War

War is U2’s third album, and it takes quite a different direction from the previous two. Boy was very much the band finding their feet, October was about their religion, and War, by the title, tells you what it was about. It was harder rock, much louder sounding, much more confident music from the band. Many people think of War as being the album that caused their career to take off, and in many ways it is. Oddly enough, although comfortably ahead of October in my ratings, I don’t rate it as highly as Boy. In fairness, the peak is higher, but the tail is longer.

War took on the themes of the day, the early 80s when the world seemed to be on fire and heading toward nuclear war. I was in my early teens at the time, and much of it passed me by. If I were to look back now I would call myself naive, little aware of the major stories of the day. It wasn’t until a few years later that I really got politically involved, and that was probably largely due to listening to The Joshua Tree, then switching back and herding these earlier songs. Stuff like War and The Unforgettable Fire were really triggers for me to follow through and find out what was going on in the world.

Now that I look back it does seem like that year, 1982, was probably the closest point to being the trigger of a global conflict. Britain was at war with Argentina in the Falklands, which I do remember, because I remember it as being a televised war and to my eternal shame I will admit that I had a kid’s excitement at seeing the action and reading the news. I remember collecting the set of magazines that documented the war. I suppose you could say I was seeing the glory of the revolution.

As I said, the peak of this album is very high. Sunday Bloody Sunday is an all-time classic song, one of the greatest songs ever written, not just by U2 but by anyone. You add in New Year’s Day and you’ve got a great one-two punch. But after that you start to slip, going down to 40, which fell among the U2 crowd favorites, and then further down to another set of songs that fill out the album but don’t last too well. Of the ten songs on the album, I have three rated as threes and two rated as twos, and you’re not going to end up with a classic album with ratings like that. This is fairly typical of the early U2, all of the albums before The Joshua Tree (and several after) tend to have a few songs that seem to have been worked on hard, and end up sounding great, but then you also tend to get some songs that sound like they were knocked together in an afternoon in the studio, and end up becoming album songs by default. Although having said that, if you’ve listened to some of the deluxe versions of the albums, you’ll have heard some of the songs that were left off the album, and realize that what made it wasn’t too bad after all. 

Perhaps the best thing War did - apart from being a U2 album - was to bring the band back together. There are all kinds of stories about how they were on the verge of breaking up around October, but they pulled together to get that album out and then kept going and did War. By that time they were touring a lot, and figuring out how they worked, and how they liked each other, and then things began rolling. They got a lot of notice during War, enough to push them ahead into Under A Blood Red Sky and The Unforgettable Fire. And by then they were starting to become an unstoppable force.

My rating for War: 4.7 / 10

U2 & i (book)

This is a review of the book U2 & i by Anton Corbijn.

Anton Corbijn is one of those guys that you can’t help hearing about if you read about U2. He seems to have been with the band forever, and he has, or at least since 1982. Kind of the official photographer of the band, his iconic images are ones you’ve definitely seen, like the cover of The Joshua Tree, and many others. This book, U2 & i, shows many of his pictures of U2, mostly black and white but some color, covering 1982-2004.

As always, a book like this can be both revealing and boring. I already reviewed one picture book of U2 history, and didn’t like it much because the vast majority of pictures were well-known, with only a few that I hadn’t seen before. This book though has both the unprecedented access that Corbijn had, and a large archive of pictures that have not been generally available. This means that not only was I seeing a lot of stuff that I hadn’t seen before, but I was also reading Corbijn’s notes about each picture, which again provided an intimate view of the band. I would guess I have seen maybe a third of the pictures in the book, and that may be a generous estimate since some of them I thought I’d seen but realized I may have seen different shots from that shoot.

Many of the photos are Bono and his family, it seems that he allowed more access than the rest of the band did. That’s not to say they didn’t, because there are many private photos of them too, but when Corbijn’s going on vacation with Bono and his family, he’s going to get pics of them that he’s not of the others.

Was surprised to see so many pictures of Bono smoking, that’s something not generally published, at least not recently. Old images of the band have shown each of them smoking at times, even Adam on stage playing with a cigarette in his mouth. I guess you don’t see that kind of picture these days, because the anti-smoking lobby would be up in arms, but it does tell you just how relaxed and open the band was around this particular photographer.

I must admit to disliking Corbijn’s handwriting, which is used for all the captions in the book. While it makes for yet another point of intimacy, as he is writing directly to the reader, there were quite a few times where I had to stop and try and interpret just what words he had written.

Several essays at the front, and an interview between Bono and Corbijn, only add to the quality of the book. This is a really outstanding book. I’ve reviewed maybe three or four U2 books so far, and I probably have another ten to do. I haven’t rated any of those yet, but I can say that I doubt that any of them will rate as highly as this one. It doesn’t have the detail that some of the books have, but then again they say a picture says a thousand words, and that’s really true here. If I were to recommend one U2 book to buy, I don’t think you could go much wrong with choosing this one.

My rating for U2 & i: 8 / 10

Magnificent

I will admit that I was not a big fan of Magnificent when it first came out, thinking that it was a little boring. It is one of those U2 songs that has to grow on you, and after listening to it many times I can now say that I do like the song a lot. At least some of my liking for it stems from the live version off U22, recorded in Switzerland. Listening to that a number of times really made me like it, and want to rewind and play it again. Once again suggesting the whole live thing being better than recorded.

Not sure about the meaning of the song. Probably the intent is to be a love song of a kind, but which kind I don’t know. There are enough clues in it to suggest that it’s about a relationship that’s ended, but with one party still in love with the other. Love leaving a mark, healing a scar. On the other hand, he then throws in the “’til we die, you and I will magnify” which is reminiscent of the wedding vows, and therefore suggesting they’re still together. Maybe it’s together despite their feelings changing. I don’t know, I’m not very good at working this stuff out, am I?

