and faster as it builds up.

Weird how many versions of this there are, the album version, the single, and the Temple Bar edit, which is apparently the band’s favorite. All three different lengths, and not just a little, but a full minute and twenty seconds between the shortest and longest. This is one of those cases where they kept reworking the song until they ran out of time, and possibly went too far beyond a good version. There is another version out there, called the Kindergarten version (off the Achtung anniversary set) which I think I am going to review separately, since it is such a different song.

Yes, I actually had to check to be sure whether the title was Gonna or Going To.

On the video on U2.com there’s a burst of static at 1:50 (at least there was when I watched it a couple of times), scared the crap out of me. This is a really good video, a split between a bunch of live shots from concerts (although fuzzy, which I don’t like) and studio shots in black and white, which I really like. I especially like the end, where Bono screws up his line and swears, and where Larry signals cut.

At one point during the song Bono sings “Hallelujah,” and I used to think he was singing “at you,” because the line is “…the river laughing at you and me, Hallelujah, Heaven’s white rose…” so you can see if you substitute “at you” it makes perfect sense.

This is another song where I always pop the words into my head, whenever someone says “an accident waiting to happen,” I always think “You’re a piece of glass left there on the beach.”

This song has the line “Took a drive in the dirty rain,” while Mysterious Ways, off the same album, says “Johnny take a dive with your sister in the rain,” and I always thought that second line was drive too. Just coincidence, or is there some deeper meaning there?

I love the line “Well you lied to me ‘cos I asked you to,” it seems to sum up so many things about both love and life. We tell each other lies every day because we don’t want others to know the truths about ourselves, and this spills over into everything, especially politics. In fact this line could be the definition of politics.

My rating for Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses: 7 / 10

Satellite Of Love

Satellite Of Love played many times on the ZOO TV tour (with Lou Reed joining U2 on stage at least once, and on video many times), but hasn’t been played since. That seems odd to me, because I seem to have vivid memories of it playing during 360. What song am I thinking of? There were obviously many faces onscreen during the 360 tour, so not sure which one I’m conflating it with. I’ll have to go back and watch the 360 videos to figure it out.

Pretty obviously the song got onto the ZOO TV setlist because of the lyrics, talking about satellites, “I love to watch things on tv,” that sort of thing really hit the sweet spot of the ZOO TV theme. What surprised me was reading that Velvet Underground reformed and played five dates on the ZOO TV tour as opening act for U2 (as part of their own tour). One of the things I haven’t done yet is look at all the different bands that opened for U2 at some time or other (Pearl Jam!), and bands that U2 opened for. It would be interesting to see how many of those bands went on to their own success later.

Satellite Of Love is a really nice song, easy pace. I never quite got the lyrics though, it is talking about a satellite, then for a few lines it seems to talk about a person (“I’ve been told that you’ve been bold…”) and that doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of it. It is also a fairly simple song, which seems to be developing a kind of theme about songs from the 1960s and 1970s. Was music back in the day a lot more basic than it seems to be now? My earliest recollections of the music that I grew up with is from the early 80s, and I don’t remember it being as repetitive as the older stuff is when I hear it now. I can only guess that in the early days of rock and roll, the music was much more important than the lyrics, because the electric guitar was taking over and people wanted to hear that sound. So something with a beat and a wailing guitar and a singer who was shaking all over the stage got much more attention. It wasn’t until much later that the actual words became interesting, and then you started hearing truly amazing lyrics, poetry in many cases.

Many of the people that U2 cover I end up listening to at least some of their music, but Lou Reed hasn’t been one of them. I don’t know why, I just haven’t gotten into his music at all. It’s not that I don’t like it, I haven’t even gone and listened to any of it. Do I know any of his songs apart from this one? Maybe, maybe not. I might remember one or two if they were played in my youth, but it’s unlikely. I suppose I ought to pick up a Best Of for Lou Reed (or Velvet Underground), just to see what all the fuss is about.

