So Cruel

So I did some reading about this song before starting this review, and it depressed me much more than the song ever did. I always thought of it as a cool, not quite love but at least somewhat relaxed, song. I mean, musically it is slow, somewhat calming, a very enjoyable song. But to read some of the point of it, and think back to all the stories of the times that were going on when Achtung Baby was being recorded, really makes me feel a little sad about it, but also happy that the band was able to work through it and go on to the enormous success they have had since then.

Now reading through the Wikipedia article on So Cruel, I was struck by the level of academic interest in the song. I know that’s been out there, I know there’s a lot of religious study based around U2, but it’s interesting to run into such detail on a song like So Cruel, which is relatively unknown compared to other songs on the album, or in U2’s history. I remember reading about some U2 conferences that were held in the last few years as well where they were doing academic work on the band (wish I’d been able to be there). But in the more than one hundred reviews I’ve written so far this year, I haven’t had as much interest in anything as I had in this song. Odd, right? You’d think people would pick on the famous songs.

Take a look at the bibliography in the So Cruel article on Wikipedia, and the first thing that you’ll say is “bibliography?” because it is hard to imagine that the article would need a bibliography. More than that, I have a library of U2 books (okay, a shelf or two), and even I haven’t heard of some of those. Additions to the Amazon list, I guess. But then go back up and read the section where they’re talking about theme, and they get into dualism, then Pascal, and differences on what viewpoint the song was coming from. Wow. It’s almost a culture shock, the idea that you can go and look at the band in this way, and that so much of what I’ve always listened to and thought about has been almost on the surface of what might be there.

On the other hand, I also read something the other day from an author, who said that reviewers and academics find way more themes and references in a book than the author ever knew about.

As to the song itself, the music is really good, dominated I think by the drums and maybe the keyboard, along with the strings (which are probably the reason it never played live much, although rumor has it that they’ll have strings with them for the Innocence and Experience tour, so maybe…). Ultimately though in this case it’s all about the lyrics. And I don’t think there’s a lyric in there that doesn’t work for me. Even the repeated part is minimal - two lines, repeated three times, and they don’t even match each time. That’s what I like, those little twists in the lyrics that make them unique.

My rating for So Cruel: 7 / 10

All Along The Watchtower

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m not a big fan of old music. Oh, it’s enjoyable enough, they did make good sounds, but it’s very simplistic compared to (at least some) modern music, and that’s what I prefer. So I don’t know much about the old stuff, and I remember not knowing All Along The Watchtower until I heard it on Rattle And Hum.

The original song, by Bob Dylan, is widely famous, just not famous enough for a young me to have known. It does fall into that trap of being simplistic, I think there are only three verses, and then a couple of them are repeated (at least in the U2 copy). But then again, it also falls into that sense of mystery, as in what the heck is this song about? A little googling doesn’t solve the question, because there are just as many pages trying to explain what it’s about as there are saying that it’s about nothing in particular. I think I prefer songs that have a point, but then again I’ve reviewed U2 songs like Elvis Presley And America which never had a point but certainly sound intoxicating and mysterious. So I guess I’ll have to give a pass to All Along The Watchtower on that front. It’s also kind of fun to look at lyrics like this and try and decipher them yourself, put yourself into the artist’s shoes and figure out what they’re saying, or like all those websites I read, place your own interpretation over it.

It does bother me that in the movie they showed the band sitting in a caravan trying to learn how to play the song, right before going on stage with it. They even had Paul McGuinness asking around for someone who might know the words. I would have thought that if you wanted to play someone’s song, and do it in a respectful way, then you’d learn it a little better than that. Although to be fair they were I suppose decent at it (again, I don’t know since I don’t know the song that well). On the other hand, Bono did make up his own verse, which has become at least somewhat famous, even if it was just made up on the spot and meant to be thrown away.

And further to the idea that they just learned it, as I listen I think it really is simplistically played. There’s nothing much going on, each of them is just playing along with the same basic part. If you listen closely, Larry is just banging away on the drums and the cymbals, mixing it up a little as they break to another part. Adam’s just playing the same piece of bass over and over, nothing at all there. Edge plays a couple of bits, but not much of a change. And Bono’s guitar, well, as always it’s just something for him to do with his hands, right?

Then there’s that whole controversy with Bono spray painting a wall, which isn’t even worth getting into. I mean really, just some local politician trying to make a name for themselves.

My rating for All Along The Watchtower: 3 / 10

Two Hearts Beat As One

Two Hearts Beat As One is one of the better songs on War, although that only makes it average overall. I do remember liking it a lot back in the early days, thinking it would be one of their major hits, but it’s one of those songs which I don’t think has stood the test of time. In fact it’s barely been played live since the end of the Unforgettable Fire tour, and I’ll admit that I don’t listen to it too much either. The loudness of the bass and the drums are ironically something that made it good back then, but doesn’t do it for me much any more.

Two Hearts does break some of the rules I’ve been talking about, the repetition of too many lyrics. The words “Two hearts beat as one” repeat throughout, which isn’t a bad thing given that it is the title, after all. But it’s the “can’t stop to dance” lines which are repeated many times at the end, and that tells me that they ran out of ideas for finishing the song, or out of ideas for lyrics that would work.

I have a number of lyrical issues here, words that I haven’t understood for so many years. They’re simple little bits, but it all adds up. “They say I’m a fool, they say I’m nothing” is the lyric, I always thought the second part was “for saying nothing,” which in this case really does change the meaning. The simple one is “can’t stop to dance” which I thought was “can’t stop the dance.” I do have to say that, reading back through the lyrics, I really can’t follow what Bono was going on about here. Apparently love, given the title, but the only bit that refers to it is the words “if I’m a fool for you, oh, that’s something.” The rest of it isn’t really about a love song, or about a couple, or anything like that. It’s about dancing. Maybe that’s why the song didn’t last, it pretended to be a love song but it wasn’t. I just read something in the last few days that said that 90% of hit songs are about love. Maybe they really need to be about love, and not just a title.