The band was in their Fez phase, so the video is full-on Morocco. I assume it was filmed either in the place they recorded the album, or in somewhere very similar. I don’t quite get the point of the sheets floating around the town, or what it’s meant to represent.

I like the line “My first cry, it was a joyful noise”, it really does sound like Bono, doesn’t it? First of all the idea that a baby would make a joyful noise, but second of all that he has such an ego to be able to sing the line. Of course the “I was born to sing for you” works in a similar way, making him out to be more than he is.

I love the start, the opening pounding of both drums and guitar, it does bring up a sense of powerfulness in the song. It’s possibly the best part of the music, that bit from the start until just before Bono begins to sing, when the music seems to lighten up a lot. This song really is the band working in concert, you can pick out moment where each of the three are taking the lead in the song, and actually the video does this better than most U2 videos, highlighting each of the members as they take that lead spot for a few seconds. There are often videos where it is just Bono, and the rest of them are set decoration or background. There was a famous story about that for One, if I remember correctly, and I’ll have to get to that when I do that review. A different example would be A Celebration, where you for the most part barely see the rest of the guys while Bono does his thing.

My rating for Magnificent: 7 / 10

I Fall Down

Nineteen out of thirty-seven lines in this song are “I fall down”, “You fall down” or variations thereof (stats taken from the U2.com lyrics listing, which in my opinion splits some of the lines a little generously). So, okay, the name of the song is I Fall Down, so you’d expect to hear those words in the song. Maybe even a few times. But the fact is I have been complaining about some of the early rock and roll, and how it is so repetitive to the point of boredom. They pick up three or four lines, and repeat ad nauseum. Well, U2 did this here, and the result is something terrible.

We do get to hear some piano playing from Edge. I suppose we get some slightly hard rock, there’s a lot of crashing of cymbals, the bass kind of disappears though, hidden by the drums. So musically it’s not that good, lyrically poor, no wonder it has a terrible rating.

I Fall Down is off October, which is my worst rated U2 album of all time. And it’s the worst song on the album - or at least tied for worst - which means it’s well in the running for worst U2 song of all time. But it’s not, because there are both a few worse-rated songs, and also several rated at the same level, and it’s hard to distinguish between them all rating-wise. If you thought it was difficult trying to pick your top five, or top ten, and put them in a specific order, try doing that with the bottom of the list. Way more difficult, I promise you. Trying to sift through the sludge, and there’s barely a diamond to be found at the bottom.

I don’t know who Julie is, or why Bono wrote a song to her. Apparently Bono doesn’t remember either. Seems odd. But she wrote a letter, and I don’t know why. It’s hard to understand why this person wrote a letter, what it’s about, what the whole point is. She wrote a letter, then she tried to get up and fell down. Is she old? Hurt? What? And then the person she’s talking to (or who is talking to her) suddenly starts falling down too. What the heck is that about? 

There is another theory I have on how to rate songs, and that is to look at how many times they’ve been played live. Now, you can’t compare directly, because something off a new album hasn’t had the opportunity to be played as many times as something off the early albums. But it can give you some kind of idea about staying power, in that the weaker songs tend to get pushed out of the setlist quicker. You can for example choose all the songs off one album and compare them directly. When you do that, you see that Gloria and October were the two stars of the album, each being played live over 300 times. But somehow I Fall Down is next, at 173 (at time of writing) just beating out I Threw a Brick Through a Window to be the only other songs played over 100 times. How is this possible? What made it a song they wanted to play live? It had enough to make it all the way through the October and War tours, and into the Unforgettable Fire shows before being dropped and never played again. Why? I don’t know. I wish I did.

My rating for I Fall Down: 2 / 10

Beautiful Ghost

The full title of this song is written as Beautiful Ghost/Introduction to Songs of Experience. Now, if I told you the song was written in the Joshua Tree era, would you believe me? Given that the band just released an album called Songs of Innocence, and are calling the next album Songs of Experience? Probably not a coincidence, but seriously, planning something twenty years ahead seems kind of excessive.

The lyrics of the song are taken completely from some poetry written by a dude called William Blake in 1794. Yes, 1794, so maybe they were planning 200 years ahead. Apparently he wrote a collection called Songs of Innocence, and another one called Songs of Experience. The lyrics here are literally the Introduction to Songs of Experience, as the title says.

I’m joking by calling him a dude, of course, because Blake is pretty well known. Couldn’t have told you any of his works before today, but I had heard his name. Apparently Bono is well-read, even more so than I actually knew. You always hear about him having read this or that literary thing and using it for inspiration, but 200 year old poetry is crazy. I cannot pretend to know what the heck the poem is talking about. I’m not that literary. My knowledge of it is pretty much all from the Wikipedia article. Even then my knowledge is kind of sketchy, I read through this literary discussion of the poem and have no idea of about half of what they’re saying (or more, maybe three quarters). I’ve always been more on the analytical side of the brain, but I’ve been trying to push that artistic side lately. That is one of the reasons for this blog in fact, so I can work on my writing and develop a voice, as it were.

The music is ethereal, random, kind of something you might think of as from a movie. Mostly just ghostly sounds, I suppose you could say that’s why the song is titled as it is. Bono speaks quietly as he quotes the poem. What’s weird is that it is two minutes in before he even says a word, then he reads the poem, and it is right at the end when he repeats “till the break of day” that his voice gets a little higher. That’s the total of the song. Dreary I would have said a few weeks ago, although I think I might have used that word a little too much.

There are a few songs by U2 that are music only, instrumentals, and this one could almost qualify as one of them. It is music by the band, and words by someone else, and they do appear to just be thrown in as an afterthought. I’m going to write about several instrumentals in one post one of these days, because really how much can you write about a song that doesn’t have any words? Not much, I tell you. It’s hard enough to write about one whose words are a 200 year old poem that doesn’t make any sense.

