Songs Of Innocence

Oh, Songs Of Innocence, how have I misjudged thee? Let me count the ways. I will start by telling you that this is obviously the album that has changed rating the most this year, going up and up as the year has progressed. At the start of the year, believe it or not, I had the album as the second or third worst of all U2 albums, and if you were to go back through the ratings I have given songs this year you would see they do not add up to the rating I have it at now. Far from familiarity breeding contempt, this album has proven an ongoing theme of the year that for me familiarity with U2 songs has bred love for them.

It surprises me that I have Songs Of Innocence rated where it is, essentially even with How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb at around the top third mark, slightly above average but not into really good territory. That seems way too high given where it was at the start of the year, but somehow I feel that it might be too low even now. Maybe the end of the year, and this review, have come too soon for the album. Maybe by the end of next year, when I’ve seen them live a few more times (I hope!) it will have climbed even higher, I could definitely see it pass a couple of albums to sit in fourth place, and it might even have an outside shot at All That You Can’t Leave Behind for third. That’s how impressed I have been with it this year.

I told the story earlier in the year that I sat and listened to the Apple conference where they released Songs Of Innocence. I had heard rumors that U2 would perform, and even rumors that they would release a new album, and I was astounded and delighted when they were actually true. I was the person sitting there trying to get it to download, not one of the many who complained that they got a free album. I listened to it a number of times over the next couple of weeks, and liked some of the songs, but it wasn’t really impressing me. I had a conversation with a family member a few weeks after it was released where I said that I thought it was fairly weak, that it reminded me of the early stuff (how right I was!) but overall wasn’t that good (how wrong I was!).

Like all the other reviews I’ve talked about during the year, it took a while for Songs Of Innocence to warm up to, and indeed it took seeing several of the songs live to really get to liking them. Getting into the shows, seeing the theme of the shows and the album, really added to it for me, and changed my opinion so much. As U2 have said themselves, they are a live band first and foremost, and that’s where they get the songs to shine.

I’m not going to go through the album song by song, it really has good points everywhere. Take a look at my reviews through the year, and add a couple of points to many of the reviews, and you’ll see their relative good and bad. I will tell you that my top songs are Cedarwood Road and Iris, along with The Troubles, which hasn’t been played live enough for my liking, it was my favorite on first listen. I will also tell you that my least favorite is Volcano, I just never really got into it, and again maybe it hasn’t been played live enough. And oddly enough the two extra songs that only showed up on the deluxe version, Lucifer’s Hands and Crystal Ballroom, have gone from initial dislike to really liked as well. Like I said, I need to hear songs live to really like them.

My rating for Songs Of Innocence: 5.6 / 10


Mercy came out of the How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb sessions, it was apparently leaked during the recording and thus never taken any further. Actually they did play it live a few times during 360, and it ended up on the Wide Awake In Europe release in 2010, but that’s it. Listening to it now it doesn’t feel quite finished, like they got to a certain point on it (pretty far along I think), then it leaked and so they stopped. If I was to put a number of it, I’d say something like 85% finished, with some work to do on the lyrics (I think Bono could work on them forever though, and still not be satisfied), and some to do on the music too.

It is a song of opposites, from the very first line which conjures up the idea of the communion service in the Catholic church, but immediately throws a curve into it by asking about the use of religion. It goes on throughout the song, every line being a two-part opposition to each other, like for example “If you were ice, I’m water,” or “we’re binary code, a one and a zero.” This idea of the dichotomy has come in a number of U2 songs I have covered this year, Bono seems like talking about the thought of being opposites, or opposites attracting. He has referred to it in shows as well, in many of his mentions of Ali he has talked about she and he being not quite opposites, but certainly in him wondering what she would see in him since they are different. It makes me think that all of these songs are talking about the same thing, the conflict between two people that somehow keeps them together more than it pushes them apart.

Musically the song is fast, definitely has the sound from How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, reminds me of several songs from that era. Most notably I think the early part of the song sounds like City Of Blinding Lights, but I also get a few echoes later in the song from Always, which was an earlier song for the band, and also Falling At Your Feet in some places. I wonder if they took the music from Always and repurposed it to get to Mercy, then repurposed it again to get to City Of Blinding Lights. Just pure speculation on my part, I have no idea what the history of the song is.

Something else interesting about the song is that there is no bridge, and there is no chorus. Now there are parts where the music changes a little, but it’s not that noticeable, what surprises me each time I listen is that at the end of that change I tend to notice the switch, rather than the switch into it. I don’t recall other U2 songs not having a really different bridge section. And as for the chorus, there are a couple of sections that repeat together later in the song, but again they don’t feel like a chorus, they just feel like the verse being repeated. They have enough similarity to the rest of the song that it’s not chorus-like. I don’t know how else to explain both of these things, there just isn’t the differentiation that we see in most U2 songs.

My rating for Mercy: 4 /10

Million Dollar Hotel

So I finally got around to watching the Million Dollar Hotel movie, which clocks in at around two hours long, and unfortunately that’s around two hours of my life I will never get back. I have seen a few references to the movie here and there and how good it is, and the answer is that all those critics are correct, that this is a terrible movie and you should run away from it. The only redeeming thing is the music, and even then there’s only a few parts of the soundtrack worth listening to (yes, you are correct, it’s the U2 parts). I don’t know why I am reviewing this, other than that U2 had a significant part in the soundtrack and that Bono allegedly came up with the idea for the movie (I bet he denies it now though).

The movie starts with The First Time as the opening theme, while things begin happening, and when you hear that you think wow, maybe this won’t be so bad after all. But then you get to the action, and as the guy jumps off the roof he looks through all the windows as he falls, and all I could think was why everyone was awake and doing things so early in the morning.

