Wave Of Sorrow (Birdland)

Wave Of Sorrow (Birdland) is one of the songs the band recorded during the Joshua Tree sessions, but apparently never completed, so it wasn’t released. They finally finished it off and released it on the 20th anniversary edition of The Joshua Tree. Maybe they shouldn't have bothered, it's kind of a dull song.

Bono has said that this is about Ethiopia, and it is pretty clear from the lyrics that is the case. The problem with that is that the lyrics put you into a specific time and place, and I’ve said before that is something that messes up a song for me. Whenever he has written songs that talk about an event, it generally hasn’t worked that well. Bono writes much better when he is writing about feelings, or about abstract thoughts. You might suggest that a song like Raised By Wolves breaks that rule, and although I’d agree because he’s writing about an event, he’s also writing about the feelings around it, and that improves it a lot. In Wave Of Sorrow he brings in that specific event, and specific references around that event, and that’s why the song never really came together.

Bono and Ali traveled to Ethiopia in the 1980s, spent a month or two there working in a refugee camp. Bono has cited that as inspiration for much of his life and the work he has done for Africa. One of the things he said was that the $100 million that Live Aid raised was equivalent to just a couple of weeks of debt payments for Africa. That is astounding, that the people there are starving and dying and any money that their country has had to go to debt instead of helping their people. Part of the song talks about that, the line “has every good thing now been sold” meaning that these countries are having to sell their treasures to pay their debts. The same is happening to Greece right now too, I saw a story the other day that said that creditors are trying to force the country to accept casinos, so that they could suck even more money out of the country. It really is time for people to start saying no to these economic vampires, tell them that they “invested” badly and that they lose all their money. Maybe next time they’ll think a little about it, and stop dragging people into debt to feed their own greed.

But the point of the song is how the people have been beaten down, that they are struggling enough that they want to give away their kids to someone who will feed them, or how they will go into prostitution to feed their family. Too many terrible situations when we could all help each other and everyone could survive. And he ends with “blessed is the spirit that overcomes” which I think is a pointer to the hope that survival can bring.

According to Rolling Stone the Birdland part of the name is a reference to a Patti Smith song that inspired them. I know nothing about Patti Smith or her song.

My rating for Wave Of Sorrow (Birdland): 2 / 10

Rattle and Hum (movie)

Oh, Rattle and Hum, how do I love thee? Seeing the movie in the theater when it was released was one of those seminal moments of my life. It was truly the first time I had seen the band live in concert, if you can call it that. I remember seeing it in the theater and being enthralled, being stunned by the sound and the vision. I saw the movie eight times in the theater, and countless times since, if I said I’ve seen it a hundred times I don’t think I would be exaggerating. I love this movie.

It is the opening song that I think is possibly the worst song in the whole movie, partly because it’s not a U2 song, partly because of the controversy around it, people complaining they were comparing themselves to the Beatles. Now honestly I think they’ve passed the Beatles these days, although I’m a little biased, but back at the time the Beatles were definitely bigger.

We then switch into Van Diemen’s Land, which is a beautiful song and introduces us to the second main theme of the movie. The first being the live stuff, the second being behind the scenes and out of the public eye stuff. I keep mentioning this but that’s what often really interests me, seeing the lives beyond the stage, whether it’s recording in a studio, or just hanging out somewhere. The books I’ve liked the most this year have been the ones that show that stuff. The movie shows it in spades, with everything from little excerpts like Adam sitting in a bar talking about mixing music and politics, or the band touring Graceland and seeing Larry’s infatuation with both Elvis and Harley.

The movie has the dichotomy between the color and black and white sequences, and to this day I don’t really understand why the director chose to do that. I think I read about it sometime but I don’t remember what it was. But it was an artistic choice so I’ll respect that. The first half of the movie is in black and white, and when it turns to color at the beginning of Streets it really brings in a wow factor. I think that moment is perhaps my all-time favorite U2 moment, with the lead-in to my all-time favorite U2 song, the explosion of color and sound is just wonderful. I don’t remember a moment that could beat that, but if I mentioned one already this year then it would have to be good.

Artistically I can see hoe some people didn’t necessarily like the movie, the band - Bono especially - do come off looking a little pretentious. You’ve got to remember though that they are singers, not public speakers who are going to do everything right. They are being natural, in other words. Anyway, for the U2 fan, it doesn’t really matter, does it? What other people think of them shouldn’t matter to me if I like them, it doesn’t diminish from my like in any way.

The movie has that other most powerful moment in Sunday Bloody Sunday, with the absolute raw emotion in the song coming through in a great way. I think - correct me if I’m wrong - this has to be the definitive version of Sunday.

Great songs, great movie, and it finishes with All I Want Is You running over the end credits, the long version with all the violins and stuff, yet another of my favorite songs. This whole movie really is a depiction of the band at their height, at least that early height, where most everything is going for them. A must see for the dedicated U2 fan, and probably even for the casually interested fan.