The video is funny now, but you know they were so earnest back in the day. They’re on a roof in Paris, for reasons that are lost to the mists of time, although I’m sure you know by now how many rooftops they’ve played on. In Los Angeles for the Streets video, on top of the BBC, and up on Rockefeller Center in New York, just to name three. The gang is very early 80s in the video, like they just took a class on how to look like a rock star. Bono is desperately trying to look cool, Edge is wearing a hat and sunglasses that he stole from the Blues Brothers, Adam looks really young, and Larry with his natural cool in leather jacket. They intersperse with some acrobats, and the kid from the album cover, in something that presumably had some meaning to someone.

My rating for Two Hearts Beat As One: 5 / 10

Original Of The Species

Back to back highly rated songs. When How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb came out, I immediately latched onto Original Of The Species, I think I played it more than the rest of the album combined. Maybe if you exclude City Of Blinding Lights, anyway, which I probably played half as much as Original, or twice as much as anything else.

I don’t know why I fell in love with Original Of The Species. The music is soft and slow, but sounds really good. The lyrics work well too. Even the video is good. It’s just a whole package, like yesterday’s Peace On Earth each part seems to be working together to make something more than the whole. Umm, something like that, right? “You are the first one of your kind” is a great line, as is “You steal right under my door.”

Original Of The Species starts with some keyboards, slow and simple, kicks it up a notch, then another. There are a couple of places where there’s this really cool twang of the guitar, barely noticeable behind everything else, but if you listen around 2:00 to 2:10 for example (and a few other places), concentrate on Edge and you’ll hear it. I love that part. This feels like one of those songs I should be able to play myself, although I haven’t even gone looking for a guitar tab for it. Maybe I should try.

The video is fun, a lot of CG which looks both interesting and creepy at the same time. I think those are Adam and Larry wireframe heads floating around here and there, although they seem to morph back and forth making it confusing. Splashes of the Mysterious Ways dancer, or at least a similar idea for it. And Bono is back into the bad lip-syncing mode that he was in many of the early U2 videos. I actually spent a little time digging around trying to find those wireframe models somewhere online, I figured they would be easily available, but no. 3D CG modeling is one of my hobbies, I’d love to get models of the guys and mess around with them a little, animate them on a stage somewhere.

I think the song is about a child, literally the child of one of the band. Don’t remember which, but I’m thinking about Edge’s daughter maybe? He had one that was very ill, and maybe the song was written around that time. It’s kind of saying that you’re unique no matter what, that you’re different to anyone else. It is nicely coincidental that I’m writing this song and about this right now, because I’m thinking of some stuff that went on for someone today, and trying to send that thought to them. Note to everyone reading this, remember Wheaton’s Law: “Don’t be a dick.”

I cannot get away from this review without mentioning Bono and his self-references. “Some things you shouldn’t get too good at, like smiling, crying and celebrity, Some people got way too much confidence, baby.” Love those lines, they always make me laugh.

My rating for Original Of The Species: 8 / 10

Peace On Earth

As I listened to this song in preparation for this review, I found myself listening to it over and over, each time focusing on a different member of the band. I found this easy to do, because despite this being a single song, each part is clear and distinct. It made me wonder if this song, musically, is the best song U2 have ever done. I’m not talking about the overall thing, but their actual work as musicians. I’m not sure how to describe this feeling any better. I do remember reading somewhere about Adam taking lessons on the bass sometime around here, I wonder if that might be it (not to pick on Adam, just the idea that they’ve all reached the top of their craft at this point).

We begin with Edge, playing quiet and slow but picking up. At the point where Bono starts singing, Edge heads off on a tangent, sort of warbling a little. Then he climbs back into it, before a clear strumming (which may be Bono playing) that I love to hear. Actually all through you do get that warble, high pitch, which kind of lifts the song up to fly and then lets it go back down to the bass for a while.

Larry doesn’t need to pound the drums in Peace On Earth, it’s a slow song, but you do have numerous great moments where he gets to do his own lifting of it. There are those loud bangs, but also the low drums throughout, and cymbals that are restrained but jump in at just the right moments too. He does kick off the song with the snare (I think) playing along with Edge, and when you get in about a minute, he’s playing sounds that are a little odd, almost like castanets. Odd in a good way, it really works, as it does when he heats back up again.

The bass kicks in after thirty seconds or so, and it sounds like booming footsteps when it starts. I don’t know why but I get the feeling of a live concert, you know how you feel it when you’re in the arena and you can literally feel the bass playing beneath you, through your feet. I don’t know that I’ve ever had that feeling before while listening to a song on my computer. The bass follows the lead guitar for a while, sounding really good, a strong sound behind and beneath. Then it goes off in its own direction, coming back and forth. Fantastic.

And there’s Bono. His voice in this takes just the right tone, not too high, not too low. The words are well written, it’s not a screaming cry, or a fatalism. It just fits with the music behind him. “Where there was we’d tear them down, and use them on our enemies,” a line that maybe describes so many things these days, where you just want to hurt others with what you have, rather than being happy with it. I also have to admit to getting tears in my eyes every time “they’re reading names out over the radio.”

It interests me that they have this song on All That You Can’t Leave Behind in 2000, and just five years later the tone switched to Love And Peace Or Else.

None of the above review has really focused on the point of the song, but that’s okay, it’s a little change of pace for me. I think you can tell what the point is based on the title and the words. And if you can’t, go look up the Omagh bombing on Wikipedia. Try to read it without crying.

My rating for Peace On Earth: 8 / 10

Twilight

Another song that rings a bell, my trigger word being the title and I always think “Twilight, lost my way, twilight, can’t find my way.” Just a short burst, but it’s there.