The scene cuts to images of a man walking into the hotel, and it only shows his feet as he walks, along with everyone’s reaction to him. I must admit that as I watched that part I kept hoping that they would eventually pan up his body and we would discover that it is Bono, but of course no such luck, it turns out to be Mel Gibson. I liked Mel a while ago, he was good but crazy in the various movies he made his name in, although now he’s known just for being crazy. There’s a line in the movie where the Jewish billionaire is talking to Mel, and he says “My people decide the truth in sixty countries every morning,” and all I could think was about Mel’s recent history and controversies, and how that would play right into his wheelhouse of crazy.

The movie is not good, it is an artsy-fartsy movie, although we know that since Wim Wenders made it. I know he did interesting stuff here and there, I liked Wings Of Desire and Faraway, So Close, although I admit that I didn’t follow all the story lines in them. In Million Dollar Hotel the story doesn’t make any sense other than from a crazy person perspective, which is appropriate since they’re in a crazy person hotel. Maybe it’s because I’m not much into art movies, and I’ve never been in a flophouse hotel, but I don’t like the lighting, the staging, or much else about the movie. I don’t understand it, as the kind of people who make and like these kinds of movies would say.

Two other lines stood out for me, the first was “He was playing dumb too, but he was out of his league,” which strikes me as interesting and funny. The other was something that resonates through this whole year, two people talking to each other: “You missed the show.” “Saw it on tv.” “It’s not the same.” That could be an interesting theme for U2, watching on tv or online is definitely not the same as seeing them live. And it does remind me of Zoo TV, Bono’s line that you haven’t come out here to watch tv now, have you?

My rating for the Million Dollar Hotel: 1 / 10

Are You Gonna Wait Forever?

There are songs and then there are songs, and there are b sides and then there are b sides. Few of the b sides I have reviewed have been good enough to make it to an album, which kind of proves the ability of the band to make good choices about what goes on an album. Whether it is because the album has a particular theme, and the song doesn’t fit, because they already have similar sounding songs on the album, because they have a preference for one or another, or maybe just that they flipped a coin and chose one over another. Whatever the reason, they have done pretty well at deciding the songs on the albums, the songs that become b sides, and the songs that get left off, perhaps to be used in a future project, perhaps to be repurposed and become part of a completely new song, or perhaps to be abandoned and never heard again, at least until they need material for a twentieth anniversary album.

Are You Gonna Wait Forever? is the b side from the Vertigo single, and this is one of those songs that falls into the category of really good, perhaps should have made it to the album, but perhaps sounds a little too similar to some of the other songs on the album. It might have been held until later, but it wouldn’t have made it onto No Line On The Horizon, so it was probably a good choice to be a b side.

Musically Are You Gonna Wait Forever? is very good, it reminds me of a few other songs, not the least being Vertigo itself. The start somehow reminds me of Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses, although that quickly disappears when the bass kicks in. It is kind of rocky, featuring lots of everything, guitar, drums, bass and all. It feels at times like it should be faster than it is, and really my impression is that when I remember it I do think of it as fast, but then when I play it again it is a little slower. I don’t know why that is, what part of it is causing that feeling.

Lyrics are interesting, I think it is meant to be a love song of some kind, perhaps the kind where the person singing the song has been away for a while, and is returning home with the hope that their love is still waiting for them. The title gives that away, although I’m sure there’s some deeper meaning there (or perhaps not, since it is the better U2 songs where Bono has explored that depth and gotten down to that more interesting meaning than what is on the surface). Just like yesterday with Angels Too Tied To The Ground, Are You Gonna Wait Forever? has the title being sung in an interesting way, again I don’t know why, but it just sounds good as he sings that line (which he does several times).

About the only problem I have with the song is that the title ends in a question mark, so that every time I type Are You Gonna Wait Forever? my writing software tries to capitalize the first word after it, assuming that it is a new sentence, and I have to go back and fix it each time.

My rating for Are You Gonna Wait Forever?: 6 / 10

Angels Too Tied To The Ground

Just the title Angels Too Tied To The Ground makes me think of Wings Of Desire, with the angels flying around. Of course they’re not at all related, Angels Too Tied To The Ground was done during the War album sessions, but only completed and released a few years ago when they did the anniversary War album. It was re-recorded apparently, Bono’s voice is definitely much more modern, but it’s hard to tell about the rest of it, the music itself, whether it is old or modern, if they recorded that fresh too.

Angels Too Tied To The Ground has piano and bass leading it off, and the bass sounds really good throughout the song. I don’t know if I’ve ever decided on when peak bass happened for Adam, I don’t know if I could decide that, but I think that War is when everything began coming together. It is when the band had several years of experience, which gave them more confidence in what they were doing and meant they would try more risky ideas here and there. Some of them paid off handsomely, and of course got them to where they are today. In Angels Too Tied To The Ground I think the bass is the standout. 

You have the drums which sound fairly similar to the rest of the drums off War, slightly militaristic, a little heavy on the snare, a little loud compared to the rest of the music, nothing wrong with them just needing a little toning down, moving to the background somewhat. The piano is there throughout, but mostly does disappear into the background, that may be because Edge is playing and switching back and forth from guitar to piano, which means when he’s playing guitar the piano is of course gone and forgotten.