My rating for Rattle and Hum (movie): 10 / 10

One Step Closer (book)

This is a review of the book One Step Closer: Why U2 matters to those seeking God by Christian Scharen.

Yet another in the long line of religious books about U2. At some point you have to ask yourself if there is a point in you writing a book about U2 and their religion. But if you go down that road, then you have to ask yourself why you’re writing a daily blog about U2, and we don’t want anyone asking that.

But the point is that if you do write something, you have to write it with a hook. There really needs to be something to distinguish your book from all the others, to make people pick it off the shelf in the bookstore rather than any of those others. And of course when I say bookshelf I mean the screen looking at amazon.com, because there are no bookstores anymore, sadly enough. Hmm, seems like today is a day for digressing.

In previous reviews I’ve even made the point that a book needs to stand out, that if it doesn’t then it’s going to go nowhere. And that’s what I think about One Step Closer, that it follows the same patterns as the other books, picks out many of the same themes (hey, did you know that 40 comes straight from Psalm 40?), and frankly is as interchangeable as many of the others. Now I’m sure the author of this book, and all the others like it, write from the heart, write what they think, and write what they know about U2 and religion. But for the core fan of the band, it’s nothing we haven’t heard before. And if I want to hear something over and over, I’m not going to read these books, I’m going to put on some U2 and put it on repeat.

I really don’t want to be this harsh with the author of this book, or any of the others. I just don’t see the point of someone writing the same as so many others (not looking in a mirror here). If I could find that book that has a unique hook, I’d love it, just for being different. I got that most with the Walk On book, which focused on U2 and surrounded them with religion, compared to the other books that focus on the religion and tack on U2. But reading what I just wrote, maybe that’s the whole point: I’m interested in U2, the religion part is a sidelight. The books I don’t like are interested in religion, U2 is the sidelight. Have you ever noticed how every single one of these books is written by a pastor or some other sort of religious figure. I suppose that makes sense, because they’re writing about religion.

By the way a month ago I reviewed the song of the same name and gave it a 2 out of 10. I don’t think it’s much of a coincidence to see the score on this one.

My rating for One Step Closer (book) : 2 / 10

A Sort Of Homecoming

A Sort Of Homecoming, what a great song. I think I keep saying that about songs off The Unforgettable Fire, but it really is true. The album was kind of a breakthrough, from the hard rocking of War to the ethereal, peaceful sounds on The Unforgettable Fire. And the first song, the introduction if you will, was A Sort Of Homecoming, and it grabs hold and shakes you to your soul if you let it.

It starts with a little drumming, then the guitars open up and you get this strong feeling of both power and detachment. Not sure how to explain that any better. It’s the idea of floating above the fields he talks about, sweeping through a town and looking around and down. It is so very cinematic in that sense, I almost feel like some of the images from a Wim Wenders movie is what inspires this, but Wings Of Desire was years later I believe.

Bono starts with that voice, the one he had in the mid 1980s, the one that gathered all the attention. It wasn’t the strident sound from the earlier albums, he had clearly learned a lot on how to sing in that time, but still it had a little bit of an edge to it. The rest of the band was also approaching that mastery point, if it is possible to say that one can master the instruments, but certainly they were playing at the top of their game. At the pinnacle of their profession is a phrase you might think of.

I’ve talked before about listening to this album when I went to college, I would sit on the bus for an hour’s ride each way, listening to U2 all the way for months at a time. I remember listening to A Sort Of Homecoming over and over, concentrating on the music this time, then on the lyrics the next time. I think this is perhaps the song that really got to me the idea that a song isn’t just a bunch of music and words, but that the song itself can be poetry. The thought that you could strip away all the instruments and just have the words, maybe change them a little to remove the thought of it being a song (the repetition that a song has which a poem usually doesn’t), and put it in a book and have people say wow, this is really good writing. Bono has done that a number of other times of course, but this was one of the earlier versions, and one that really set a scene in your mind’s eye.

“Across the fields of morning, lights in the distance,” I don’t know why but that’s one of those phrases that pop into my mind every now and then and I am instantly transported to this song again. It’s a song I may not listen to for months at a time, and yet I think of it much more often than that, and imagine myself in this scene regularly. Hope is what it feels like, I think.

My rating for A Sort Of Homecoming: 8 / 10

U2 and Apple

I’m a big Apple fan, I’m sitting here writing this on a Macbook Air, I have my iPhone next to me and an iMac on the table across the room. I am very happy with my Apple products. I am a programmer in my day job, working on Windows, and I have to say that I have been far happier with Mac OS than I ever have been with Windows. As a user it is much more stable, as a programmer it is much simpler, more robust, and you don’t feel like you’re fighting the system to get things done. Oh, and as I write this, an Apple Music commercial comes on tv. So yes, you could call me an Apple fan. But I don’t have any kind of watch (not yet).