I have to admit to disliking this song because of some of the content. “The old man tried to walk me home,” and “In the shadows, boy meets man,” they just give off a vibe of a pedophile. Now I may be reading too much into it, but I don’t know. The whole song is essentially about being a teenager, trying to grow up and learn different things about life and sexuality. Is it an incident that may have happened to Bono? Don’t know [Okay, just went and read the Stories book entry on Twilight (technically the Into The Heart version), and he says he was approached once by a guy, but didn’t base the song on it, at least not knowingly].

Enjoyable music, since it’s Boy it’s the early days where they’re still learning to play and sing. So it is somewhat basic, simple stuff that I could probably learn to play. That’s kind of a marker for me, whether I - a very amateur guitarist - think I could play Edge’s part of the song. I’m not sure if that means that I give it a bonus - because wow, I could play that - or if it loses points - because huh, I could play that. Hmm, maybe I give myself a little too much credit there. What I don’t hear is the bass, it is very understated on this song, while the drums really stand out. I think there’s an issue with the acoustics overall, don’t remember where they recorded it but it sounds off, like they were in a bucket or something, making it sound somewhat tinny, or reflecting the higher noises back again. I don’t know.

There’s a demo version on the extended Boy that sounds somewhat different. Bono sounds, frankly, weird. Like his voice hasn’t broken yet. He does several words oddly, including right at the start he sings “I look into your eyes,” and the “your” he kind of jumps his voice on so that it sounds bizarre, kind of like he hiccuped while singing it (that word changed to “his” by the time they did the album version). Edge does backing vocals (I think it’s Edge) and he sounds odd too. And I dislike the much repeated “twilight” by Bono in the middle, glad they got rid of that. Once again I have to say that the difference between the demo version and the album, although only a year or two apart in time, seem to be light years apart in terms of improvement in all phases of the band.

Changing topics, I enjoyed the U2 chat on twitter tonight, hosted by @U2, which is my favorite U2 site. It did bring a few interesting points to me, mostly around my ten year old son’s first U2 concerts, coming up in Chicago in June. I’m going to four of them, taking him and my wife to the third and fourth shows. So I do need to get some prep in for that, like getting a setlist ready for him to listen to and have an idea of what they will play. Not that he doesn’t already know many U2 songs, I’m always proud when we’re in a restaurant and he says “hey dad, they’re playing U2.” Means I raised him right.

My rating for Twilight: 4 / 10

Spanish Eyes

I remember having a conversation with my brother once (when we were younger), where he said that Spanish Eyes was better than the a side that it was the b side for. He couldn’t remember what the a side was though, and I shut him up pretty quickly by pointing out that it was I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For. So even though it wasn’t better than the a side, it is still a good song, probably one that barely missed the cut to be on The Joshua Tree. It’s amazing how many of those songs there are, they could almost have made a full album from them, and it wouldn’t have been a bad album either.

So what is the song about? Well, plain and simple it’s about sex. I could have said love, but no, sex is the right word. Desire maybe, although if I say desire then you’re going to think of a different U2 song. Gotta say that U2.com missed this one badly in terms of the lyrics, so many bits missed, haven’t noticed that before. Maybe they’re listening to a different version of the song than I am. Anyway, the lyrics are pure and simple about the desire for a person, presumably Ali given the way he’s talking about her. Not sure about the Spanish Eyes though, suggestions I found online seemed to think that it was an Irish/Spanish history think, although even then that may just be a rumor. Of course if he believes the rumor then that’s okay, right?

“And I need you more than you need me,” I gotta say right here that this might be a phrase that every guy in a relationship ever could say. Nailed this one Bono.

Curiously enough as I’m listening to the song, it ends and goes into the next song on the Best of 80s, which happens to be Sweetest Thing, and I am suddenly struck by how similar the two songs sound. Well, not really, but there is enough of a similarity for me to notice. I wonder if that might be a reason they didn’t make the cut, sounding too similar to other songs?

What I don’t understand is why they made a video for Spanish Eyes. It’s a b side, it never made an album, why did they need to promote it? The video is amusing, it shows the band in the American Southwest, Vegas, New Mexico, along the border. In various scenes they’re hitchhiking, or fooling around, a few shots of locations, some of concerts, others of people in the area. You could probably call it a road movie, I guess, maybe a shortened version of Rattle And Hum, or a preliminary version or something that kicked off the idea for the full movie. Yeah, I doubt it. Anyway, watch the video, it’s fun, a little slice of life for the band in that time. And when Bono is talking and the microphone falls off the stand, his facial expression is priceless.

My rating for Spanish Eyes: 5 / 10

Window In The Skies

I often mix this song up, thinking that it was a combo between U2 and Green Day, which is not true, they did The Saints Are Coming together on the same release, but not this one. I really like Window In The Skies, it is a nice bouncy song, nice lyrics, and good videos. It gets a little short-changed because of how it was released (on U218), not as a full album song but as kind of an extra between albums. It might have gotten more fame if it had come on an album, although being split between How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb and No Line On The Horizon, I’m not sure which direction it would have gone. Probably Atomic Bomb, it sounds much more like that.

I don’t think there’s anything about this song that I don’t like, musically good, good video, good lyrics, it is just a fun song. My favorite part is the line “I know I hurt you and made you cry,” not for the content, but for the entire bit, the drums, the bass, the guitar and the way Bono sings the lyric, I just get… not quite goosebumps, but chills maybe (is there a difference there?) on that one line. The drums really stand out on this song, I know I seem to keep saying it, but there are times when Larry just takes over a song, and this is one of them. No, that’s not fair, because each of the parts is working together to make something better than the whole.