My rating for Beautiful Ghost/Introduction to Songs of Experience: 3 / 10

Wake Up Dead Man

If you don’t know who the dead man is, then you haven’t been paying very much attention, have you? This is one of the much more religious songs in the U2 pantheon, as it is directly a conversation with Jesus about the world and the way things are and how they should be.

I always think of Wake Up Dead Man as being a very dark song, the darkest on the album, but I’m not sure that’s so true. Many of the songs on Pop have at least a dark undertone, especially the middle with If God Will Send His Angels, Staring At The Sun, and Last Night On Earth. And If You Wear That Velvet Dress is musically as dark as Wake Up Dead Man. So, it’s not necessarily so far out of place on the album as you might think.

Interesting guitar at the start, the very singular playing is not at all like the multiple layers of echo and delay that Edge usually uses. It takes a minute for the bass to kick in, but when it does it sets a much deeper tone, and then another thirty seconds for the drums to join. Played live it’s really good, I guess it’s the version off Slane that is out there, and that moment when Adam starts playing is just fantastic, really gets the song moving. There is some kind of wailing in the background on the album version of the song, I don’t remember what that is, whether it was something like the birds from Morocco or what. Then you get to the bridge, where it starts doing the “listen to” section, and I just love that. This is one of my favorite sections of any U2 song ever. It’s raw and powerful, the music just takes off by itself. This is one of those moments where the words may not even matter, just their cadence is important.

So the story itself is a person talking to Jesus - presumably in prayer, but not necessarily - and telling him that they need him to return to earth and solve all our problems. Tell me about eternity and how everything’s going to turn out great for us. The idea of the world falling apart, and wanting to rewind things like a tape recorder to get back to a semblance of order where things will turn out all right. That’s interesting to me, because ultimately the world will end up the way it is, that you can change individual events but the arc of the whole is most likely going to bend the same way every time.

Profanity being used in the song (“fucked up world”) is surprisingly rare for U2. Sure, Bono has sworn on tv and caused all kinds of problems with the FCC, but it is uncommon for something to reach an album, despite what you might think based on what the folks who do the ratings say. In fact just sitting here, off the top of my head I can’t come up with anything else. I know there are, they’re just not focusing into my mind right now. And I don’t think there are any other f-bombs in U2 history, are there?

My rating for Wake Up Dead Man: 6 / 10

Ordinary Love

I haven’t seen the movie, Long Walk To Freedom, but I of course know a significant part of the Mandela story. Everyone does. I am, in general, a supporter of freedom fighters (you know, the kind of terrorists we like). I think everyone should have the right to choose their own future, the right to self-determination, self-rule. Now, sometimes that’s going to mean you have to support people with different views than yourself, but that’s okay, because if the world was homogenous, we’d all be pretty boring. But it’s not difficult to support people who are being oppressed simply because of the color of their skin. I think in most any case you’d not want that to happen to you, so why visit it on someone else.

The suggestion for the song is that the ordinary love is that between Winnie and Nelson Mandela, that the two of them were separated for so long and they could not eventually survive that. In Bono’s words, the idea in movies is usually that of extraordinary love, the thought of going above and beyond all the time, but also is the thought of ordinary love, that of the everyday togetherness, and what that means to a couple. Having been married now for almost seventeen years, I’ll be totally honest and admit that yes, the extraordinary sometimes drifts away, and you’re left with the ordinary. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just the nature of being together for so long. It makes the extraordinary efforts pop out when they happen. You go with the ups and downs, and work them out as best you can, or as the saying goes, for better or worse. For myself I can’t imagine things being any different, or wanting them to be. For Nelson Mandela, he lived the extraordinary life, and couldn’t deal with just the ordinary when it came to him.

The song itself is good, the music is nice enough although nothing outstanding. The lyrics are a little opaque to me, I’m not sure I get the point that Bono is trying to put across, even with the descriptions given above. There are parts which make perfect sense (“I can’t fight you anymore, it’s you I’m fighting for”) but the main point misses for me. The idea that you can’t go any lower or higher because you can’t feel ordinary love, that’s not of much sense to me. It tells me that you have to be able to feel the ordinariness to go up or down, when I don’t think that’s true. I think you can have that extraordinary and have great changes. Now, can it last without the ordinary? Maybe that’s the point.

There’s two versions of the video for Ordinary Love, although I’m not quite sure why. It’s not like they’re wildly different. The first one, the lyric video, is interesting, a lot of animation and video effects to show the words on screen. The second is the same, slightly different twists in that the effects are less, or less organized, and there are a few shots of the band here and there, singing occasionally. But mostly the same images.

My rating for Ordinary Love: 4 / 10

Fez - Being Born

I haven’t heard much Brian Eno music, and yet somehow I’ve heard a lot of it. I guess I should clarify that I haven’t heard much that he’s done on his own, under his own name, but plenty that he’s done with U2 under their name, and under both of their names. Clearly he has been very influential in the U2 world, and U2 history, but when I hear his own stuff I wonder how that is possible. Was his influence truly good, or could it possibly have been not so good? Or even could it have changed over time?

Eno is a big fan of and player in ambient music, and it seems to me that he directs the projects he is involved in in that direction. Now, the first U2 work, The Unforgettable Fire, is quite ambient and is a masterpiece. He worked on The Joshua Tree, a few others in the 1990s, and All That You Can’t Leave Behind. Most of those he worked with Daniel Lanois, whom I think I credit the most for the U2 sound (after the band themselves). It just seems to me that if they’re both together the result is good, but if Eno doesn’t have Lanois working with him the result isn’t so good. The classic example is Passengers, which was self-indulgent to the point of irritation.

So all this leads up to Fez, which is the most Eno-like song on No Line On The Horizon. It doesn’t fit my narrative above, because Lanois worked on the album too, but it does fit the Eno theme. Slow, contemplative, boring. Changing pace here and there. Not “real” - reportedly Eno insisted that Larry use an electronic drum kit instead of a real one, which essentially took the whole impact of Larry out of the album.