So why am I talking about this? You can probably guess. U2 and Apple have had a long and winding career together, U2 using Apple to promote their music, and Apple using U2 to promote their products. Last year’s event with Songs Of Innocence was just the latest, and I bet there’s going to be more. In fact there were a few occasions during the tour that Bono name checked Apple for supporting RED, so maybe that’s the latest.

Both U2 and Apple got a lot of flak for the launch of Songs Of Innocence the way they did, but I’m very much in the opposite camp here. With all the rumors around the event, I was at work and listening to it online. I would have listened anyway - fanboy, right? - but that was an added incentive. And sure enough they came on and played, introduced the new song, and did a terrible sketch with Tim Cook. But it ended in a great way, with them surprising everyone by releasing the album, and for free. Unlike all those other people who had the album pushed to them, I was immediately trying to get it, refreshing and refreshing to pull the album down. Grabbed, listened, liked at first and loved later. Then I was a little surprised at the kerfuffle over the release. Yeah, people being mad at U2 sending them a free album. No, I get it a little, they probably should have done it a little differently. Maybe make it available, not force you to get it.

Back in the day U2 and Apple teamed up on the iPod, releasing a U2 version. I never got it, although I did mildly lust after it for a while. It was kind of outside my price range at the time. The part that was interesting was the Complete U2 box set on iTunes, which contained everything they’d ever done at the time. I really wished I had it back then, although since then I’ve gotten pretty much everything that was on it. There was quite a bit of promotion around that, that was fun seeing them jumping around on screen in an Apple ad.

So I think that U2 and Apple have worked well together over the years, although obviously others haven’t thought that. That’s okay, if we all liked the same things it’d be a boring world.

The Troubles

Immediately my favorite song off Songs of Innocence, I was very disappointed when the band did not play The Troubles while I was in Chicago to see them. They have played it five times on the tour so far, four before Chicago and one after. I don’t know what doesn’t make it more popular, enough so to get it into the regular set. My guess from Chicago is that because Bono was sick and having troubles with his voice (see what I did there?), they kept it out for a while. Maybe if he hadn’t been sick it would have played at least once, although with my luck they would have played it in Chicago 5, the one I didn’t see.

I have no idea who Lykke Li is, what she sings, anything about her including whether that is the correct spelling of her name (okay, googled it and I was wrong). I have no idea how she connected with U2 to get in this song. I think I did read something a while back, but I have forgotten. Either way, she has become one of the very few non-U2 personnel to sing on a U2 album, and one of even fewer women, and perhaps the only woman with a major role in a song. Can’t think of any right now, at least. I suppose I ought to go check out her music sometime, given the success rate I have had with other musicians that U2 have guided me to.

The song is amazing, it is haunting in many ways, low and slow but great the way it does it. The duet between Bono and Lykke works really well (as I sing along, I sometimes switch back and forth between them, or sing both parts, it just grabs me so well).

I really like the way the chorus works. “Somebody stepped inside your soul, little by little they robbed and stole, till someone else was in control.” It really paints a picture, doesn’t it? 

The beat at the start is great too, the thump-thump of the drums giving you that slow beat, almost like a heartbeat. In videos of the live performances you see Larry out front of the stage, with a setup of some different drums, and playing with some long sticks with what looks like soft pads on them. Can you tell I don’t have quite the technical knowledge of the drums? But it’s interesting, we’ve seen him head down to the e stage, and into the runway, and now front edge of the stage. I’d suggest that this tour might be the most moving around that Larry has ever done. And it’s great to see.

The other thing you see in the videos is Lykke Li on the big screen, singing the duet with Bono, which is one of those odd things we’ve seen on the tour. It must be hard to get them all synced up correctly, how do you make sure that she is singing on the screen at exactly the right moments? A lot of practice, I guess.

My rating for The Troubles: 7 / 10

Cedars Of Lebanon

Bono said that he wrote each song on No Line On The Horizon from a different character’s point of view. For Cedars Of Lebanon he chose a war correspondent, and you clearly see that come through in the song. The song is extremely wordy, like the correspondent is trying to write a novel, or something similarly erudite to make his name. I mean, most of it works, but ultimately there are few lyrics that really stick with you. And the music is deathly dull, this is definitely a soporific kind of song. So much so that I tend to not listen to it too much, it kind of depresses me for the most part.

The music is kind of simple, single notes slowly repeated at the start, a little bit of here and there as it goes. I’m not sure I can even identify the different instruments. When Bono starts singing it picks up a little, but mostly that’s just due to the appearance of the drums, giving it some kind of beat that helps. I guess it’s true in this case that it’s all about drums, right Larry? But for most of the song, it’s the same old music here and there. I think if you were to play a section of the song without lyrics, you would probably struggle to identify which section of the song it came from, it’s just so samey from start to finish.