Lyrically we see what I have said all year long, that the early songs were much more basic than they are now. Angels Too Tied To The Ground follows that same feeling, you can take half the lyrics away because they are just a repeat of the title, and what you are left with is pretty simple. Essentially just a few sentences beginning with “what is it” that somehow end up about being stopped from love, I think. Either some kind of block from the person you love, or certainly at the end talking about surrender with the white flag. A little obscure, I think, it is mostly just the feeling there. I can’t say it is good or bad, just that it is. Like many of the songs from the early albums, the thoughts behind them are not really coherent, just a display of feelings.

I don’t think I have listened to this song enough to like it, and I’m not sure if I ever will. The one part I do like - the part where he sings the title quite quickly - stands out, but the rest of the song isn’t enough to sustain it.

My rating for Angels Too Tied To The Ground: 3 / 10

U2 Go Home

It seemed appropriate to pick today, the day U2 begin their Dublin shows, to take a look back at the U2 Go Home video from the Vertigo. Any time U2 appear in their home country it is a big deal of course, bringing out huge lines of fans but also huge lines of detractors. As with anyone who gets famous, the “tall poppy” syndrome exists with U2, where there are people only too willing to insult them, be rude about them, or generally take shots. As a fan I always find it irritating to see, but lately I have taken to ignoring those people. Haters gonna hate, as they say, and why should I take my time to listen to them? So, on to the show.

Slane Castle is a huge venue, I don’t know how many people are there but it seems like all of Ireland (okay, 80,000 according to the liner notes). The problem with that is that it makes the stage tiny when you are standing at the back, some of the shots from way back are terrible, a sea of people with the stage an inch tall. Now I know that tv makes everything look smaller, but this is ridiculous. Goes back to recent days when talking about the band trying to get closer to the audience, and you look at something like this and realize why. I don’t remember being at any stadium show where I felt as far away as it looks there.

It is crazy to look at the history of the show, that just a week before Bono’s father had died, and just a week later 9/11 would happen. I guess if I were to go all poetic, I would look back at this as a more innocent time, but the reality is that even though this was pre-9/11, I am looking at it post-9/11 and projecting my own thoughts and fears onto it. So when they hit the One/Walk On section, it doesn’t matter that they don’t know what’s going to happen, what matters is that I always connect those songs at that time with the attack, and with scrolling names on the wall. I don’t think I’ll ever get past that.

Sunday Bloody Sunday has a particular power, Bono making a speech saying that “we’re not going back there” amid the sea change in Irish attitudes toward the conflict. Saying “compromise is not a dirty word,” something he has been saying on the current tour. Listing names of the dead at Omagh, perhaps the most powerful moment, not the list of names that you see after 9/11 but their own power in their own country.

It feels like a local show, but then it doesn’t. There are parts - mentions of Ireland’s soccer team, which qualified for the World Cup that afternoon - where they’re talking to the crowd like old friends, but then there are parts where it seems more global. I guess that’s understandable, after all they’re bringing the show they’ve played around the world to town. We see that today, with them back in Dublin, and they have some references to local places and events, but overall it’s the same show as they played everywhere else. I suppose that’s a good thing, I would feel like I’m missing out if they played different things to their local fans than the rest of us.

My rating for U2 Go Home: 10 /10

Native Son

I just reviewed Vertigo a couple of weeks ago, and now I get to talk about the precursor, Native Son. It is difficult to think of what to write about, when I already covered the final version of the song and therefore the music at the very least. There is not much difference between the music in the two, so I guess I could just repeat what I said about Vertigo, but then that wouldn’t be of much use. So I guess I’ll have to find something else to talk about.

In the Vertigo review I said that I felt a little like I had overdosed on the song, hearing it too many times to like it any more. What that means is that by hearing this song, the same song but with different lyrics, should mean that it feels like a breath of fresh air. Well, it does in some ways, but it doesn’t in others. This is another of those cases where the song doesn’t make the cut because it is incomplete. The music may be complete, or close to it, but the lyrics aren’t that good, and it’s clear why they changed the tone of the song and went with the ones they did. I can’t really object too much to the lyrics, they are admittedly half-baked, and if you were eating a half-baked cookie you wouldn’t object that much, because you’d be eating cookie dough.

The music being the same as Vertigo, I’m not going to cover it, with the exception that there is a slight difference at the very start. It sounds a lot like the start to Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses, which is odd, since that was a decade before.

The song itself, Native Son, is supposedly about Leonard Peltier, a Native American who has been in prison for many years for killing federal agents. I have to admit that although I have heard the name, I know nothing about the case, whether he is guilty or innocent as some claim. The lyrics do have some feeling now, given all the political rhetoric around guns and police in recent months, they might have given some thought to it, but instead their meaning is lost in time.

Worked my way through the rest of the year today. Up until now I have largely been winging it, randomly picking an item to write about each day, with the exception of days that were set aside for specific items. Today, now that we’re down to about forty days left, I decided that it was time to set them all up. I already had maybe fifteen of those last forty days set, with specific things to write about (including the last ten days of the year, I had those set for quite a while). Today I went through my remaining item list and randomly assigned them to the remaining days, all the way through the end of the year. This helps a lot, and is something I should have done a long time ago, at least for a while ahead of where I was (for example, I could have done a month at a time). Another lesson learned. It helps me set up, knowing when I need to listen to things, watch things, or read things so I can be done with it all.

My rating for Native Son: 2 / 10

Bono's Big Year

Yesterday while looking through the From The Ground Up book as I wrote the review, I was reminded of the section where Bono had a serious back injury that required surgery, and that postponed the 360 tour for a while. In that section he said he was laid up for a few weeks, unable to move, and spent the time writing songs and generally being productive. That reminded me of last year when he had the bicycle accident, and ended up writing a missive called Bono’s Big Year. Okay, technically the title is “Little Book of a Big Year: Bono’s A to Z of 2014” but I prefer my version. Anyway, some thoughts on what he wrote.