Oddly enough, I didn’t even realize that “Fez - Being Born” is actually two songs, or at least were intended to be two. It wasn’t until I was re-reading the stuff in the No Line On The Horizon box that I got to Edge’s point about the one song finishing and the other starting, and then talking about how they were put together. They do sound at least somewhat similar, I suppose, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Fez is easily the worst song on the album, and for that matter the two next worst songs are quite similar in style.

The Fez part is the start, the first minute or so (with a little Get On Your Boots thrown in, who knows why), all electronic and drab and dreamy. Then it booms out a little, into Being Born, and you start getting some action, although the base sound is still there. You get some weak lyrics and a bunch of wailing by Bono, which doesn’t help matters. I hear his thing about telling a story from someone’s perspective, but it doesn’t work very well. Maybe it’s because the music is a distraction. It just keeps drifting in and out. Ambient, like I said. And the end kind of falls away into nothing.

So yeah, I struggle to reconcile the bad stuff Eno has done with the good.

My rating for Fez - Being Born: 2 / 10

Trash, Trampoline and the Party Girl

It’s an odd title for a song, Trash, Trampoline and the Party Girl. Easy to shorten it to Party Girl of course. Party Girl has somehow managed to reach what can only be described as epic proportions, from a lowly b side to a song that is a fan favorite whenever it is brought out. Just goes to show you that something that was essentially a throwaway can make its own way in the world. This is a song with very simplistic music and lyrics (put together in 40 minutes according to Edge), which normally I would disdain. But somehow it works to get things going, and it seems like everyone knows the words these days.

The best line of course is “When I was three I thought the world revolved around me, I was wrong”, which every parent in the world will tell you is absolutely true of every child. Although I’m not sure any of us grow out of that idea. I often think of the theory that even though any of us may have little or no influence on the world, we all see the world through our own eyes, and to us we are the star of the movie of our life. Whatever happens to us is what we see, and everything else happens off-stage in our lives. It’s an interesting idea to think of, people being much more significant to themselves than to anyone else. That can theoretically explain much of the differences in us, on whether we can externalize that thought and realize everyone else thinks the same about themselves.

Whoa, kind of heavy for a song called Party Girl.

The song is mostly driven by the lead guitar, the drums and bass are pretty much incidental in this song. In fact if you listen to Moment of Surrender off U22, you hear them begin with a bit of Party Girl and that bit is done a cappella and doesn’t really lose much of anything. Now that the audience knows the words, they’re happy to sing along without any accompaniment. If they get any, and if it’s only the guitar, it would sound just the same.

Under A Blood Red Sky has the classic version of Party Girl, I think the one that most fans would associate with the song. Getting the crowd to sing “hey”, saying “It’s our hero” about Edge (one of those lines I often am triggered to think of), and generally looking way too young. Those were the days, huh?

The difficulty in reviewing a song like this is that, as I said at the start, it was written quickly and didn’t get much time to percolate. There aren’t any hidden meanings, nothing deep or outstanding in the song. It is just a piece of fun, a few verses tossed together with a similar rhyming pattern and a similar structure (you could swap the main character in any of the three verses and barely miss a beat). It is something that I have been complaining about for the early days of rock and roll, that everything was just so simple and so boring. But sometimes the meaning can go too deep, and you need a little break like this gives you.

My rating for Trash, Trampoline and the Party Girl: 3 / 10

Slow Dancing

I’m not a big Willie Nelson fan. He’s from Texas, so that’s a point in his favor. Smokes dope, which is a point in his favor for going his own way and doing his own thing, but a point against for breaking the law. Yes, I am that square. The law should be changed, people should be able to do as they want without hurting others, but the law is the law - for now. On the other hand the cops who have picked on him are jerks. No harm no foul. So I guess I give him some level of respect for being his own man. Musically I know little about him. Country, which I’m not a fan of. I think that On The Road Again is one of the very few of his songs that I could name. I’m sure there are others, I just don’t know enough country to be able to tell you.

So, why all this about Willie? Because this song, Slow Dancing, was supposedly written for him by Bono. Written during the period when Bono was insecure in his stardom and writing songs for famous singers (see Two Shots Of Happy or The Wanderer for example), trying to suck up and hang out with them I guess. Seems like they recorded and released it (on the back of the Stay single), and then a few years later managed to get Willie to record it, which then got released on Duals. The Stay version is very simple, just one guitar, no bass, no drums, and Bono singing. The Willie version is much more processed, multiple people involved, the full drums and bass and harmonica and backing singers and everything. Have to admit that Willie’s voice on this song irritates me like nails on a chalkboard, I’ve heard him on other songs not sounding quite as screechy as this. I much prefer the Stay version, my rating below is for that, the Willie version would be a 1. Although if you check Youtube for the song, you’ll see a slightly different version with them all, presumably at the same recording session, and I think I like that one better, maybe a 2.

A love song, which you probably could consider a country song even when Bono is doing it. Slow (duh), something I could learn to play, slow enough for me to have a chance. Lyrically very nice, and you’ll notice there’s not a repeat of any lines anywhere (except for the slow dancing part, which hardly counts). Love the line “She left with my conscience, I don’t want it back, it just gets in the way”. That is a very personal line to come up with, makes me think he’s talking about former girlfriends, although since he’s been with Ali forever I don’t know how he can get that emotion into a song. The other one is the “sees the truth but believes the lies” line, kind of along the same theme. So now it makes me wonder if this is really a song about love, or about lost love, which is a completely different thing.