There are bits and pieces here and there that do grab the attention. There’s some kind of local person chanting now and then, and by local I guess I mean Moroccan since that’s where the song was recorded. The one thing I would say about this song, that is a little bit of a bonus, is that you need to listen in stereo, because there are parts in one ear that aren’t in the other. Many songs I only listen with one ear plugged in (because I’m often listening to someone or something else while I listen to the song), and I don’t feel like I’m missing anything. In fact I listen with both earbuds in, then pull one out and nothing seems different. This song, yeah, noticeable difference. It’s also one to definitely listen to with earbuds, rather than over speakers or in the car for example. The kind of song that makes you realize that you can do different things with sound that make people pay attention.

And so to the lyrics, which aren’t that good. There are parts which are really forced, like when Bono tries to rhyme cigarette and minaret. Overall it does tell the story he intended, and if you hear it you can get that feeling of being there in some ways, or at least to know what he’s talking about. His lines “the worst of us are a long drawn out confession, the best of us are geniuses of compression,” this is a really good description of correspondents and writers in any field. The last verse is the best, with “choose your enemies because they will define you” being the standout line of the song. This is one of those truisms that everybody can understand. 

My rating for Cedars Of Lebanon: 3 / 10

Vertigo tour

I saw the Vertigo tour live twice, both times in Texas. These were the days when I’d see the Texas shows and nothing else through a lack of money and time. Now I have time and money, which is why I was able to see them four times in Chicago this year (and hopefully more next year). I dream of following them around the world someday, although that would mean more time and money that I have.

From the opening of City Of Blinding Lights, one of my favorite songs off How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, we were in for a treat. Bono showing up at the edge of the circle as the music took off. Then into Vertigo, and there was definitely a sense of things happening everywhere. It wasn’t the sensory overload of Zoo TV, but there was a feeling that if you were looking in one direction you’d probably be missing something in the other direction.

I do remember thinking at some point that they had begun turning into a greatest hits band, and not liking the feeling. Sure, there are certain standards the band must play every night, although to be fair that list can probably be counted on one hand. Streets and Sunday for sure. Probably With Or Without You and One. The thing I like about the Innocence + Experience tour is how it really is about the new album, and bringing back old songs related to the theme of the new. That’s the big difference, that you’re hearing those songs they may not have played in 20 years or more, or at least that haven’t been regular parts of the set in so long. They’re not being the juke box, playing that top 20 and the crowd being happy. No, they’re playing the random stuff, the bits and pieces, and the crowd is ecstatic. And that’s a difference to Vertigo, which like I said definitely appeared to be a greatest hits show, nothing much new, nothing that wasn’t in that top ten. Much better these days.

Love And Peace Or Else is one of those songs that are good, but so much better live. The way they played that on this tour was great, with Bono and Larry out at the end, singing together, then it ending with Larry leaving, and Bono drumming out the finish. I remember my wife loving that part, with Bono drumming. Then it segued into Sunday Bloody Sunday, and it did it so well, it was fantastic. Not necessarily going to say it was the best ever Sunday, but certainly the best Love and Peace (although not too much competition there). And of course by then Bono had donned the Coexist headband, one of those things I also loved.

So the whole thing about the Vertigo tour is that it was a point in time for the band, it was what they were doing back then but it isn’t necessarily what they are doing now. It’s almost like it was the last of the greatest hits tours - 360 was in some ways, but despite all the hype there was more there than you think - and perhaps a bit of a new dawning for the band. The comments like the one Adam gave, saying that they’re okay playing for their fans now, rather than trying to get new fans, that gives me a lot of hope. If they produce more I+E stuff, versus Vertigo stuff, I will be very happy with the future of U2.

My rating for Vertigo tour: 10 / 10

The First Time

At some point you’re going to start thinking that I rate a lot of songs as average, or mediocre, and you’ll be right. When I started this process, I took all the songs off all the albums and listed them, and started ranking them. I quickly realized that I was building a surprisingly accurate bell curve, and I mildly adjusted some of the songs to fit the curve a little better. It wasn’t that big a deal, I pushed some songs down a little, some songs up a little, to end up with a few at each end and more in the middle. I really wanted to say that I valued the ones at the top much more. If I had taken those 150 or so songs and split them evenly across all ten rating points, I’d have about 15 songs rated 10, and I think that’s way too many. And I’d have that many rated 1, and that’s too many down there too. So I think the system worked out fairly well, with the exception that I end up having to write similar things about a bunch of similar songs.

Which is my way of saying that The First Time is a very average song in the U2 catalog. Something I specifically did not do is rank the songs within each rating, to end up with a range of songs in the 5s, from just barely above a 4 to just barely missing out on being a 6. I didn’t want to get that detailed in the ratings, because really it doesn’t matter that much. To be honest, there’s about 25 songs in the 5s that could theoretically have been a 6, and about 25 songs in the 6s that theoretically have been a 5. It just depended on my mood at the time, and some I happened to like a little better. In fact the only place I actually ranked was the 9s and the 10s, and even then the 9s have shifted around a little throughout the year.