B is for Blogosphere, where I am writing this and I guess I am one of the ones who has the audacity to think others might be interested in what I have to say. I am not invisible, I am here, you might say. Although give it another month and a half and even this blog will not be here (at least not being updated), as the plan for it will be complete. But I will move on, I have other writing projects in mind, although in general they will not be of interest to the U2 fan.

I find it interesting that he has some mild words about Davos, because by the time of the tour he had converted similar words into a rant about being one of those fat cats flying in and out. Yelling at his former self, or rather his younger self yelling at him, and he trying to justify why he is there. I’m still not sure that he is successful in doing that, although it is a powerful message in either direction.

He writes some missives to Adam, Edge and Larry on the appropriate letters, and a little self-deprecation on the B. I guess it is appropriate to write to and about them, and of course he is going to be nice about them (not that I think he wouldn’t need to be). But it does make me think about what I have written here, as I have definitely tempered some of my words here, about anything from the band to my own family to the songs I am writing about. It is interesting to realize that knowing that there is an audience out there has caused me to self-censor in some cases. I might have to work on that.

He throws in a little joke, a little throwback to the old days, when he says “I had a vision… television” while watching Bruce Springsteen perform with the band.

And a final interesting comment: “U2 is a live band. Live is where we live or die. The songs continue to grow night after night.” This is something I have learned, or re-learned, this year, because of my changing thoughts about Songs Of Innocence. I reviewed some songs early on, before seeing them live, and would change those reviews now having seen them. They have grown night after night, they have become embedded in my mind, and now I love them. But that’s a story for another day.

From The Ground Up (book)

This is a review of From The Ground Up, the official photobook of the 360 tour.

There are things I like and things I don’t like about photobooks, as I’ve said before. One is that my computer keeps trying to correct it to two words, which is a little irritating when I am typing it several times. Something else is that they can be well done or badly done, depending on how they are put together. I have read a few this year, and their content has varied, from generic well-seen photos of the band (I assume the people selling photos of the early band are cashing in any way they can), to stuff that is behind the scenes, rarely or never seen pictures. The other thing is how good the writing - if any - is, whether again it is generic, or written from an inside point of view.

The From The Ground Up book, being the book from the tour and thus from the band, is very much an inside look and therefore contains pics never before seen. From the standard shots of the band, to behind the scenes and even before the scenes were built. And the inside cover of the book shows pictures from the stage, looking out at the crowd and up into the claw, these pics alone add value to the book. The first chapter is about the design of the stage, and there are drawings on paper, pictures of the designers sitting in around a model, CAD drawings and so on, all things I haven’t seen before, and it’s all interesting the way they come about.

One of the most interesting parts is in that first chapter, describing how they came about the stage design, with Bono saying it’s all about trying to get closer to the audience. Now, you can imagine that with something this big, it’s not getting closer, it’s getting further away, but there is some kind of method to his madness. What’s more, that quote resonates with the current tour, he has repeated that exact same thing about trying to get close to the audience now, and that’s interesting in the different ways it has come about.

The other part of the book experience is the writing, and it is good in this book, describing things in a very personal way about how everything went about. The author - a guy called Dylan Jones, who doesn’t get credit anywhere except a small line on the title page - has had access to the band, talking to them, traveling with them, being involved with them in a very close way, and it shows. Their descriptions of things that were going on, some of it has been new to me, and made me think a little bit more about the band experience. This is one of the things I have enjoyed about reading the detail, getting to know the ongoing lives of being in a band and touring, switching between the slog of being on the road and the joy of being in a show. Great stuff, exactly the kind of material I like in a good book about the band.

The final word may go to Adam, who is quoted near the end as saying that the next tour is going to be an indoor one, but stripped down and “more about the music and less about the production.” I can’t say Innocence + Experience is truly stripped down, although I guess it is compared to the 360 stage, but I think it is definitely more about the music, but also more about the production. 

My rating for From The Ground Up (book): 9 / 10

Making of The Unforgettable Fire

There was a mini documentary a while back, half an hour long, it was called the Making of the Unforgettable Fire. A slice of life in the history of the band, it showed a little of the recording process, a little of the studio work, and a little of them messing around here and there. I’ve seen it several times over the years, it is always a fun time watching it. The sound quality isn’t that great, it tends to go up and down in both the ability to hear and understand them, and the volume, which is surprising given that it came from a recording experience. But it is certainly an enjoyable video to watch.

At the very start of the video Bono says “I believe the song’s already written,” and I think that’s something that I have discussed over the last several months. The idea of him trying to get the words out, that he is singing the words that haven’t formed yet, that’s been a bit of a theme. He starts by making noises, sounds like words, that slowly as they go back and forth making the song, that I think is what he is getting to here, and it is a really profound thing to say. The idea that you’re not creating it, that it already exists and you’re just revealing it. It’s like the infamous block of marble, where the sculptor just chips away all the bits that aren’t the statue he’s carving. Really interesting thought.

They all look so different today, of course. Larry as always looks like a little kid hanging around with the grownups. Edge, hair receding, looks surprisingly like Brian Eno. Bono with the mullet, how fun was that, how stylish? I’m doing a program with some kids at my son’s school, they’re supposed to create a play set in the past, I wonder if I can convince them to do the 80s and have them dress up with Bono mullets? That’d be great. And Adam, he’s changed by far the most from this, I don’t remember him looking like this in photos, he looks positively normal in many ways. The dark hair is what throws me, it makes him look so different.