My rating for Slow Dancing: 4 / 10

Invisible

Invisible is a funky kind of music, it is one of those songs that if you listen to the individual parts they don’t seem to make much sense, but put them all together and it actually does flow nicely. A bouncy tune, danceable if you’re in a club I guess. It has that kind of electronic music part that goes “woo ooo ooo ooo”, set to the “there is no them” lyric that repeats throughout the song, somewhat of a siren call you might imagine. If you were to hear that by itself it would, as I said, sound odd. But in the song and when you hear the lyric that it goes with it sounds good.

There is kind of a dichotomy of the lyrics here, or of the meaning of the song. Bono has said he is talking about himself and getting started in the business, traveling to London and sleeping in a train station while trying to make a name for himself. Yes, okay, if I read deeply into the lyrics I can see that a little, that he’s trying to present himself and the band to anyone who will listen, but most people either don’t want to hear him at all or will only give him a moment. I think we all know about that, when you’re starting out in the world and you’re full of ideas but no-one wants to listen because you don’t have the experience they do. I have felt that myself in some of my jobs, and without trying to sound like a know-it-all, I think I have been proven right time and again. I’d like to think I would give other people the opportunity to prove themselves without shutting them down first. So yeah, I can see this in the song a little.

The other idea I get from the song is boosted by the association with the Product RED campaign, thus supporting AIDS research etc, and Bono’s whole ongoing talk about Africa. I think of it as looking at Africa and saying we are people too, and even though you don’t see us every day - we’re invisible to you - we are still here, and we still want and need your help in many ways. It’s a thought of not wanting to be left behind, or ignored, only to show up when some major tragedy like Ebola or a famine get into the news. Of course that only works with part of the song, basically the repeated words “There is no them, there’s only us” and the invisible bit. Not sure about the rest.

One of the more interesting ideas is the line “I won’t be my father’s son”, which of course Bono has spent so many years and so many lyrics on. The relationship between him and his father, I mean. There were long periods when the two of them were apparently not on very good terms, and it wasn’t until late in his father’s life that they began to talk and understand each other a little better. So for him to throw out this line is a way to go back to those early days in his musical career, saying he won’t be his father’s son, won’t knuckle under and get a job somewhere and give up on the dream.

My rating for Invisible: 4 / 10

Trip Through Your Wires

Once again we hit a song on the back side of The Joshua Tree, and once again I will tell you that if this song was on most other albums, it would be one of the best songs on that album. That’s just how good The Joshua Tree is.

Harmonica stands out on Trip Through Your Wires, of course. He plays it in several songs over the years, but somehow when I think of the harmonica it’s this song that I think of, probably because it is so upfront. I always liked the little pause in the music just before he sings the title, the whole band comes to a stopping point with the drums beating the stop and the time during the guitar pause, then they kick up again during the title words. I have one point of contention in the words, the words in the song are “I was cold and you clothed me honey” but I always thought he was singing “loved” instead of “clothed”. I guess clothed makes more sense, but loved could work just as well there couldn’t it?

There’s a video of U2 playing this song on tv in 1986, and it’s an early version of the song. The main lyric is “In this town, the tide is turning” compared to the now classic “In the distance, she saw me coming round”, and the point of the song appears to be different. It is just another example of how songs can change and grow as they become clearer to the band. From an initial set of lyrics to something where few of the words may be the same (although the title remains), but in this case much of the music is essentially the same.

The album version to me is kind of a love song, I say kind of because it doesn’t really come out with anything specific. I guess the title is somewhat pointing in that direction, but most of the rest of it could be anything. I actually have this idea of it being a companion or maybe a bookend to my idea of what Exit is. In my review of Exit I said that I thought it was a man battling through a storm in a field, trying to find shelter and God reaching down to protect him. I could see Trip Through Your Wires being a part two to Exit, where the man has survived the night in the storm, and now in the morning he is staggering about, working his way through the desert, and she sees him across the fields. She helps him, as an angel or a devil he doesn’t know, but she gives him the shelter and the water he needs. And at the end he sees the thunder on the mountain, which may be either a reflection back on the previous storm from Exit, or maybe a look at another oncoming storm.

And now I’ve written that all out, it keeps bouncing around in my head that this is the beginning of an idea for a movie of some kind. I’ll have to keep going through U2 songs with this idea in mind. I wonder how to get permission to use their music? Or how to shoot a movie?

My rating for Trip Through Your Wires: 6 / 10

Football

I’m a huge football fan. I mean the soccer kind, although I also love the NFL kind. But soccer is my number one sport, and my number one love apart from U2 (oh yeah, apart from my family too). I probably spend more time reading and watching football than anything else I do. I’m an Arsenal fan, have been since I was a kid. For those of you who don’t know, Arsenal is a team in London, England, and are of course the finest team the world has ever seen. I finally got to go to England and see them in 2013 (saw three games, three wins). I watch all their games, read all about them, deeply committed fan.

So it was to my surprise that when I was watching the Arsenal game in Monaco today that I saw several shots of U2 sitting in the crowd watching the game. Why surprised? Well, it being St Patrick’s Day, I guess I assumed they would be somewhere in Dublin, probably at the hotel they own, getting hammered with everyone else. But no, they were in the south of France (where they all have holiday homes with easy access for fans to record the music they’re playing), and somehow decided to take a trip to Monaco and check out the football on show. I’m happy to report they got to see Arsenal win 2-0, but bitterly disappointed to report that Arsenal were eliminated anyway, due to the away goals rule (which I’m not going to explain right now, since it’s a little off-topic).

In the numerous photos, Edge was sporting a vicious looking sunburn, Bono was looking kind of old, and Larry, umm, Larry was laughing. Yes, I said laughing, there is actually a photo of it. Go look it up, you might never see it happen again. Most of the stories only mentioned those three, but I did see a picture of Adam there as well, apparently he had nipped out to the loo while the others were photographed. And Adam was looking, frankly, terrible - if you ask me he looked like Bob Geldof with an explosion of white hair.