I always thought of the song as religious because of the title, being the windows in the sky that God looks through to see us. Especially when you get to the “Love left a window” part, with love being synonymous with God in many of U2’s songs. But really, there’s not much in the song otherwise to make it seem any kind of religious.

The song is made up of four lines rhyming in a row, what is that called? Not couplets. Quadruplets? A quick googling doesn’t give me a decent answer, other than AAAA BBBB, which isn’t very satisfactory, is it?

Two lines that I always mess up on, “The rule has been disproved” I think of as “the rumor’s been disproved,’ and “Did everything but murder you and I” I get as “murder you and die,” which also makes no sense.

They made two videos for Window In The Skies. You’re probably most familiar with the one where they take very short clips of rock stars through history, and have them sync up to the words, so it looks like a bunch of famous singers are singing the song. I love this video, it works really well. They also have a number of drummers in it, and it emphasizes the drums in the song again. And then near the end the band is seen in a crowd, watching all these stars performing the song. The whole thing is great. The second video is interesting in it’s own right, although not as fun as the first. It is kind of a surreal video, where they took pictures of the band in the old days and made them look somewhat three dimensional as we fly through various scenes from U2 history. Well done, and interesting, but like I said I prefer the first video.

My rating for Window In The Skies: 6 / 10

Tryin’ To Throw Your Arms Around The World

Tryin’ To Throw Your Arms Around The World is one of those songs that I really like, but somehow end up not liking as much as I think I do. When I did my original rankings list it ended up a little further down the list than I thought. As I went back to look up the rating I had assigned, I started looking in the eights, and was mildly surprised to have to keep scrolling down until I found it in the sixes. Not sure if I should adjust it though. I enjoy the song, but overall I can’t say that it’s great. Above average to good, so maybe the six should stand. There does seem to be something not quite complete about it.

I am starting to reach a point where, each time I pick an item to review, I am often having some deja vu and wondering if I already did it. I have a list of things I have done and things I am yet to do, and the two lists don’t match, so I can never get an item I’ve already done, but I still think it and end up scrolling through the done list to check. I got it for this song and scrolled through. I think it’s because I am mentioning songs in parts of other reviews, although I don’t find this one anywhere else.

The beat in Tryin’ To Throw Your Arms Around The World is great. Drums are fairly dominant, bass less so, but when the bass does kick in it really makes a difference. There’s a version out there, a live version, where they’re playing at the start and the bass doesn’t go for a little bit but when it does, wham, it really brings the song to life. There’s actually a few songs where they’ve played live like that, with maybe just Edge playing and Bono singing, then the rhythm section kicks in. Most of the time it works, sometimes not - there’s a Sunday Bloody Sunday like that which works well, and another Sunday that the rhythm section never shows up, and it’s somewhat disappointing.

Obviously the song is about a drunk returning home in the morning. Waking up in a gutter somewhere, with a hangover. Probably with a wife waiting at hime, wondering where he is, wondering if this is the time he won’t be back, or if it’s the time she’ll kick him out. Not sure at all about the Dali section, that seems to be something out of character with the rest, is it a vision, a drunken dream, or what? And the famous “fish needs a bicycle” line, meaning that he’s useless when he’s drunk/hungover. As it should be. And I wonder about the source of the song, was it based on real life? Was there an incident between Bono and Ali, where he came home too late one night too many? I wouldn’t put it past him, given that he’s a famous rockstar.

My rating for Tryin’ To Throw Your Arms Around The World: 6 / 10

Hallelujah (Here She Comes)

Of all the b sides that U2 have released, I’m not sure if there is one that I like better than Hallelujah (Here She Comes). It was the b side to Desire, but I think it was good enough to be on the album. Not sure what it would have replaced, but given that there’s only one song on Rattle And Hum that I have rated higher (including the a side), I guess it could have replaced any of them. That’s not to say that Rattle And Hum was a bad album, far from it, it’s just how high that I rate this song.

This is a slow song, a calming song, and I guess it’s a love song (hard to tell on that, it could be a guy watching a woman, could be he’s just day-dreaming about her). I think the band’s parts are all working together perfectly in it. There is credit to a guy called Billy Preston for additional vocals and Hammond organ, which you can clearly hear throughout the song. I actually wondered at first who was singing that backing vocal, because you do hear a couple of voices behind Bono. My first thought was that it would be Brian Eno, because he has done that a lot, and then I thought Adam, but he usually doesn’t. Turns out that Billy Preston was pretty famous, having played with the Beatles and Stones.

Listening closely to each part of the music, you can tell how well they work together. The organ provides a baseline sound that the bass works in with perfectly, the drums pounding along low and muffled, there’s a high sound that I’m not sure where it comes from, is it a cymbal, or is it a tambourine? Then of course the lead guitar pointing the song up and down at the appropriate times. It is the odd song that doesn’t have a bridge anywhere, the song has some short changes but otherwise is very consistent throughout. That doesn’t work against it though, since it is so good anyway.

Another song which contains a trigger word for me, in this case it’s Hallelujah, which whenever I hear it I always think “Here she comes.” And then I start humming the music, and enjoying it. It can distract me from whatever I’m thinking of at the time.

I suppose I have to downgrade the song some, based on my previous comments about the repeating of words in songs. Hallelujah does repeat an entire verse, and it also has repetitive sections (the “high on love” at the end repeated multiple times, although it does have a front lyric on it which mitigates it a lot, makes it sound quite choral). It doesn’t suffer from the repetition though, I would prefer that third verse have different words but that’s okay, and the other parts work just fine. So maybe a point off for that, although that would suggest it would be a 9 without the repetition, and I don’t know if I would go that high.

My rating for Hallelujah (Here She Comes): 8 / 10

Gloria

I’ve said it too many times, but October is the worst album U2 ever released. Gloria ends up being the best song off the album, which is a terrible thing to say as you’ll realize when you look at the rating below. 