It’s funny watching Bono singing in the film, there are a few times (when he’s wearing these crazy looking boots) when he looks like he really needs to pee. Like he’s so desperate to pee, and his voice keeps getting higher and higher as he tries to hold it in. So funny to watch. But then you see other shots of him, and he looks like this earnest young man (remember they are mid 20s at this point) trying to make music history. I don’t know, I guess this is good based on the results, but I can’t help feeling that if I’d been hanging around there at the time I would have thought he was a bit of an ass.

The video really shows how much influence Eno and Lanois had on the band, them playing or singing or telling the band what to do, pointing them in the direction they wanted them to go. There are parts of the video when I’m wondering which of them is actually in the band, these two guys at the mixing board or those bunch of punks laying on the sofa behind them.

And it ends with “I hope you don’t mind a bit of volume boys” as they roll into the Pride video. A neat ending to the film, which is in many ways a deconstruction of how Pride was created. An enjoyable stroll through music history you might say.

My rating for The Making of the Unforgettable Fire: 7 / 10

Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace is one of those songs that everybody knows. Everybody sings along with it when they hear it, at least the first couple of verses. There is a version of Amazing Grace on the Duals album, and it sounds fantastic. Supposedly taken from the 360 tour version from the Rose Bowl, although I’m not sure about that. There’s a bit online that says that they overdubbed the Soweto choir onto the 360 recording, I don’t know why they’d do that, because surely there’s a version that is real, and sounds good.

The start of the song has a little bit of guitar, but that then disappears into the background when the voices take over. It is a powerful song, really well done, and quite emotional in many ways. The music then fades away on the Duals album, while in the live version it rolls into Where The Streets Have No Name, and it really works well as an intro to that. I am surprised at the many different ways that U2 have been able to open Streets, it seems to be well done as a song that can be led into. You are singing away at some song, which is nice and sweet - like Amazing Grace, or Mother And Child Reunion, or Hallelujah - and that song fades and Streets kicks in. Great way to get there.

If you watch Bono on the 360 video, he is out front with the guitar playing, while the rest are faded into the background, and they come back up when Streets kicks off. But the best part to watch is Bono singing Amazing Grace (yeah okay, the best part is Streets, we all know that, but go with me here). Bono playing this, Bono singing it, his eyes closed as he falls into the song, it’s just amazing. There’s a clear set of emotions on his face, it’s the absolute belief in his faith, you might say. It is a feeling that you would love to have if you were in a church, it’s the feeling that you have looked upon the face of God (sorry, Sheldon). If Bono sang that in church I’d be there watching, this is pure joy and belief and faith. Amazing, I already said that a couple of times. Not sure how you can talk about a song called Amazing Grace without saying Amazing a lot.

Twisting around, I mentioned Belfast 1 yesterday, and I was a little critical of it for not mentioning France so much. I might have gone a little far. Today I didn’t get to hear any of the show, I was in meetings at work and kept looking at the time and the meetings kept going and going and I wanted to scream and stand up and walk out, or at least turn on my phone and find a Mixlr. But I didn’t. And then I went and checked Twitter later and there seemed to be quite a lot more France in the show. I would take credit, but it’s more likely that I just missed it yesterday while I was listening and saw more of it today because I could only read about it.

My rating for Amazing Grace: 5 / 10

J. Swallow

Is it J. Swallo, J. Swallow, or Johnny Swallow? An actual person, a nickname, I don’t know and I don’t think I’ve read anywhere about it either. One of those mysteries of time and space, the song of the same title (J. Swallow seems to be most common) appears to have received a bit of a cult history, I think based largely on the weirdness of the name. It isn’t that much to listen to, not very good music and not very interesting lyrics. It was a b side to the Fire single, and it deserves to be a b side, at the very most. I think the band was just messing around (Edge is quoted as saying it was a studio experiment), and needed a b side in a hurry and pulled this out and said it’ll do. And in that day it would do, those were the days when they were a small band, not expected to be showing too much, and not needing b sides to be as good as the a sides.

I don’t get the lyrics at all. Who is the perspective from? Who is Johnny? Who is Paul (if not Bono, and if not, why Paul)? This is definitely an undeveloped song, the music is an experiment and the lyrics are nothing. I can’t tell what each of the band members is doing, Bono sounds muffled, like he is off doing something else and the microphone happens to be nearby. And the rest of them, just noodling around with their instruments, wondering what’s going on.

I listened to Belfast 1 on Mixlr this afternoon, and I think I missed a few bits, but I was expecting quite a bit more about France. It just seemed to blend in a little, into the regular show. There was some obligatory stuff about Belfast, but little about France, at least what I heard. I saw photos from the show later and they did a few bits here and there, some changes of lights and graphics to show the French flag, and that Eiffel Tower peace sign, but I didn’t get too much else from it. In fact I was surprised how little there was about Belfast, given the Irish connection. A couple of comments at the start, a line or two about how Belfast and Dublin went through similar things back in the day, and that was about it that I recall.

I have to say something struck me about the show, or more specifically about the Mixlr.. Now, normally I wouldn’t comment but this was so obvious. I didn’t comment on the woman a few months ago who I could hear on a Mixlr, singing so off-key and loud it was distracting. Normally the crowd disappears into the background, you rarely get interrupted by them, pulled out of the show. Today there were several times during the show (usually during breaks) where you could clearly hear people talking, and frankly they were being pretty rude and insulting. There was one clear and distinct moment where a guy was saying rude stuff about Bono, and my immediate thought was that if you don’t like him, why did you get a ticket? Then later there were several people talking and being rude. I have to stereotype a little here and say that I think this is a British thing, that my experience of British folk online especially is that they can be quite rude and foulmouthed, and it is not very becoming. Just my opinion, and I should say that there are many Brits that I know and like.