U2 has a lot of history with football. Larry helped write a song called Put ‘Em Under Pressure for the Republic Of Ireland team when they qualified for the World Cup in 1990. I’m not going to give that song a rating, it is absolutely awful, although par for the course for football songs. Basically a chant and some quotes from the manager of the team make up the whole song. Go listen to it. Once.

Their other big thing has been their collaborations with ESPN for World Cup commercials over the years. They started in 2006, narrating several commercials (Bono did two, Edge and Adam one each, but Larry never did, although it was reported he was going to, don’t know what happened there). The ads played U2 music in the background, while the band members talked over images of different things. The most impactful was about the Ivory Coast team, Bono telling the story of how the civil war stopped when the team qualified for the World Cup. I’m sure that hit home for him given his history with Africa.

They went on to do different ads for the 2010 World Cup - the “It’s not about…” ad is particularly powerful - and their music was used in 2014, although I don’t think they recorded anything in particular for it then.

They have of course played football stadiums all over the world - every kind of football, that is. They’ve done a Superbowl halftime show, and a music video about an NFL player. But in this case I’m talking about football, not football.

California (There Is No End To Love)

California is supposed to bring out the idea of the Beach Boys, who were somehow a band that U2 looked up to as they were growing up. I’m not too sure about that, because I see the Beach Boys as being one of those manufactured pop groups from those days, like the Monkees, and like all the music today. Although I’m not sure about that either, for all I know about the Beach Boys they could have been anything they want. I’m not a fan of bands that don’t write their own music, it just makes them trained performers on a stage. In the Beach Boys case I guess it’s their music, which now sounds kind of bland and, well, beachy. Like a lot of the stuff that went into the musicals in the 60s, the kind of stuff that Elvis would do (don’t tell Larry I said that). Just not my kind of thing, and to me since U2 sound so different, it surprises me that they like it.

I really don’t like the Santa Barbaras at the start. I don’t know what it is about them, it’s almost like a nail on a chalkboard feeling to me. No, I shouldn’t say it’s that bad. Maybe that it’s the start of a song I don’t really like much, so it puts me into a mood. But I do then hear the line “Out of Zuma, Watching you cry like a baby” which is my favorite line in the whole song.

There is a kind of hiss in the background, starts at about 1.30 and goes for maybe 15 seconds or so. It repeats a couple more times during the song, which tells me it’s probably not an error. Whatever it is, it is really annoying, when I’m listening in the car and that part of the song comes on it always freaks me out, makes me look around to see what’s happening where. Not as bad as some songs (both U2 and not) that have a sound like a siren, that makes me panic and look for the cop chasing me.

The song is kind of bouncy, catchy, whatever. That’s part of the bubblegum sound that I dislike, I think. Not that I don’t like bouncy or catchy songs, U2 has plenty of those, it’s just the way it bounces that gives that kind of sound that I don’t like. I don’t know what it is, the particular tempo, the way it bounces, the chords that are being played. Just that sound. Maybe it’s a California kind of sound, hippy, surf, and I don’t like it because I don’t know it. I’ve never lived in California, I don’t remember spending more than one night there in my life, so I just don’t get it. For all I know the folks in California are loving this song and wishing all the other U2 songs sounded like it.

I do love the dropping guitar at about 3.00, running the hand down the fretboard is a sound that I enjoy. I’ve tried playing that sound many times - not for this song in particular, but just the sound in general - and it always gives me a thrill when I manage to get it right. Which doesn’t happen too often.

My rating for California (There Is No End To Love): 3 / 10

On The Move (book)

This is a review of the book On The Move by Bono.

Technically this is not a book by Bono, it is a book of the speech Bono made to the National Prayer Breakfast in 2006, reprinted and packaged to raise money for the One campaign. So if you want to know what he says, you can google the speech and read the text. If there were a reason to buy the book it would be to support the campaign, and to see some of the photos. There are several in there that were taken by Bono when he was in Ethiopia in 1986, and I have not seen some of those photos anywhere else.

I saw Bono speak at the World Affairs Council in Dallas in 2006, a speech which was essentially the same as this one although much funnier. You can read a review of that speech at atU2. I made some notes at the time but I don’t know where they are now, guess I ought to dig them out. Reading this book, the speech from which was made a few months earlier, and the atU2 review, brought back a number of memories of the speech. Bono was funny and self-deprecating, joking that the rest of the band wasn’t there and a few other comments about U2. Mostly though he stuck to the topic and stuck to it well. The speech in the book was a subset of the one I saw live really, since because of the occasion he was able to expand his thoughts and humor.

If you haven’t read the book and you’re not aware of the speech, all I need tell you is Africa and AIDS and you will probably be able to guess about ninety percent of the content. It is something very familiar to U2 fans from the shows and from Bono’s advocacy of global aid to the poor. You’d come up with some of the lines from U2 songs (“where you live should not decide”), and some of the stuff about so-called religious leaders (“God’s second-hand car salesmen on the cable TV channels”, particularly amusing today as we read the story about one of those tv preachers wanting to raise money to buy himself a private jet).

Bringing us full circle to the religion aspect of U2 is that the speech was to the National Prayer Breakfast. A gathering of politicians and religious leaders, you’d think they’d be aware of the constitution but apparently this one is okay, since they have representatives from several religions. I doubt they have many atheists there though. Bono took care to mention quotes from several religions, and although I don’t know what the reaction was in 2006, I can tell you that now in 2015 the Islamophobes would be screaming their heads off that someone would be allowed to say something positive about Islam.

In terms of production values, the book is short (and small), a total of about 60 pages, half of which are photos with just a line of text on them. The speech is broken into short sections on each page, but then repeated in total at the end of the book. Not sure why, except to pad the page count, or presumably to make the speech slightly easier to read, rather than being broken up by page. Of course if they wanted to make it easier to read they wouldn’t have made it white and red text on a black background.