My rating for Satellite Of Love: 4 / 10

Helter Skelter

Something that is a little confusing to me is why U2 opened Rattle And Hum with this song. It’s not a U2 song, they don’t cover it very well, and it doesn’t fit in with much of the rest of the album. My guess is they wanted to start the movie off with a bang, and this is what they chose, instead of something like Streets, which has led off many of their shows. Oddly enough, they only played this song live 15 times (plus one snippet) according to @U2. All of them (except the snippet) coming on the leg of the tour where the movie was recorded, with the last time being one of the nights where the color segment of the movie was filmed. So it’s not like this was a significant enough part of the band’s repertoire to feature in the movie, let alone as the lead song. This gets one of the lowest ratings for a live U2 song that I'll ever give.

I get that the band were going through a phase at the time, looking back at the past and the music that came out of America. This song obviously wasn’t that, although made famous in America by Charles Manson. I remember when the movie came out that there was even some controversy about that, Bono saying “This song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles, we’re stealing it back,” and people asking who the heck U2 thought they were to be defending the Beatles. Kind of tells you how thin-skinned some people are, and how they can read anything into anything someone says. It’s like politicians who will take a word said out of context and twist it. Stupid, just trying to gain points but it ends up being just another part of the corruption of the system.

An interesting little twist on the phrase “helter skelter” would be the definition “out of control”, which would have been a much better song to put in the movie.

While reading about this song I found someone who said that Bono had put a neat twist on the lyrics, saying “you ain’t no lover but you ain’t no dancer” instead of the original “you may be a lover but you ain’t no dancer”. I think it is far more likely that Bono simply got the words wrong on a song that he hadn’t learned very well (kind of like Watchtower on the movie, where they’re learning it in the dressing room right before the show). And that is odd because the lyrics are so very simple. To be controversial for a moment, I find most of the Beatles songs to be simple, the same verse repeated several times with just slight changes in the lyrics. Not necessarily a bad thing - U2 have done it at times - but I much prefer songs with a little depth, where you get three verses that are much different.

It’s funny watching the movie to see Bono swinging around with the microphone and the long wire dangling off it. Those were the days, before wireless, where you’d have some guy running around the edge of the stage making sure the microphone didn’t get caught on anything or anyone. Hard to believe that it was more than a quarter of a century ago.

My rating for Helter Skelter: 5 / 10

U2 3D (movie)

I am on record many times in saying that U2 live is way better than any U2 record. Even Rattle And Hum, which is a live album and live movie, has moments of non-live performances, which drop it down a little. That’s not to say everything live is better than everything recorded, but I can’t think of anything that isn’t. There are probably some live songs where I don’t listen to the song, and skip to the next, I guess some of the top recorded stuff would beat that. To emphasize this point, I can tell you that I have two playlists on my phone, one is called U2 and the other is called U2 Live. Right now the U2 playlist has 162 songs on it, and U2 Live has 40 songs. I actually have many more than that, I just chop and change on a regular basis. So yes, I love listening to U2 live.

U2 3D is a U2 concert movie, in 3D obviously, and is as close as you can get to being at a U2 concert without actually being there. Better than any of the DVDs for their various tours, better than Rattle And Hum, it is simply a live show for $10 at the theater instead of $100 at a concert. The part where the camera is flying over the stage from back to front, above Larry then across and above Bono, is just fantastic. That is my singular memory from the movie.

A great set, although at fourteen songs it is way too short. I prefer my concerts to be twenty-five or more, and sometime later this year in one of these reviews, I’ll create my perfect setlist (it might be a couple hundred songs long). But it is a good look at the Vertigo tour, even though looking at the setlist I can immediately pop a few obvious songs into it. No Still Haven’t Found? No Walk On? Well, they have said they don’t want to be a greatest hits band.

And yet I confess I only saw it once. I wasted too much time before seeing it, saw it one time and then it closed. It is not available to purchase, I don’t know of anywhere that it shows in theaters nowadays, and reportedly they have no plans to release it. I don’t understand that. Sure, the technology is advanced, but there are now people with 3D TVs, why not make it available for them? I’d almost be convinced to buy a 3D TV just to be able to watch this movie (hint to 3D companies, you could sell more TVs if you got the band to release the movie…).