The first time is low and slow throughout, never really takes off. I guess it does get a little more intense toward the end of the song, a little harder thumping on the piano keys you might say, but still not that much. As for the lyrics, I think he’s trying to tell a story, but what’s the extra meaning behind it? It starts with him talking about his lover, feeling love for the first time. Then it switches to his brother, and the help he gets, and again feeling loved. Finally his father, being rich, giving him the keys to the kingdom which he throws away as he leaves. It all seems very odd. I feel there is a religious aspect there, but I’m just not aware of what it is. Now that I think about it the music itself does feel kind of hymnal, doesn’t it? I don’t know my religion enough to be able to interpret this one.

Followed by Dirty Day and The Wanderer, thus ending Zooropa with a fairly slow and down kind of feeling. Not sure if that was intended or not.

My rating for The First Time: 5 / 10

Wild Honey

Every album has one of these, don’t they? That weird, slightly off song that seems as though it doesn’t belong on the album, maybe belonged on the one before or the one after. No Line On The Horizon had a bunch of them, the most obvious was probably Stand Up Comedy. I would pick on Pop, but, well, you know, so instead I’ll go for Achtung Baby, the choice there would be Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses.

But on All That You Can’t Leave Behind the odd duck was Wild Honey. To this day I’m not so sure about it. I think I like it, but I don’t really know. It’s the comic relief, so it’s there to be laughed at you would think, and I think if you take it that way then it’s enjoyable, but I also feel like I should take it a little deeper and try and figure out the point. Because with Bono there’s always a point, right?

A fun twanging at the start leads into it, the group steps in together and it just bounces along. When the first line talks about monkeys, you know you’re in for a bit of a ride. The whole song just jingles and jangles along, essentially the same music all the way, that twanging guitar, some light drumming with a lot of cymbal crashing going on, and a bass that hides timidly in the background, trying to show that it is playing although really giving off the vibe that it doesn’t really belong (or maybe that it doesn’t want to be there).

So let’s see if we can unwrap the song. The very first lines, in the days when we were swinging from the trees, you can take that to mean either early man, or early Bono. Which of those comes first? Early man, of course, so let’s try that. Let’s take it back in fact to the earliest man, Adam, and see if that makes sense. Well, he’s talking about chasing someone around the trees, about before the clocks kept time, and the garden being full. Well that was easy, a few lines here and there and we’re talking Adam and Eve and getting the religion right into it. This is a simple solution to the dilemma of the song’s point. Go back and read through the lyrics a few times and you’ll pick up on many of the lines and references right there. I actually started with the idea of the wild honey being God, trying to find God (in a most oblique way of course), but making it about Eve is much clearer I think.

And what if we try for a literal interpretation. Let’s say it’s actually about Bono and Ali. Pretty easy too, he’s playing around on the jungle gym at school trying to impress her. Again, before the clocks kept time, this time it means before they wore a watch, or cared about what time of day it was. And going on to him waiting for her, sending her flowers, her garden being full maybe suggesting other suitors, and him looking for hope. So we can get this entirely separate interpretation out of it.

And of the few times it was played live, I actually was at one of them (Austin in 2001), but I have zero memory of it. Makes me wonder if there’s a tape out there somewhere.

My rating for Wild Honey: 5 / 10

The Saints Are Coming

I’m a big Green Day fan, which may surprise you a little if you’ve been reading along here. It seems like all I do is U2, but that’s not strictly true. If I were to estimate, I’d guess that probably 85% of what I listen to is U2. The rest spreads out over a variety of bands, and changes over time. For example, right now I’m on an Arcade Fire kick, I’ve been listening to them a lot the past few weeks, but a couple of months ago very little. And in another couple of months, they’ll probably have been replaced by someone else. I tend to focus on a band for a while, then move onto something else, whatever takes my fancy. Except U2 of course. Right now I have about 20 different bands in iTunes. Each of them has taken up my time over the years, but of them all, probably only Smashing Pumpkins and Talking Heads would be higher on my list than Green Day. And as I’ve said before, I’d rather listen to some of the worst U2 than some of the best of anything else.

But Green Day, wow. They’re supposedly a punk band, and they look like it, but their music is really interesting, not just bang your head against the wall stuff, and they throw in a mix of politics and this and that. Sound like anyone we know? So for them to team up with U2 for The Saints Are Coming, I was really happy about that. I did not know that this was a song that someone else had written (a band called the Skids), and U2 and Green Day had adapted it.

I knew all about Hurricane Katrina of course, and Rita which followed, but has largely been forgotten. We had family come stay with us for a time during and after Rita, as they were evacuated from the region. Yeah, that was my contribution, apart from buying the Saints CD. Oh, and I did make a donation to Music Rising, but that’s for another time.