Religion dominates the song, with it being presumably a conversation where he wants to do certain things but is unable to do them without the assistance of God. It doesn’t make much sense though, because really, if you can’t find the door, then it’s open, why don’t you just go inside? Don’t really need that help to open a door, do you? 

I always thought it was odd that Bono counted in the 2 - 3 - 4 at the start. It just seems out of place. He also does a little wailing there at the start which is kind of annoying. I really dislike the Latin part of the song, because a) I somehow still don’t know the words well enough to sing them (I just fake it at that part), and b) it comes at a pause in the song, like it takes you out of the music. It’s not like a regular bridge, which is usually interesting, because it repeats several times.

The music is okay, I suppose. Clearly a band still learning their trade, but they have different tricks and pieces in it that show you some sense of future possibilities. Although I think there might actually be a few too many tricks in there, it’s like they had to throw everything in to show it all off.

The video is hilariously bad. These fresh-faced kids singing on a barge in the middle of a river, for no reason whatsoever. You can see snatches of the crowd on the side of the water, but apparently not a big enough crowd showed up because they only show bits of them. Edge is dressed up for the day, wearing a jacket, but the others didn’t get the memo because Bono certainly looks rock-star scruffy, while Larry looks cold in his heavy jacket, and Adam tries his best. There’s a weird bit near the end where they’re walking, and then Bono tries to crowbar open a gate, and what that’s doing in there I don’t know.

On the other hand it also appears in the Under A Blood Red Sky video, and that gives me a favored version. The “this is Gloria” line has always stuck with me since seeing the video, and in fact any time I hear this song that’s the words and accent that immediately pop into my head. I think, although I’m not sure, that this version is slightly faster than the album version. It does sound better, and maybe this goes back to my earlier comment about the song sounding like the band is still learning. On Under A Blood Red Sky they sound much more experienced, more professional, and the song sounds a little tighter than before. Only a couple of years further into their career and they have grown a lot.

My rating for Gloria: 5 / 10

Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own

So we reach the one hundredth day of the year and still going strong. I don’t think I need any help with this, although Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own. Okay, sorry, just a small joke there.

I do like this song, it is at times slow and soft, and at times a little quicker. It is very lyrical, very poetic you might say, and you might also say that it’s because of the subject matter (Bono’s father), and that Bono is a much better writer when he is writing about something very personal. He certainly struck a chord with this song.

Curiously enough, I was thinking earlier today about Bono, and wondering how much different his life might have been if his mother hadn’t died when she did, when he was a teenager. Would he have gone on to be a huge star? Part of me thinks he would, that his outsize personality would have pushed him in that direction no matter what, but part of me thinks that things could have been much different. It’s the idea of a butterfly flapping its wings, just the slightest change might turn things out very differently. I sometimes think that about a ballgame, that if one person in the crowd had turned one way instead of the other, what ripples would that cause and could it change the outcome?

But I bring all that up because I am thinking of this song. Like I said, it is about Bono and his father and their relationship. My father died when I was very young, so I did not have that relationship, which attracts me both to the story of Bono’s mother and to this song. I sometimes wonder what differences would be in my life. I can almost guarantee that I would not be where I am today without that event in my life, and I think of both the good and bad sides of things. I’m pretty sure I would never have gone on to be a rockstar though.

The song is as I said poetic. There is a strong feeling of melancholy rolling through it, but on the other hand I get this feeling of being uplifted by it as well. It has a way of being both at the same time, which is just weird. I think this is possibly the clearest song he’s ever sung, I get every single word from it without any problems, which doesn’t always happen. Maybe because the lyrics are what make the song, and the music in the background really is just that, an accompaniment to the words. And the bridge in it is great, I especially like the line “Can you hear me when I sing,” which more properly should be written “Can. You. Hear. Me. When. I. Siiiiing,” it sounds just like that, stopping after every word, before going into the long sing, followed by the opera part. Really fun to listen to.

I do sometimes conflate this song with Stuck In A Moment, not for any reason other than a general sentiment. Stuck was dedicated to Michael Hutchence, and there are times when I think “oh, the Hutchence song, Sometimes You Can’t Make It,” then I have to pause and think “no, not that one, Stuck In A Moment.” Maybe because they both have long titles. More likely because they’re both dealing with the issue that you need friends to get you through sometimes.

My rating for Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own: 7 / 10

Three Chords And The Truth (book)

This is a review of the book Three Chords And The Truth by Niall Stokes.

Niall Stokes has been covering U2 since they were young lads taking their first steps onto a stage. I already looked at North Side Story, a book that was released for the fan club, and I looked at Stokes’ book The Stories Behind Every U2 Song, which has been a pretty major resource for this project. Now I look at another book that Stokes was involved with, Three Chords And The Truth. Each of these comes from the Hot Press magazine, the Irish music newspaper, which Stokes was the founder of, I think. Putting together all these books is giving a comprehensive look at the history of the band. And there’s the U2 File, which I mentioned in the North Side Story review, and I don’t own. This book is a followup to that one, where the U2 File was Hot Press stories up to 1985, and this book is Hot Press stories from 1985-1990. I don’t know if there are any more of these books, I will have to find out, because they are seriously good.

Now the first thing that strikes me is that the title of the song isn’t even a U2 lyric, it’s just a throwaway line that Bono added to someone else’s song (All Along The Watchtower by Dylan in this case). So using it is a little of a jarring note, even though the line has become famous since then. Maybe I’m being a little picky to complain about this, but I have to complain about something, right?

What also strikes me is how good this book really is. This is a bunch of long-form stories about the band, and they get really deep in some parts of it. Of course, being a long-time fan I know much of the story already, but this does add detail that I either forgot or never knew, which means that every so often while reading I get a little “huh” now and then. The photos aren’t much, I didn’t see a single one that I hadn’t seen before.