I would normally give something like this very close to a ten. If you consider that any live show would be a ten, then this is the next best thing to being there, and even better than that, because you get views that no-one in an audience could ever get. It’s very close to that, though now that I rethink my earlier comments, I actually think I would hesitate to say it is the best U2 concert video. Mostly because it does lose something for the short set.

So how do we get them to play it again (and again)?

My rating for U2 3D: 9 / 10

When I Look At The World

When I look at the world, what is it that I see? The world is full of violence, both religious and nationalist, it is full of poverty and hunger, and it is full of repression. I see many things the world should be ashamed of. I also see many things the world should be proud of, like the falling of walls, the freedom that we have in many cases, the very fact of the internet. I was thinking this morning about communication, and that people all around the world could read these words if they wanted to, whereas just a hundred years ago, even fifty years ago that would not have been possible. My dream would be for that communication to spread friendship, not hate and fear, and for the voices of darkness that are so loud to be drowned out by the voice of the common people.

Yesterday I reviewed Levitate, and by coincidence today I get another song from the All That You Can’t Leave Behind era. In the Levitate review I said that it could replace several of the songs on the album, that they were all similarly rated and all similar sounds. When I Look At The World is one of those songs that could easily have been replaced by Levitate and not missed a beat. 

I think this is actually a positive song, and I think this is about looking at the world through the eyes of a child. Bono is pretty clear in showing that he is talking about someone who is positive at anything they see, and that he wishes he could see the world they do (“I try to be like you… I can’t see what you see when I look at the world”). He also points out that children will look at someone with some kind of injury, whereas an adult will look away, not necessarily in shame, but not trying to be rude and staring. And somehow he ends it with “what do you see? … What’s wrong with me”, as though it is his problem that he can’t look at the world in this way.

Obligatory religious reference: “I think of you and your holy book while the rest of us choke”, something I think of now and then when I think of the pope in his fabulous gold-plated castle, while poor people everywhere can’t even eat. This leads to the alternate explanation for the song, that instead of it being a child it’s some religious person who is so wrapped up in their faith that they see everything as good, whether it is or not. I happened across such a person online last night, while I was foolishly reading a comments section somewhere. This person was so full of their faith, they were essentially blasting other people for worrying about things like death, destruction and politics, because after all in their view this world is just a transient one. Leads again to my anti-religious argument that people are happy to let others live in misery because of their supposed future in the afterlife. Myself, I’d think you’re more likely to get to that afterlife if you actually help people.

My rating for When I Look At The World: 4 / 10

Levitate

I have talked regularly about the religious aspects of U2 songs, most (if not all) of the ones I’ve reviewed so far have had some religious connection. I couldn’t find any speculation about the point of this song, so I’m going to put out my own idea. I think that Levitate has the most sexual connotation of any song I’ve looked at so far, and perhaps of any U2 song ever. I can’t off the top of my head think of another one quite the same.

Now, I’ll repeat, I’m making this up as I go along. This is my impression and I could be totally wrong, but as I go through this song I read it as a the story of a sexual encounter. Without trying to get at all pornographic, the first verse starts with “ringing like a bell” and “in the mind to let go of control”, goes on to “deep down is not enough”. Then the song goes on to “can’t slow us down, can’t hesitate” and “a love that’s hard”. Of course the “to be the bee and the flower” is obvious. It repeats a few of these ideas, and then the, uhh, moment, is defined by the title, levitate. Repeated twice in the song, so it was a pretty good night.

Okay, now try and get that out of your head. Every time you’ll hear the song you’re going to think about this, aren’t you?

No, I don’t know that any of this is true. My interpretation is as good as anyone else’s, except maybe Bono’s, but I haven’t heard from him yet. It is possible to read religion into it as well, as with every U2 song, but the references to the spirit (“Spirit come on down”) are not very religious, and there’s not much more in there. 

I often think of the line “Gravity not pulling me” when I think of this song, which is weird because the line is from Smile. I guess it’s because of the word gravity, compared to the song title Levitate. 