So you’ve probably seen the video, which frankly was an incredible satire, and a deeply shameful jab at the United States. The idea to flip the script, to have the military coming back and rescuing people, instead of the pathetic actions they did take during Katrina, was a really good idea. The video was well-executed, and the people who should have watched it and cringed probably never knew it existed.

On the other hand, the performance at the Superdome was great too. When football returned to Louisiana, U2 and Green Day went there and played a short set, one U2 song, one Green Day song and Saints in the middle. It was really well done, to have Edge sit in with Green Day and play When September Ends with them, then the two bands combine for Saints, then U2 end with Beautiful Day. It had excitement and energy. The idea of the two bands getting together again is interesting, but I doubt it will ever happen. Lightning doesn’t strike twice.

My rating for The Saints Are Coming: 7 / 10

Acrobat

Acrobat. What more is there to say? Okay, lots. This is a beloved song in the U2 archives, and yet it’s never been played live. All the begging going on during the Innocence + Experience tour, fans wishing and hoping, but nothing (yet). It seems like the band isn’t as happy with the song as the fans are, definitely a different take on it.

I love the song, I love everything about it. It was a serious struggle to not give it a ten, I wanted to, but I couldn’t justify the slot in the end without having another couple of songs come in too. I wanted to limit the tens, and I did. But I will put it this way - when you see my top ten U2 songs, Acrobat will be on the list. Sorry for the spoiler there.

This is musically a great song, all the way through. I’ve been talking the last few days about how their early stuff was interesting but they weren’t working together, well, this is the band at their peak. Achtung Baby, so you might say just past the peak, but certainly way up there. Maybe sitting on top of the mountain that you’ve just conquered. Achtung was where they took the left turn, made things a little interesting, and this is perhaps the best of the bunch. The drums are very standout on this song, they clearly drive it along from the very start, the opening where the drums come up and take over is great. Then you get the guitar warbling from the start, coming around throughout to grab your interest. The bass is understated in places, but you’re listening away and you suddenly realize that the sound you’re concentrating on is the bass sitting in the back as usual, pushing the song around to where it needs to go.

And the lyrics. Well, first the singing, this is confident and strong Bono, again at his peak. Taking you up and down as the song needs, just like the bass did. Holding your attention, bringing in points of emotion and interest and really sounding so good. The lyrics themselves hold your attention from start to finish. Meeting a girl with fire, now she’s melting snow, what happened? The start of an amazing story (back to the movie idea I have had a couple of times this year). The whole segment of religion in the song, from “I’d join the movement” to “to drink it slow,” I so often reference that in my personal life, it has a great deal of feeling for me.

The whole final section of the song, the staccato delivery of short lines, the instructions, the feeling of giving of power, it is a great moment in the song, when you come down towards the end, it is very much lifting you up. I want to say that of all the U2 songs of religion, this one just might be the most powerful, the most giving in that aspect. When Bono talks about the show being their Sunday morning, this is the feeling he should be reaching for. And of course don’t let the bastards grind you down, that should be a no-brainer.

I don’t know anything about Delmore Schwartz and In Dreams Begin Responsibilities, but it was a major influence on the song. Guess that’s something else I need to add to the reading list.

And don’t forget there’s a Kindergarten version of the song, which in some ways is as good as the final, and in some ways maybe better. There are definitely lyrics on the Kindergarten that I wish were on the final song.

My rating for Acrobat: 9 /10

Another Day

Another Day was U2’s second single, a few months after they released Out Of Control on the Three EP. Oddly enough Out Of Control made it to the Boy album, but Another Day didn’t, nor did the next song they released, 11 O’Clock Tick Tock. I don’t pretend to know how the music business works, but I wouldn’t have thought a young band would have so many songs that they could afford to skip some of the early ones. Although I guess it gives us extra early music, so good in the end.

I can once again write about U2’s early style, relatively simple music, Edge hadn’t yet discovered what he could do, and Bono’s voice and lyrics were pretty simple too. Just two days ago I covered Saturday Night, another really early song, and there are a number of similarities between the two. The band working together, but not really. Some ooo-whooaaas from Bono to fill in the time where he doesn’t have any words to say. And there’s something there, in terms of the sound, it feels like I know it from somewhere else.

Some fairly weak lyrics too. There aren’t too many of them, although it’s a fairly short song, but like I said he still has to fill in with a few wails here and there. It seems like he is trying to say something, but at this point he doesn’t yet have the chops to be able to write what he is thinking. It might be that in another few years he would have been able to write something meaningful, but not yet. There’s an interesting twist in the sound, and delivery of the lyrics, when he sings the “night turns to day and children come out to play” line, but little else of it grabs you and makes you want to keep listening.

It’s an interesting exercise going back to this early stuff. We have just gone through an amazing experience, on the Innocence + Experience tour, where they, as Bono said, went back to the early days. I’ve talked about what a good job they did with that, making us think back to those times and the music they were playing, but in reality they weren’t. Maybe I should say they weren’t playing this song, or similar songs to it (like Saturday Night). The sound from Songs Of Innocence is the sound of U2’s innocence, but with a bit of the experience thrown in there, which makes it sound much better than this.