The great thing about this book is that it shows the travels through the peak of the band’s existence, the time of The Joshua Tree and Rattle And Hum, when so many interesting things were happening. Not to say there haven’t been any interesting things since then, but really this is a whole step past the creation myth of the band (covered in the earlier books), through their puberty of The Unforgettable Fire days and showing their growth into full-bloom. It really is a trip down memory lane to read so many of these stories again, stories that I “know” in deep detail but still don’t have it all. Where I may have read the highlights from some newspaper article or website once, reading this is really digging down, and it’s fantastic to do so.

Although in the back there’s a few pages that are completely wasted, essentially some made-up junk. Maybe they didn’t have a story that would fit the space? I couldn’t read most of it - not just the part in Gaelic - it was generally just nonsense and I don’t know why it is there.

My rating for Three Chords And The Truth: 6 / 10

Night And Day

I don’t know anything about Cole Porter. Not into old music, not into show tunes, don’t really follow that kind of thing. I have mentioned before that there are some songs that U2 have covered which have made me dig into the artist’s history, but this is not one of them. I am not at all a fan of the way U2 do it, so it hasn’t caused me to go on. And since I don’t know much about Cole Porter, I can’t even tell you if this is a relatively good version of the song.

This was released on an album called Red Hot and Blue, which I never heard any of except for this. It was I believe a charity album, something to do with supporting AIDS, which was a worthwhile thing even more so then that it is now. In the nineties AIDS was ravaging the world and nobody cared, whereas today it gets attention and money and interest. I can’t say that it has been solved, but your odds are much higher today than they were then. And this album was probably one of the reasons for that, raising interest at the time and helping to follow on into the future.

The song itself is terrible. I’m not going to lie. It is bad all round, there is nothing redeeming about it. The guitar (I think, it’s hard to even tell if that’s what’s making the noise), sounds kind of warped and distorted, and it’s pretty gross sounding. They only released this song as a U2 release on the back of One, called the Steel String Remix, and it really didn’t sound any better. And then you get to the singing. Again, I don’t know the Cole Porter version at all, so I can’t tell you if Bono is trying to imitate Porter, or what, but he really sounds bad. He switches from the deep and dark to kind of screechy. It doesn’t work, he is too often drowned out by the music to be heard and is incoherent at times. I don’t know what the words are about anyway, so it doesn’t matter too much that I don’t understand him. The whole song is unlikeable, and puts me in a bad mood when I listen to it.

Now let’s talk about the video. Yes, for some reason there was a video, it was directed by Wim Wenders, who ended up doing some good stuff with U2, but this wasn’t it. If you haven’t seen it, don’t seek it out. Or maybe you should for posterity’s sake. This has to be a strong contender for worst U2 video ever, competing with the Corbijn version of Pride that I just mentioned a couple of days ago. This one doesn’t make any sense, it is horrible in many ways. It starts with Bono sitting on some stairs, holding himself and singing with some really creepy looks at the camera. For some reason they then show each of the band members sitting by themselves, not moving, for a few seconds. Then they go to a dark room, where a different band member pops up in the back every so often, while Bono creeps around again, this time with open shirt, and doing some really bad lip-syncing (which is matched by the rest of the band badly synced to the music when they play their instruments). There’s even a moment where Larry is in the back, and then he just turns and walks off-screen. Appropriate.

My rating for Night And Day: 1 / 10

With A Shout (Jerusalem)

October was not a good album, I’ve said that before. There is little to recommend about it, and With A Shout is not much of an exception. If you look at the number below, you’d guess that it’s not terrible, and you’d be right. It’s not. On the other hand, it actually ends up being one of the better rated songs on the album, and that should be all you need to know. A slightly below average song on a poor album.

I can’t avoid religion in this one. The title alone should give you a hint as to what it’s about, or at least the sub-title. Clear and obvious references to Jesus, to Mount Zion, blood being spilled. It’s all about religion. Maybe I should have put this one out a couple of days ago, for Easter. The band was deep in their religious fervor, you could say, and a lot of the songs around this time had either references or were specifically about religion.

Played a bunch of times on the October tour, it has never been played since. Yet again a song that quickly disappears. I feel like I’m repeating myself. Simple fact is that they can only play so many songs, and if they want to play new stuff, they have to get rid of the old and the poor stuff. I’m hoping that the promise of the Innocence & Experience tour is that they’ll play two different shows on each of the nights, so I can get to see twice as many songs. So fifty instead of twenty-five, or at least maybe forty since they’ll play some both days.

It does suffer in the lyrics, goes back to that “few lyrics repeated many times” that I’ve complained about a lot. The title words are repeated a lot, more of them than not in the song. Bono really did grow out of that stage over the years. What’s interesting is that he had some songs in the early days that were well-written, and others that tended to struggle, like this (and much of October). 

The one redeeming part of the song is the music, which is actually really good. Great opening, the lead, bass and drums all play well together. Although even then there’s a catch, because there’s a point in the middle where they seem to disappear for a while, basically after the second verse and before the Jerusalems start. There are, overall, some really good bits in the song, and they probably deserve more than they get fro the whole. In fact I can’t quite place it, but the opening segment does sound familiar enough that maybe it was used sometime since then? I don’t know.

They released a second version on the deluxe edition of October, called the BBC Sessions, and oddly enough the lyrics sound better - clearer, certainly - while the music doesn’t sound as good as the original. I can’t say if you match them up they would combine to make something better. What might work is getting rid of the lyrics, removing some of the fluff in the music, and playing it as a pre-show song to amp the crowd.

My rating for With A Shout (Jerusalem): 4 / 10

11 O'Clock Tick Tock

11 O’Clock Tick Tock was released as a single before Boy, and never appeared on an album. Despite that it was one of the most popular U2 songs in the early days, and still survives to this day in versions that are well-received. For myself the primary version I remember and sing from is the Under A Blood-Red Sky version. The title is one of those things that stick with me too, every time someone says “11 O’Clock” I always think “Tick Tock.”