The song is from the All That You Can’t Leave Behind sessions, and it shows. It fits right in with the musical theme of that album. Apart from Beautiful Day and Elevation, the rest of the album is slow and mellow, kind of relaxed. There are several songs that Levitate could replace on the album in terms of the music, but I don’t think it is better than any of them, which is why it doesn’t make the cut. That’s not to say the music is bad, just that it is too similar to others. There’s a short bit in the song around 1:42, right after Bono sings “not coming down”, just a few seconds of guitar that I think if you were to slow it down you’d be very close to the signature sound of Grace off the album. Is that possible, that it’s a fast version of a slow song, or vice versa? Obviously it is, because they do that all the time. Now that I think of that, I like it a little more, since Grace is one of my favorite U2 songs (oops, spoiler alert).

My rating for Levitate: 5 / 10

One Tree Hill

I have a lot of love for One Tree Hill. It is slow, haunting, not quite meandering. But it is powerful. It is perfectly placed within the album, as a lead-in to Exit, it’s calming down from the louder songs like Trip Through Your Wire, and then pushing you along toward the end.

Greg Carroll gets a mention every time this song gets a mention, of course. I suppose he might have done the live fast die young thing, but he got a lot of fame from it, unintended of course. I really just don’t understand how his whole story happened. I mean, you’re walking down the street and you run into U2, you talk to them a bit, then you show up at their next concert as a roadie and they take a liking to you and bring you onboard. How is that even possible? You’ve got to get a real good connection going right away to be able to do that. So much so that I doubt it would be even possible today, now that the band is as big as it is (not that I’m hinting or anything, I think my days of running away to a rock and roll lifestyle might be behind me. But I can dream).

The song itself seems to blend several of the feelings that Bono was having at the time into one outlet. There’s the whole New Zealand part going on, and also bits of Chile with stuff about the poet Jara, and the final verse being the lament of the ongoing struggles there. I have some issues with Bono on some of the things he talks about like this, where there’s a local conflict and he’s heard one side of it and creates a song or a fuss, but in general he is proved right most of the time. I think my reaction is to celebrities in general who jump on the nearest political bandwagon to add to their few moments of fame.

“I’ll see you again when the stars fall from the sky, and the moon has turned red over One Tree Hill,” is a powerful line, deeply emotional as you get further into the sense of the song. It talks of the future, of time everlasting, and of the strong emotional bond that two people can have, either as friends or more than that. Switching throughout the song between night and day, the images of light and dark provide to me a strong contrast. I could certainly see this song making an exceptionally good music video.

Interesting to read that Bono did the singing in one take, I’ve said several times before that usually the band needs their stuff to cook a lot before it is good. This would be the exception that proves the rule (a totally non-scientific idea). I don’t think you could get this song to sound any better at all, at least not lyrically (and not musically either, I suppose). But you know (spoiler alert) that I actually rated this as tied for the worst song on The Joshua Tree. What does that tell you about how good that album is? On almost every other U2 album this song would have been average or higher. Timing is everything.

My rating for One Tree Hill: 6 / 10

Deep In The Heart

So we go from Into The Heart to A Room At The Heartbreak Hotel to Deep In The Heart as the last three songs. Lots of hearts in there, and I swear they came out at random. There’s at least a couple more U2 songs with Heart in the title, what are the odds they’ll show up soon? And somehow I get the feeling that we’re stuck in the late 80s b sides, but that’s only because of yesterday’s song, A Room At The Heartbreak Hotel, which is the only one in the last week or so.

The lyrics on Deep In The Heart are a mishmash, they’re not only unclear but obviously wrong even on the U2 website. It could be the version I’m listening to, which is off the deluxe edition, not the b side of Still Haven’t Found where it originally came from (still not sure if I should capitalize the B in b side, or if even people know what a B side is any more).

The first few seconds of the song (actually at about 0:12) gives a guitar sound that sounds like the beginning of Bullet The Blue Sky, I wonder if that’s where that came from? It’s the right era at least, presumably they took it from one song to the other like they have done many times in the past.