My rating for J. Swallow: 1 / 10

Xanax And Wine

I reviewed Fast Cars way back in January, it feels like so long ago and I completely forgot what I wrote then. Going back and reading it again, in preparation for reviewing Xanax and Wine, I see that I already mentioned it in the Fast Cars review. But that’s okay, I wanted to talk a little about Xanax and Wine anyway. I said at the time that I preferred Xanax and Wine to Fast Cars, and that is still true today. 

The thing is, these are essentially the same song, with Xanax and Wine being an earlier version of Fast Cars. So why review them separately (other than the desperate need to add reviews to the list) instead of together. It is mostly because there is just enough of a difference in them that I get a feeling of them being two separate songs. It’s like when you listen to Miracle, on the album Bono sings “we got language so we can communicate” while live he has been singing “we got language so we cannot communicate,” and it gives a whole new feeling to the line. Can’t say that the extra verses give such a reverse distinction, but certainly there is a feeling that is different.

The difference comes in the verses that begin with “Take me, save me from myself” and that line is delivered with a kind of wail, a kind of drifting sound. It is interesting, I really like that bit for some reason. I guess they were trying to keep the song going fast (as in Fast Cars), which is why they cut these bits out. They act as bridges, dropping into a slow little gap in the song, and I think that actually works better than what they ended up releasing.

I gave Fast Cars a two out of ten, and that might be a little low, but then I’m giving Xanax a four so maybe the two was okay. Although since the difference is only a couple of verses, that does seem a little excessive in the difference, so maybe Fast Cars should have been a three instead.

Looking forward to Belfast tomorrow, I will be trying to listen to it on Mixlr, most likely. It is going to be a very emotional show no matter what. I managed to see part of the HBO show from Paris today, it has been pirated or snuck out onto YouTube (it could be gone by now, I haven’t checked this evening). It had some issues, there were a few glitches (could have been my phone connection), but it was good. I was surprised to see some of the changes, for example the start of Miracle with the lights on, I don’t think I’ve noticed that before. Every other show I’ve seen they were out except for on Bono, and then the band kicking in. But here the rest of them were just standing on the stage, twiddling their thumbs while they waited for their cues. Has this been happening a while? Like I said, I don’t know, I’ve only been listening to Mixlr lately, not seeing any videos for a while.

My rating for Xanax and Wine: 4 / 10

Everybody Loves A Winner

Back in the day, that day being the late 80s and early 90s, U2 did a whole lot of covers of different songs. I think they did more during that period than any other time, maybe all other times combined. Not counting the early days, when everything they did was a cover, I guess I should qualify it by saying they recorded more covers at that time, whether they released them then or later. Some of those covers turned out to be great, some of them meh, and some of them pretty terrible. Today we talk the latter category.

Everybody Loves A Winner was written in the 60s by a couple of guys called William Bell and Booker T. Jones. I had never heard of Bell, and only tangentially of Jones, and googling them didn’t help much either. Jones is moderately famous, in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, while Bell has had a successful career but not the same heights. I am sure they are both famous in their respective circles, they just happen to not be the same circles I hang in. Not that I hang in circles.

The song itself wasn’t even famous enough to get a mention on either of their Wikipedia pages, so I’m not sure how U2 heard about it. I think I read that it had been recorded by several other artists, and I’m pretty sure there’s a famous version of the song out there, but I don’t know who recorded it and when. It’s one of those really common phrases that are difficult to google, and given that the song isn’t that good in the first place, I’m not interested enough to find out more about it.

Everybody Loves A Winner was recorded by U2 and Maria McKee, someone else I hadn’t heard of. She was apparently around the band at the right time, her band Lone Justice opened for them a bunch during the Unforgettable Fire and Joshua Tree tours. There is a story that Bono sang Sweet Jane once with them live, although I don’t know anything about that. I have run into that song a couple of times this year, and a like it, so I might one day try and find it. Or maybe not, I’ll probably have forgotten about it tomorrow.

Anyway, she sings on this song, quite a lot actually, not just backing but at least one whole verse to herself. There are other parts of the song where it sounds like a woman singing, but it is Bono, who frankly doesn’t sound very good on this song. To be fair the rest of the band don’t either, it is just a slow and dreary song. I don’t listen to it much, and when I do I tend to get tired of it quickly and skip to the next song.

I also must admit that when I listen to it, for some reason “when a man loves a woman” pops into my head, is it the same music, the same tune, or just the same feeling of drudgery that infects the song? I don’t know.

My rating for Everybody Loves A Winner: 2 /  10


A song that feels like it should be sung by everyone in the world, every day, One grabs you and doesn’t let go. One of the greatest songs that U2 have written and performed, I have the feeling that it gets better and better every time I hear it.

For me the ultimate version of One has for the longest time been the version they sang just after 9/11. I remember seeing it live, seeing the song and the names scrolling up on the screens behind the stage. I saw it live twice, and have seen it several times since on video. Those times I saw it live, it was the most powerful moment I’ve ever felt at a U2 show. It was a month or so after 9/11, and obviously the feeling nationwide was one of fear, of anger, of sorrow. Much like the feeling these last couple of days after the Paris attack. But it had been ongoing, for a month or more, that feeling of waiting for something to happen, that we were getting ready to go to war with someone, anyone, in the end it didn’t matter who because the bloodlust was up and there wasn’t any reasoning with people. And we go into the show with that feeling, with the idea that U2 are going to take us away, and they did, of course. They have commented on the feeling in the US, I have mentioned it more than once in the last few days, that it was quite rabid for a while.