One of the fun things of doing the research for these songs is finding out things I didn’t know or had forgotten, and going down certain trails with it. In the case of 11 O’Clock Tick Tock I found out it was originally called Silver Lining and had different lyrics. This leads to an interesting series of stories and videos, a kind of peek into U2 history. Essentially the song is the same music as 11 O’Clock Tick Tock, but with different lyrics. “I hear the children crying” was “Take me silver lining,” so you can see how different. It is, as I’ve said on a few songs before, interesting to see how the lyrics evolve during production into a full song. In this case they appear to have thrown out all the lyrics and started again. I don’t know why but there is something about the Silver Lining lyrics that in some ways sound better than the ones that were released.

The original song is a little echoey for my liking. Sounds like they’re in a really large room, and the noise is bouncing off all the walls. The only thing that sounds decent is the bass. There’s also the la-la-la-lo, or however it goes, which is a little irritating, like they’re trying to fill in some empty space. They for some reason re-did the song for The Unforgettable Fire and put it on the b side of the Pride single, and it sounds quite a bit better, more bassy if that’s possible. And of course the Red Rocks version, which I have always liked, somehow sounds so much better. Maybe it’s just a few more years of playing together helped them, maybe because it’s live.

I do love the lyric “We thought that we had the answers, it was the questions we had wrong,” that seems to be something that a lot of people - myself included - could learn from. Much of the world would do better if they stopped desiring a specific outcome of their policies, but instead asked what they should actually be doing to help others. An example this week is the idea of restricting the ability of people on welfare to spend the money they get on certain things, because they want to reduce the amount spent on welfare. It’s not “let’s help people get off welfare,” it’s “let’s cut money from welfare and people will somehow magically get off welfare.” Trying to get to the result - reducing cost - by going the wrong way about it - cut money rather than cut need. Questions they had wrong indeed.

Lyrical confusions: the lyric is “A painted face” which I always thought was “Oh pizza face” and I had no idea why he would write that. Another one is “Say so, say so” repeated at the end, which I thought was “Sad song, sad song.” Mild mis-hearings.

My rating for 11 O’Clock Tick Tock: 6 / 10

Babyface

Babyface came off the Zooropa album, the followup to Achtung Baby that was not nearly as successful. U2 were diving into a weird period after Achtung, it would bring out all this electronic music, and culminate in the lamentable Pop album. Zooropa has the distinction of being a very neutral album, nothing too good and nothing too bad. Babyface is probably the worst song on the album.

Musically it is very weak. Like I said it sounds all electronic, it sounds very dull. I often conflate it with Numb - the song that followed it on the album - in its dullness, their sounds are somewhat similarly bad. Babyface has a high tinkling sound throughout, which I just find annoying, and a rather prominent drum sound which is odd, and fairly simple. Even the bass, which you would probably call the musical highlight in this song, is somewhat muted and standard. Overall musically a mishmash.

Lyrics, the story appears to be someone who has an obsession with someone who is on tv, always watching them acting or performing. Some kind of watching a star on tv and imagining that they’re your girlfriend, and not quite coming back to reality. “I feel like I must be your best friend,” that’s something that a lot of people tend to imagine, that the people on tv are their friends and would like them. Every so often you hear a story of a crazed fan beginning to act out that story, and causing something bad to happen. In fact wasn’t there some actress killed around the time of this song, because the fan had seen them on tv? I seem to remember some kind of relationship to U2 as well, like he was a fan of one of U2’s songs and believed it was telling him things. I may be conflating this story somehow, and my timeline might not be there either.

There’s a bit of pedophilia going on in it, not just the babyface that is repeated, but the “slow down child,” “you’re everywhere child.” I don’t know, that might be a stretch, but it does imply that the person he’s watching is fairly young. They might be a teen or someone who looks that sort of age. Or I might be reading too much into it.

There’s a point where there’s a backup singer, Edge or Eno I don’t know, going bup-bup-bup over and over, and that’s really annoying too.

As it turns out, it was only ever played live five times, over the space of a week or so. Apparently they decided it was difficult to play live, either that or the song got a poor reaction from the crowd. Either way the band dropped it and never played it live again. Good riddance?

It’s hard to review a song like Babyface, because many of the songs that I have rated poorly at least still have some redeeming features, or an interesting back story. Babyface though just puts me into a negative mood, so much that I don’t want to listen to it when it comes on. I’ve thought more about my ratings lately, and I’ve concluded that the number is essentially how many times I’ll listen to the song when it comes on, meaning in this case if it comes on ten times, I might listen to it twice and press the next song button eight times. And for Babyface, I’m not sure but even that number might be too high. Worst song? No, but close.

My rating for Babyface: 2 / 10

Pride (In The Name Of Love)

Early evening, April 4, as Bono has corrected himself over the years. I was fortunate that they have two songs about Martin Luther King, so I could put this one on the date mentioned in the song, and give MLK to Martin Luther King Day.

Pride is one of the classic songs from U2 history, and it still means a lot today. I think this is at or near the top for many U2 fans. For some reason though I find myself cringing slightly when it comes on now, maybe because I’ve heard it so many times over the years. I would say I’m a little bored with it, but that doesn’t apply to some of the other songs that I’ve heard way more times that I’ve heard Pride. Not sure what it is. Maybe because of Rattle and Hum, where it is the last song before the credits, and honestly it’s not a great version of it. I don’t know. In fact thinking about it right now, I don’t think I can even name a great live version of the song.