My rating for On The Move (book): 2 / 10

Tower Of Song

I don’t know much about Leonard Cohen. Hallelujah of course, everyone knows that, although they know the Jeff Buckley version much more than the original. I think the first time I heard that song was on The West Wing, but I’ve heard it many places since. Apart from that the only other song I know is Tower Of Song, and then only because of the U2 connection. Yet another connection they have made for me to another artist, and yet another that I haven’t even scratched the surface of. Which is interesting because from what I’ve read about Leonard Cohen and his music, I suspect I would like quite a lot of it.

Tower Of Song was performed by Cohen and U2 for a movie about Cohen, and it is them standing on a small stage and performing the song, no crowd or anything. It very much reminds me of The Wanderer, where Johnny Cash sings most of the lyrics and Bono adds a few wails here and there. In this case Cohen does most of the singing, and sounds a lot like Johnny Cash with the deep voice, and Bono sings a couple of verses at the end.

Larry and the sunglasses looks odd, inscrutable, whatever you want to call it, always looking like he’s embarrassed to be there. Adam looks much more contemporary to Leonard Cohen than to the rest of the band, something I talked about a couple of days ago, that he hasn’t aged very well. But he also looks like he’s having a lot of fun, enjoying playing with this man he has a lot of respect for. Bono and Edge are themselves, as always.

So is it a hymn? Even about religion? Or just a piece of poetry, which honestly I could see it being without even being a song. It is one of those lyrically great songs that make you want to think about certain things, to pull out a pen and start writing down your own feelings on whatever topic comes to mind. Add in the music which could be considered haunting, or deep, or something like that, and it really is good. Again I go back to The Wanderer, and I definitely get a similar sort of sound and feeling from both songs.

I think it’s a song about getting old, and perhaps the story of his life in music. Perhaps also something about romance, a woman (I don’t know anything about Cohen’s personal life), some of that history that he is thinking back on. You do see bits of it being just him trying to write a song, feeling that he is being forced (or forcing himself), perhaps for a record company. But then you see the whole lost love thing, especially in the part that Bono sings, about her being on the other side of the river, that he loved her way back when, and all the bridges they burnt. So maybe it is an ode to a lost love too, a failure in a relationship. Either way, it certainly sounds like a man coming to the end of his life and looking back at some regrets. A very nice song overall.

My rating for Tower Of Song: 6 / 10

Where Did It All Go Wrong

Yet another of the b sides from Achtung Baby, Where Did It All Go Wrong came from the back of Even Better Than The Real Thing. Funnily enough, Where Did It All Go Wrong sounds similar to many of the songs that made the album, suggesting it was one of those source songs that you get now and then. Just like Love You Like Mad, which I reviewed a couple of days ago, that may seem to make it too difficult to put on an album, when you don’t want all the songs to sound the same. So Where Did It All Go Wrong gets relegated to a b side, and once again a song that could have made any of several other albums doesn’t get on this one.

Where Did It All Go Wrong is a fun song, it is kind of bouncy, has an interesting lyrical style, and although repetitive - which I’ve said before that I don’t like - it is repetitive in a good way, because it changes every line. The repetition of “Did you” is followed by different words each time, and my disgust with repetition is when you get the exact same words or verses repeated multiple times. In this case it works.

This is another of those songs where we don’t seem to be able to agree on the lyrics. Listening to it, and reading along with the lyrics on several U2 sites, including the official site, I hear numerous differences where I hear one word and they wrote another. There are differences between all the different versions of lyrics that I could find. Often it is just one word, but sometimes more. The most notable example is right at the end, where pretty much everyone says that the last line (repeated a few times) is “Did you lose the guy”, whereas to me it is clearly saying “Take a listen now”. I guess people should take a listen and see what they think.

Like I said, bouncy music, but it works. It all rolls together perfectly, the different parts of the band working well in sync here. Even when you get to the bridge it sounds right in line, the flow from one part to the next works just right. The bass comes in at the right points in the bridge, and also throughout the rest of the song it kind of drives much of everything. If I were to give this song a parent - or perhaps a sibling, I don’t know which came first - it would be Lady With The Spinning Head, which I’ve already discussed as being a precursor for much of the album. You get the same vibe from this song as that, the bass being powerful and the lead guitar jumping all over making the highlights of the song.

By the way, if you’re doing a daily blog there is a reason to try and build up a few of these posts in reserve, because when you get sick it’s really difficult to write when you just want to go to sleep.

My rating for Where Did It All Go Wrong: 5 / 10

Adam Clayton

Happy Birthday to Adam Clayton, who turns 55 today.

I have had conflicting thoughts about Adam over the years. There have been times when I have loved him, and times when I have felt like he is almost a passenger in the band. Of course that second part is not true, each band member is integral to the entire group, and each brings a part to the whole. Adam’s problem is that he doesn’t get the publicity that Bono and Edge do, and therefore his input is not appreciated so much.

In the early days Adam was the odd man out. You’ve seen the pics of him, his white afro contrasting with the other guys and their dark hair (even Bono with his long dark hair doesn’t look too different). He wore weird clothes. He was distinctive. Okay, in many ways that worked for him, and kudos to Adam for being willing to stand out. Too many of us want to conform, to fit in, to not stick our necks out. Adam went the opposite way, acted flamboyantly, got noticed, was the band manager for a short time and did enough to get them all some publicity. So you can definitely say he had influence there, in getting the band off the ground. And now that I think about it he still stands out, look at the image from the announcement of the I&E tour, the four guys in bed, he looks years older than the others (no offense Adam). He has apparently lived the rock and roll life.

My other issues with Adam involve his personal life, including things like the engagement to a supermodel, the drug arrest, and the fact that up until last year he was the only member of the band to miss a show (and you might argue that, because technically the World AIDS Day concert in NY last year wasn’t a U2 concert). In that case it was through being drunk, and if I had been in that audience I don’t know how happy I’d have been to see someone performing in Adam’s place. But again you could argue that Adam was replaceable, if it was Bono or even Edge would the show have gone on?

