Heartland is slow, languid, in general a relaxing and calming song. A description of a ride through the heartland of the United States. It builds as it goes along, gets a little faster, although faster is maybe not the right word. How about it adds more and more layers as it goes, starts with the bass, adds in guitar and drums, all at different levels picking up over time. Building toward a crescendo you might say, and it really is a wonderful crescendo. This is another of those songs where I could lay down and listen to it for hours on end. It mixes in well with several other songs on Rattle And Hum, like Hawkmoon, Love Rescue Me, and even God Part II. For that matter it also works with stuff at the end of The Joshua Tree, whose sessions it originated in. Exit and Mothers Of The Disappeared finished that album well, but Heartland would have worked really nicely with them.
I have driven Route 66, listened to this song as I did, driven the roads that have replaced the old route, and had many of the feelings that are expressed in the song. I haven’t been as far as Bono describes (only Texas and New Mexico) but I certainly feel like everything he describes are things I’ve seen. The obvious exception being the Mississippi Delta, which I have not been that far south on the Mississippi, but I thought of this song when I was in Memphis, thought of this and the others they recorded when they were at Sun Studios. Oddly enough I saw a tweet from Sun Studios to U2 today, telling them to come back again.
The obvious visual with the song is of course Rattle And Hum, the scenes from the movie where the band is playing around while the song plays in the background. They start sitting by the Mississippi, where the song is set (and somehow that visual reminds me of one of the Pride videos in Dublin, hanging about by the water there). Then they move on to Graceland, and you get several comments from the band during that, most especially from Larry. He is of course a big Elvis Presley fan, and it disturbs him being there, because as he puts it “I wish he hadn’t been buried in the back garden,” which although serious comes out as a funny line in some ways. And of course Bono breaks the rule he made, letting the camera film Larry sitting on Elvis’ Harley when he said they wouldn’t.
What’s interesting about the song is that it’s not only descriptive, but it’s also literary. Just yesterday I complained about him being descriptive in a song, and here he is doing it again, but this time I like it. It’s a different kind of descriptive though, it’s the poetic kind that really works well when Bono writes it properly. Best example is possibly “Freeway like a river, cuts through this land,” which is both descriptive but also makes you think of the way the road flows back and forth, that even though we feel like we’re taming the land, it still has a say in how it is going to be treated. Maybe a stretch on my part, but it is a song that will bring the poetry out of me.
My rating for Heartland: 6 / 10