I wonder what Edge would come up with for the innocence part if you were to give him a guitar and take away all his electronics? Make him play only with what he was playing with back then. I bet he would come up with something really good, but I also bet that sound would end up being just a little bit more like this song than the stuff on Songs Of Innocence. Truly innocent stuff. Extra virgin, you might say.

My rating for Another Day: 2 / 10

U2 At The End Of The World

This is a review of the book U2 At The End Of The World by Bill Flanagan.

Is there another U2 book as good as this one? Actually yes, if you believe my ratings, I have this book as equal best, alongside Anton Corbijn’s U2 & I. The significant difference between these two books and almost every other one out there is that they are both from an inside point of view, and both are eminently re-readable. They contain things that other books don’t know (or if they do, they know it because they have read it in these), and they have stories that you want to read more than once.

I do have to say off the top that this book was published in 1995, and I have complained about that before. The idea that you can have a definitive book about U2 is an impossibility, as they are still an active band. For example, every single book about them that is currently out has nothing on the Innocence + Experience tour, and probably nothing about Songs Of Innocence (the very latest books might have a couple of lines mentioning that it was released). So the books that call themselves the history of U2, or the complete anything, well, they’re not. They’re outdated as soon as they’re published. But this book doesn’t pretend that, it quite clearly finishes when it was published in 1995, so it is a history up until that point.

So Bill Flanagan had what I think is unprecedented access to the band, to their families and friends, to acquaintances and others. This is what I mean by an inside point of view. It’s something you simply do not get by interviewing people who used to work with them, and who in some cases now have a grudge to hold. This is what it was like to travel with them, to stay in hotels with them, to drink with them. When he is writing about staying up all night with the guys drinking, then getting on a plane to New York with Edge because they have to be at some event, you know this is the story that no-one else has.

It’s simply impossible to mention all the stories in the book, you have to read them. Flanagan wasn’t at all of the events, of course, but his writing gives them an immediacy that makes you feel like you were there. And he certainly was at enough of them to give an in-person story that really does make it seem like you are present.

Since I already mentioned U2 & I by Anton Corbijn, I have to tell you that these two books go together very well. Anton’s photos combined with Bill’s words tell a really complete story of the band from the early days through the mid 90s. If I were to give a recommendation for the year so far, it would be to get both these books and read them together.

My best recommendation for this book is simply that I wish he wrote a new one, covering the years since 1995. It is that good.

My rating for U2 At The End Of The World: 8 / 10

Saturday Night

It’s Saturday night, and I’m listening to Saturday Night. Yeah, so this is one time where I am overruling the random number generator and picking a song.

Saturday Night was only released on the deluxe version of Boy, it wasn’t released before that anywhere else. It was a leftover track that didn’t go anywhere at the time, at least until they worked on October and reworked the song into Fire. Now, I haven’t reviewed Fire yet this year, so I may be giving away some spoilers here, but I do have to say that between the two songs, I find myself preferring the one they didn’t release over the one that they did. Fire might be suffering from that old U2 problem of too much editing, too much twisting and turning until you have watered down the original sound that you liked.

The music in Saturday Night is pretty clear, there are strong and distinct drums, bass and guitar. It’s very much what you would expect for an early U2 song, clear and distinct parts that are not necessarily meshing together perfectly, and more importantly working in a very basic way, not yet adding in all the extras to each of the parts that they do within a few years (although not by the time they do October, which perhaps is why I like Saturday Night a little better than Fire).

Bono sounds very Boy as well, of course. He has that distinctive voice from the time, inexperience you might say but it’s also something else, a rawness to it. Youth, probably. I think I would agree with myself over the last several months if I were to say that Bono’s voice on Boy is probably the most identifiable of all the albums. I mean, you can’t confuse the different songs, but if you were to somehow remove the music, and twist around the words enough so that you didn’t know what songs he was singing, you’d still be able to say this voice is from Boy, that voice is from October, that next one is from All That You Can’t Leave Behind and so on. Kind of like doing the Coke vs Pepsi thing, hiding the voices in unmarked cups and getting people to decide. There’d be many that you could tell, some you couldn’t. I think (getting back to the original point) that you’d be most accurate on Boy than on any other album.

It’s an interesting song lyrically too. You get the early, raw Bono, not necessarily a great wordsmith at this point but clearly showing interesting tendencies. Bringing up bits and pieces and making them work well together. The cadence of the first couple of verses, which is a line, then a line, then a third and longer line which rhymes with the second. Interesting. ABB I guess you would say, but that doesn’t show the complexity that the first two lines are short and the third is long.

The feeling I get from the song is the idea of two people meeting on a street corner on a Saturday night, but not really meeting. Like they are meant to be together forever, but instead they are two ships passing in the night. He is going one way, her the other, and they happen to be beside each other for just a moment before going their separate ways. I guess if you believe in the theory of multiple universes being created based on every decision, there is one that they are together in. Otherwise, it’s just quite sad.