But after all that trash-talking, let’s get to the good stuff. I personally think that in the early days, Adam and Larry were what held the band together musically. Edge was experimenting and learning all the time, Bono was out front just being wild, and the rhythm section seemed like they were the ones who knew how to play. Now, I’ve read stories since that suggest that Adam was doing it all wrong, but if you listen to the first couple of albums, you would guess that the bass player is the one who knew what he was doing. As time went on the others caught up and went by, but Adam was always that stable influence. There are more than a few songs where you would not be able to imagine it sounding like it does without the bass, or a different bass line, and that’s all down to Adam. I think I should extend that point from a couple of sentences ago, saying that the others went by him but he definitely caught back up and in many ways passed them by. It is a very cultured sound these days that you get from the bass. It’s impossible to imagine the band or the music without him.

Embarrassment

Wherever I go I am “the U2 guy”, in my house, family, anywhere I have worked. People know I can - and will - talk about U2 at any opportunity. So one of the ways that folks can get my goat is to bring up something embarrassing about the band, or just something that will make me defend them. Because for some reason I always feel compelled to defend U2 against any complaints.

The obvious and least effective are the online complaints. Every single story about U2 you will read online that has comments will have any number of people on there commenting that U2 are not cool any more, or that they’re lame, or, well, you know what online comments say. These are easy to ignore, because I try not to read comments online since I know what they will degenerate to. Doesn’t matter if it is U2 or anything else, eventually the comments will suck. And then you’ll see the responses from U2 fans saying things like “you cared enough to read and comment” which isn’t much of a defense. Reality is there is a large portion of the population who will be anti anything just for the fun value. Not worth bothering about.

Bono has his own special level of embarrassment. The other guys have at times - Adam in the 1990s was particularly skilled at finding ways to get attention - but Bono rules the roost. He has done things like MacPhisto, which are cringeworthy now we look back. He has made public comments on so many different topics, not all useful. He does a lot of great work but seems to attract bad attention at the same time. And while I think of it there’s another version of the online comments: people who say if Bono cares so much about topic X, why doesn’t he give all his money to it instead of bothering the rest of the world? People who are too obtuse to realize that it’s not about the money, it’s about the eyeballs. One Bono giving a ton of money is worth less than him getting a million people to care about something and push their politicians to do something about it.

Of course the whole band was complicit in the Pop fiasco, with the lemon that once jammed with them inside, bringing its own level of mirth, with Discotheque and the lamentable video of them dressed as the Village People, and with the whole story around the album and the way it was promoted. Note to U2: it really doesn’t matter if you’re doing it in an ironic way, if everyone only sees the surface and laughs at you for it.

Paul McGuinness has managed to put himself into embarrassing situations too. From moving the band’s HQ to the Netherlands so they could avoid Irish taxes, which although a sound financial move is a terrible PR move, to talking about copyright and restrictions on music, despite the obvious failure that has been. He lives in the old model of music, and doesn’t get the reality of today.

And a final nod to the embarrassing songs that U2 have released. There was the simplicity of New Year’s Day, where I had an argument with my brother once because he said that of course something changes on New Year’s Day, the calendar does. There is the title line for Raised By Wolves, where my wife asked “are they really singing raised by wolves?” and I had to argue that yeah, they were kind of making a point there, despite what it sounds like. And many songs in between, and I have or will mention those problems as I go through their reviews.

Love You Like Mad

From the All That You Can’t Leave Behind sessions comes this leftover song. Released on the Medium, Rare and Remastered fan club CD, it is one of those songs that you could see was probably on the edge of making an album, but too much similar to it was on ATYCLB so it was left behind.

You hear a very faint “ready” at the beginning, which I think is Larry since he then starts hitting the sticks and the music kicks in. It’s a slight wailing sound of Edge’s guitar, almost siren-like I think. And the rest of it turns on (the bass most notably) and what I think of as the “real” song begins. If anything it is the bass that is the best part of the song, the rest of it feels kind of generic, or as I said too similar to the rest of the All That You Can’t Leave Behind songs.

There are bits and pieces to the lyrics that are interesting, although most of it is throwaway, as I suggested at the start. “The pain never felt so good, To feel so bad” sounds like the beginning of an idea, but not fully formed and perhaps not used in the right place (or the right song). Then there’s “No one who ever knew how, Could ever teach the world to sing” which is kind of a self-look by Bono, suggesting he couldn’t teach anyone, that it all came naturally to him. Although I do remember reading recently that Bono at some point in the early 2000s was taking singing lessons, because of changes in his voice. I wonder, given the timing of the writing of the song, if this is related to that? Could he be saying that he learned nothing, because the teacher was worthless? Or maybe that he did learn, because the teacher didn’t know how to teach? Man, you could really go down a rabbit hole on that, couldn’t you?

Love You Like Mad has a bridge in the middle that I dislike, although I normally like most of the bridges that they do. This one sounds a little off, Bono is doing some falsetto with his voice during it while the music trails away and it just doesn’t do it for me. I also dislike the repeated “love you” bits at the end of the song. In fact I’ve talked before about good songs not repeating the same phrases over and over, and this song fails on that basis because of all the repeated “love you like mad” lines throughout. Maybe you get that because the song is unfinished.

So is it a bad song? No. Does it remind you of a number of others? Yes. Is that a problem? No, unless you put it on the album with the other songs at the same time. I could see this song on the album, replacing one of a half-dozen others. I could see it being held until the next album. And I could see it slipping through the cracks, being a b-side to some other song, or released the way it was, as part of a collection of unreleased songs. None of it makes much difference in this case.

My rating for Love You Like Mad: 2 / 10