The other thought that comes to mind is about the simplicity of the lyrics. I have gone on about old songs not being as interesting to me, because they repeated a few lines over and over. Pride actually ends up being one of those cases. If you look at the lyrics on U2.com you’ll see seven separate sections, and four of them are the repeated chorus, and that is even repeated within itself (the line “in the name of love, what more in the name of love” runs twice within each chorus). The verses also repeat the “one man” theme over and over, at least in the first two. So maybe that’s my boredom with the song.

There is of course the one section that refers to Martin Luther King, as I mentioned at the start. That seems to have overtaken the whole meaning of the song, despite it being one of the three verses, and the last one at that. I suppose the other verses could generally refer to MLK, although it is only the third that is explicit. For example the second ends with “one man betrayed with a kiss,” an obvious reference to Jesus and Judas (which would be explored in much greater detail a few years later in Until The End Of The World).

There are three versions of the video, which I didn’t know until I was researching this. Up until this week I had only seen two of them. The first was the one in black and white, in the performance hall. I always liked that one, the story seemed interesting. The second was the film from Slane Castle during the making of the album. That one amused me, there are different shots of each of the band members doing different things and it’s a great slice of life from that time. And the third, the one I’d never seen before. Produced by Anton Corbijn, who I just wrote about so glowingly. Well, if I’d seen this video before writing that, I don’t know what I would have thought of him. But this video is of the band in a room with effectively no lighting, and it is terrible. Very close up shots of the guys, so you only see half of their heads most of the time. And when you see all of them, it’s Bono really hamming up the lip-synching, looking quite stupid as he does. I very much dislike this video, and I’m glad I never saw it before.

My rating for Pride (In The Name Of Love): 9 / 10

U22

U22 is my default listening when I’m listening to live U2 these days. My plan has been to write a post late in the year discussing my perfect live concert, but since they released U22 I think that’s pretty close. I’ll still write it one day, because there are a number of songs to add (my perfect concert would never end). And of course it is the live version of the 360 tour, which this site is (almost) named after.

U22 was released as a fan club offering a few years ago, 2012 I think. 22 songs, which is where it gets the name from, although Unknown Caller was a bonus track so maybe it should be U23. It was voted on by the fans, and I don’t remember which songs I voted for but I know there were at least a few that I chose that the crowd didn’t. 

If you take this list, it’s not necessarily the most played songs from the tour that made it on. For example there’s no I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight, which was the most played song on the tour. Or Get On Your Boots, one of the others from No Line On The Horizon. In fact if you take the top 22 played songs from the tour, you only end up with four songs from No Line (with another couple just outside the 22). That kind of tells you even more that U2 have turned into a greatest hits band, when what the crowd wants to hear is the old stuff. Hopefully that is going to change a little on the Innocence And Experience tour, at least on the Innocence part.

Weird is that a couple of the songs, Out Of Control and One Tree Hill, only appeared 6 and 4 times respectively, so they were really digging deep to pick them, not only for the voting list, but for people to actually choose them. I guess that’s what the people wanted though, so that’s what they got. And I do admit that this version of Out Of Control is easily the best version I ever heard of the song, and one of my favorite songs ever.

So what else is there to say about U22? Well, right now it is the last tour that U2 did, so it is the latest and greatest by default. I guess it will be overtaken once you get to the I&E tour, but that’s not going to have the spectacle that 360 did, so maybe it won’t have the same impact. Kind of like the way that the Zoo TV tour stands out in history, it is something you remember over many of the more recent shows the band have done. But really, as I said at the start, this is what I listen to now. I have said many times that U2 live is the greatest thing, and once again this is the next best thing to being there.

Speaking of being there, I’ll be at four shows in June. I hope they’re as good as this set.

My rating for U22: 9 / 10

Love And Peace Or Else

Have you ever noticed that the Or Else is always left off this song? Even I just call it Love And Peace, mainly because the Or Else is never sung during the song. So why is it on there? Love And Peace is repeated half a dozen times, but the Or Else, nowhere.

This is a great song. The music is good, the lyrics are good, the pace of the song works well, there is little to not like about it. I have enjoyed Love And Peace ever since it was released. They have these fun little pauses throughout the song before launching into the next part, like the moment just before “Lay down your treasure” near the start, where everything just seems to stop for a second, then kicks off again.

I’m thinking that Love And Peace is possibly the drummiest song in U2 history. It’s so drummy that during the Vertigo tour they would have Larry come out to the edge of the circle with Bono, and do the drumming out there. He would stand there drumming for a bit, looking kind of embarrassed to be out front, sing “release, release” with Bono, then head back to his regular drums before the end. And Bono, in a part I always loved, would then pick up the sticks and finish up the drumming, and then drum into the start of Sunday Bloody Sunday. Like I said, I loved that part of the concert. Bono would also put on the Coexist headband during the song, which I think was the first time he displayed that. I always liked that too, one of those messages that you wish a whole lot of people would see and heed.

I’m not sure that I have a good explanation for the lines “As you enter this life, I pray you depart, with a wrinkled face, and a brand new heart.” You might say it’s obvious, that I hope you live a long life. But what about the brand new heart? I once thought it meant that you should have had a heart transplant, but that’s just crazy, right? So I guess it means you should stay young at heart? Or live a life of renewal, where your heart keeps being renewed? I don’t know.

The other oddity about this song is the theme. Obviously it’s talking about trying to stop war, especially given the times when it was released and the US was rushing into a foolish war that would cost us thousands of lives and billions of dollars. But then there’s the little twist that Bono gives the song by also turning it into a love song, talking about a couple having a fight and trying to make peace between themselves. Or else the end of the relationship. And the background is the tv with the real war starting, and that sounds really like a movie of some kind, doesn’t it? The idea being that a couple in the front is having their battle and the war is on in the back. You could go several places with that. Goes back to my previous ideas for putting songs together into a movie.

My rating for Love And Peace Or Else: 8 / 10