And enter One into the show, they drop the screens and start displaying something on them, and you know it’s One and it’s quite a sad song in many ways, and then you realize that these are names, and you realize what the names are, victims of 9/11, and the floodgates open. Not a dry eye in the house. It was so sad, it was so happy, it was so cathartic, Bono leading the congregation in the mass - as he has said many times on the current tour - and I can honestly say that for me it was that breaking of the dam. I had cried on 9/11, I had cried a couple of times after that at various memorials and services, but that moment, in the show, that was absolutely the moment where I felt that weight lift off my shoulders. The feeling was a shared grief, but it was that feeling when you’re sick with a fever and the fever breaks. I literally had that fever break happen to me one time in my life, when I was a teenager and very sick, and I remember going from terribly sick one minute to a broken fever and feeling much better the next. That was the feeling. That we as a nation had been sick with grief, and this allowed us to let go and get back to ourselves. It was incredible.

I mentioned all this before, in the Walk On review, and it really was a combination of the two songs, that were played together, and gave that amazing feeling. They are great songs to play together.

This year of course they have been playing One differently, it has been sung by the crowd in a karaoke way with Bono leading the way, guiding to the correct lyrics in a couple of places. It has been another fantastic finish to the shows, and gives a little different perspective. Wonderful again, I do like this version very much.

I’m not going to talk about the videos, I actually reviewed them a month ago so you should go check that out too. It helps to give a complete look at the song.

My rating for One: 9 / 10

U2 by U2 (book)

This is a review of the book U2 by U2, by U2.

It is a bit of a misnomer, this book title, because it is not really by U2. It is by Neil McCormick, who a while back was thinking about Killing Bono, and apparently changed his mind and decided to write about him instead. But it is more than that, because it is Neil interviewing each of the band members in depth and getting their specific takes on the things that have happened to the band, and the history of the band. In that sense, it really is by the band, and given that all the words in the book are the band’s words, it is by U2. Neil has merely taken those words and formed them into appropriate chapters, or conversations between the band members, and made it theirs. So we can say it really is by U2.

I have talked about the quality of a book being directly related to the closeness of the author being to the band. The closer they are, the more involved they are, the better the book. In this case you obviously cannot get any closer than in using the words of the band themselves (including Paul McGuinness), with no interpretation between them and the page. That by default would make this the best book on the band, but it is the best book not just because of that. It is the best book you could get on U2 because it goes into depth and brings their perspective to things, their words and their ideas. There is the thought that they may be too close to themselves, so they might not have the best perspective, but really that’s not true. It’s kind of like asking an author what their book is about, they are going to tell you what they were thinking when they wrote it, regardless of whether others have given it different meanings over the years.

Reading through the book, there are many bits and pieces that I have read before here and there, the same stories you’ve heard from other places. But there are so many that are different, that are the truly inside pieces, the things that only these five guys could actually tell you. The stuff from Bono about his potential throat cancer, and the risk of surgery, I have heard the overview before but reading this in Bono’s own words gives a different feeling to the whole thing. You get that feeling throughout the book, a different perspective, a little detail, adds to the immediacy of the book.

As I skimmed back through the book today to write this piece, one section struck me. It was about the moments after 9/11, which of course resonated deeply today after the events in France last night, especially with the U2 connection once again. I was thinking about what they would be saying about Paris in a few years, will those words be the same. They have made a few comments today, and we’ve seen pictures of them in Paris at one of the attack sites. But the line that really resonated with me was from Paul McGuinness, who said that America “went through a convulsion then that the rest of the world may be paying the price of for the rest of time.” It is this idea, that the reaction of the US after 9/11 has and will lead to ongoing strife. It makes me think of Paris, and what the reaction to that will be, and how we can possibly react in an appropriate way. As Bono said somewhere else, their prayer was that we do not become a monster in order to defeat a monster.

My rating for U2 by U2: 9 / 10

How long?

Yet another Friday. I have been sick the last few days, and didn’t write last night. I intended to write this morning, but got distracted by other things (mostly work). And this evening comes terrible news. Paris, under attack.

My thoughts are immediately selfish. My thoughts go to U2, and I see tweets that the band are safe. Then they go to the U2 fans who are in the city, and I am guessing some of them were inside the building where the main attack has taken place. And I thank God that the U2 show wasn’t attacked instead, it could have been much worse there.

I haven’t heard anything but I am guessing that U2 will be cancelled both tomorrow and Sunday. I don’t know what this does for the HBO show tomorrow night, I believe they were filming the earlier shows but who knows what will happen?

I don’t have words for this. This is the first day the blog will have failed.

I can’t believe the news today. I can’t close my eyes and make it go away.


Unos, dos, tres, catorce! Yes, one, two, three, fourteen, everyone knows Bono’s Gaelic math isn’t that great. There are so many descriptions of why they counted like that, and yet none of them are reasonably likely other than the possibility that Bono just made an error. My other favorite was the idea that How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb was U2’s fourteenth album, and they were giving it a shoutout at the start of the album. Baloney, of course, because it was the eleventh, and even if you count Under A Blood Red Sky and the Passengers album you’re still short by one. There isn’t another one out there that you could count, at least not reasonably.

I think I love everything about this song, from the first drumsticks tapping in the song to the last moments of both drum and guitar. It has great music throughout, the lyrics are short and punchy sentences, the whole thing works really well. There are so many interesting lines in the song, if I were to list the ones that were triggered for me I could just about list the entire song, there’s a lot of words that make me think of it. My favorite line, which I think may be a lot of people’s favorite, is “girl with crimson nails has Jesus round her neck,” that line is very poetic but also very descriptive. I can just imagine that girl in my mind’s eye, just from this one line.