This is an unmemorable song, the only part that ever sticks with me is the phrase “Deep in the heart,” which springs to mind on a fairly regular basis. The rest of it is just fuzzy at the best of times, even the rest of the line, “Deep in the heart of this place,” the last three words just blank out of my memory. The occasional Bono wailing doesn’t help the song much. The music is nondescript, once again I read that Edge and Adam were just noodling around and they got recorded, and that became the final sound for the song, without any editing, retakes or anything like that. I have to say it again, the raw stuff like that is never any good, it needs time to be worked on to get to a good finish.

I think that even in these early stages of reviews, I am seeing a pattern that you would expect to see. That is, the songs that were chosen as B sides are nowhere near as good as the songs that made it onto an album. Obvious, you would say. There have already been signs of a few mistakes, some songs that as B sides were really good, and some songs that were on an album when the B was better. Of course, in the case of something like The Joshua Tree, in the band’s most fertile period, there were many really good songs that couldn’t make the album and ended up as Bs, while some of the weaker albums might have barely enough to fill it up.

By the way, if you want to like what I’m writing, there’s a little heart at the bottom of each post to do that. And if you want to comment on anything you see here, look for the Twitter logo somewhere at the bottom, which will connect to me there. I’d welcome comments, questions, any corrections you might have on something I wrote.

My rating for Deep In The Heart: 2 / 10

A Room At The Heartbreak Hotel

I don’t know much about Elvis. Oh, I know the standard stuff, famous singer, became a bloated parody of himself then died of eating too much. I’ve seen the pictures, I’ve seen the conspiracy theories. I could probably name a few of his songs and I could possibly sing some of his lyrics. I guess I like some of his stuff? I’m probably just a little too young to have him be a big part of my life like others do (like Larry). So when I hear the words Heartbreak Hotel, it’s not Elvis that I automatically go to, it’s U2. In fact, I literally had to go to YouTube to listen to the Elvis song to remember it, I just couldn’t get the U2 song out of my head enough to get Elvis in.

What’s the word for mixing up lyrics? Whatever it is, I definitely have it on this song. Reading the lyrics for this review I find myself reading lines that I had no idea what they were, and had made up my own. Does that make this song better or worse? Possibly the biggest difference in lyrics is where I thought the words were “I dream of you, like Valentino,” when they were actually “Like Judy Garland, like Valentino.” I guess my words could make sense in some ways.

This is the rare U2 song with backing singers. They occasionally have others sing backing lyrics, or lead lyrics like Johnny Cash in The Wanderer, and sometimes others play some music on their albums too. But it’s not very often. The song also features a horn and/or brass section at the end (I don’t know how to describe it), which plays out the music and is kind of interesting. Not necessarily good, doesn’t make or break the song, but it’s interesting. I don’t know how they add in pieces like that, or people like the backing singers they used. Are they just hanging round the studio waiting for someone to use? Did they create the song with backing musicians in mind, and someone arranged for them to be there when needed? Or were they heard somewhere and someone said hey, let’s use them in a song? I don’t know how any of that part of the music business works. I really don’t know how a band like U2 - guitar, bass, drums - would decide to use horns or organs or backup singers.

I haven’t said yet that I really like this song. It is one of the best b sides that U2 have released (it was the b side to Angel of Harlem). It has bounce, it starts with interesting organ music, ends as a prayer, it’s just a good song all round. I do see the idea that it’s referring to Elvis, that’s obvious given the song title. I don’t see it too much in the lyrics though. “You give your life for rock and roll” is the most obvious, and also “You let them suck your life out like honey” is a bit more of an allusion than a literal one. But the rest of it, it seems more to be about a woman than about Elvis. Maybe a lost love, once again. Maybe just a woman he met on the street, or talking about some woman lost in the world, someone who had high hopes but has fallen, turned to drugs or prostitution. And the song does end with endless chanting of the title, which I have said before is something I don’t necessarily like, seems like just a way to fill in the extra time in the song.

My rating for A Room At The Heartbreak Hotel: 6 / 10