The guitar is especially good for me, I’ve never played the song, but I really feel like I could without too much effort. There’s significant parts where Edge is just playing a scratchy bit back and forth, which should be fairly easy, right, then it steps up to the interesting parts and there’s a lot of ringing back and forth, then it explodes into the chorus. It all sounds really good, and relatively simple, I should be able to play each of the parts separately, then mix them altogether and be playing the song. I think that would work, I’d be playing it in no time. It’s not like I haven’t tried that with a bunch of other songs and not gotten very far with them. But this one, yeah.

Actually I do have a slight problem with Vertigo, and it’s that I do feel like I have heard the song a little too much. There is the feeling of a little bit of an overdose with it, or maybe like when you eat just a bit too much sugar, or a bit too much ice-cream, and you feel like you’re a little bit bloated on it. So you want to go eat something savory to try and balance out the sweetness. I’m not sure what that savory song is that balances out Vertigo, but I’ll find it someday.

Missed the entire show today, was in meetings then busy doing other things for the whole afternoon. One of the few shows that I haven’t followed anything of it, I hope nothing exciting happened. I’m sure I would have seen something on Twitter if it had, right? Back into anticipation mode though, for the show from Paris on HBO on Saturday night. I’ve seen so much of it, but it’s going to be great seeing it on a bigger screen than my laptop or phone.

My rating for Vertigo: 8 / 10

Robbie Robertson

I confess to knowing nothing about Robbie Robertson before writing this, other than that he had recorded a couple of songs with U2. I actually thought he was a young British singer, something on the order of his early 20s when he recorded with them. I don’t know who I was thinking of, but obviously I was well wrong, given that he is a 70-something Canadian with a long history. I read about him on Wikipedia, and it turns out he was in The Band, a group that is far more famous for being famous than for actually producing anything worthwhile (yes, heads spin as you read this, I know).

Robertson was in Dublin recording at the same time U2 was recording The Joshua Tree and they got together because Danny Lanois was involved with both. The first song they did was called Sweet Fire of Love. This one sounds a lot like a U2 song. It’s hard at times to tell which part is Robertson and which part is Bono, and which part is Robertson and which part is Edge. But that’s okay, you ignore the fact that the voice sounds a little different and really it’s a good song. The sound is a little rockier than The Joshua Tree, it may be a little better compared to some of the b sides from The Joshua Tree, or maybe even the b sides from Rattle And Hum. Still, pretty good, if I were rating it (which I’m not since it’s not a real U2 song) I’d probably get it somewhere around a 5 or so. And that’s without even a detailed look at the lyrics, which do lose something because of repetitiveness, but gain because they sound interesting otherwise.

The second song they did together was called Testimony, and that is much less a U2 song. I hardly hear anything U2 at all in it, it is much more, I don’t know, jazzy than U2 would do. There are a lot more musicians on that song, lots of different instruments playing, and U2 is just part of the backing band here. No rating at all, don’t like the song much and don’t see the U2 involvement.

And with this review written, there are 50 days left in the 365 I aim to produce this year. Not so much a struggle, as I have about 60 ideas on the list right now, but more of an ordeal. I didn’t plan ahead too much, I certainly didn’t work ahead enough, and it’s all catching up now. I would confess to being somewhat weary of the project right now, although a) I’m not going to stop, and b) there is still new and interesting stuff coming to me as I work on it. I just wish I had done things a little differently here and there to make it easier later on, instead I took the easy way earlier and am stuck with the hard way now. Oh well, it is what it is and onward we go.

Street Missions

One of the earliest of songs, created sometime around or before they were U2, perhaps when they were still The Hype. Street Missions has an unfortunate name, because I keep tying the first word as Streets, which is a different song entirely.

Perhaps the best thing about this song is seeing the video. The story from U2 by U2 is that some tv producer came to their school for something, they got introduced, they played a couple of Ramones songs and he thought they were original, and put them on tv. By the time they actually got on tv they had Street Missions completed and practiced, and played it.

It is a great video, they are all so young and so naive. There is Bono, looking like something out of the Bay City Rollers, dressed that way with the hair sticking up in a pouf and really looking so 70s. He twists his legs back and forth like he’s hip, or maybe like he’s drunk and can’t stand straight. There’s a moment in the video where he pulls the microphone off the stand and waves it around, and the words keep singing, like he is lip-synching. So is it all fake? I don’t know, I don’t think so given all the other actions going on.

Edge is there, playing a solo, although he spoils it a little by turning away from the camera as he starts, then turning back. He has long hair almost down to his eyes, and has no clue that in about five years he’s going to be completely bald, or near enough.

Adam is as always a cipher, hanging around in the back wearing a cool shirt and cool glasses and dancing around like a bassist should. Always the cool one, always in the background.

And they take a look at Larry, who somehow is sitting there drumming quietly away, then turns and realizes he is on camera - must have a monitor there - and grins big, before trying to get serious and go back to drumming. He’ll never smile that big again in his career.

Lyrically it isn’t much, there’s a bunch of repeats of the title, a lot of oh-ohs and knows and someones (read the lyrics, you’ll know what I mean). I will say that for a group of 17 or 18 year olds it is actually really good all round. Better than anything I could ever do. Each part of the song, in fact, is better than what I could do now as a forty-something, and way better than any band I ever heard when they were teenagers. I’ve asked the question before about why U2, how they managed to get picked out of all the other groups that were forming in Dublin in those days, and this just might be the answer. Because they had talent from the get-go, and this they stood out from everyone else even if they had to trick their way onto tv in the first place.

My rating for Street Missions: 3 / 10