My rating for Saturday Night: 4 / 10

Endless Deep

I can’t place my finger on what Endless Deep reminds me of. There are bits and pieces within the song that make me think “Oh, that’s music from…” and then I can’t fill in the end of the sentence. But I somehow get it several times during the song, and I don’t know what it is. It’s killing me not to know.

The song shouldn’t really be in here, or perhaps it should have been in the Instrumentals page I did a while back. But I’m adding it, and for one reason only. That’s because a couple of days ago I covered Your Blue Room, which features a few lines sung by Adam, and the random number generator today pulled out Endless Deep, which is I believe the only other song that Adam ever sang on. Sang on being a little bit of a stretch, because there are exactly two lines in the entire song, “where do we go from here?” repeated twice. I’m not sure why he sings them either. That line came from With A Shout, so maybe that’s where I’m thinking of the music from. And why he sang that line right there, I also don’t know.

And that’s why it’s mostly an instrumental, and thus gets a low rating. The song was a throwaway, put on the b side of the Two Hearts Beat As One single, and barely noticeable there. Not one of those b sides which take off and make a name for themselves, although somehow it did get onto the Best Of 1980-1990 b sides. Maybe they needed to fill some space on that CD as well, I can’t imagine why else it would get on there.

Speaking of filler, one of the reasons to not cover instrumentals as individual songs is that there’s usually not much to say about them, and here I am, stuck at the end of a review with a couple of hundred words to go and nothing else to say about the song. This is what it must feel like when you’re trying to fill in those spaces at the end of an album, or rather on the b sides of the singles, and you don’t have anything to go on them. You head to the trashcan, take a look at the stuff that you randomly recorded during your sessions, and you say hey, here’s a piece that doesn’t sounds like complete junk. Or maybe you say hey, here’s a couple of minutes of something that sounds vaguely like a continuous piece of music, not just a bunch of stops and starts. But someone says well, there’s a little bit of Adam talking in the middle, he’s asking where we’re going to eat dinner once we’ve done with the session, how are we going to get rid of that? Then Bono listens to it, and says hey, that reminds me of a song from the last album, let’s leave it on there and see if anyone notices. And so they do.

And that’s how you fill in the last couple hundred words in a review.

My rating for Endless Deep: 1 / 10

Pop Muzik

I actually remember the original Pop Muzik, by a band called M. It’s amusing going back and watching the video on YouTube, these days they’d be torn apart for lip-synching (check the woman, needs to learn how to hold her microphone in front of her face while pretending to sing). I was a kid when it came out, it was apparently famous enough that not only do I remember the song but enough of the lyrics to be able to sing along with it (although technically I may be tainted by the U2 version).

U2 did it ironically, at least I hope they did, as part of the Pop experience. The whole Pop Mart thing was kind of hokey, what you look back at today and cringe about. They used Pop Muzik as an intro to the tour, playing it each night as the opener, kind of like they have been playing People Have The Power on Innocence + Experience this year, the walk-on music (not to be confused with the Walk On music).

They put a club music kind of theme onto the song, as you can tell by the start, a whole bunch of electronic stuff while the words New York, London, Paris, Munich are repeated over and over. Then it goes into a different kind of electronic beat, repeating Pop Musik again and again. Wow, my complaints about repetitive music this year are reaching a new high. Well, to be fair, that’s the point of the song, and I certainly can’t blame Bono, except you know, this is the U2 mix, which means it is their fault.

It gets a review because they released it on Last Night On Earth, otherwise it would be just another one of those oddities you’d hear of every now and then. Not that it isn’t, of course, it would just be even more obscure. It could be considered the throwaway at the end if you want. I certainly do.

Interesting oddity, every time I type the title of the song my Mac tries to correct the spelling to Musik. I could understand if it corrected to Music, but a K at the end is considered correct spelling?

Okay, so it’s not written by U2, not Bono’s lyrics or Edge’s guitar or anything like that. It’s a pile of crap to be honest. One of those songs where you remember it and look back and laugh at how terrible it really was, and how famous it was too. Yes, this is the kind of music that was sung back in the day, when U2 were trying to get going. Not by them, but by bands looking for that one hit wonder. That kind of music is still around though, in fact you might say it’s even worse these days, given the groups that top the charts these days. I have zero respect for any musician that doesn’t write their own songs. Thank God U2 didn’t go into this, they decided to become a real band instead.

My rating for Pop Muzik: 1 / 10

Your Blue Room

Your Blue Room is a song that has a big trigger for me, every time I hear it I think the words “Hey Frank? Frank?” and if you know 360, you know why.

The song comes in a little slow, kind of dreamy, much like the rest of the Passengers album. What’s the word, experimental? It actually only picks up once the bass starts playing, up until then it’s kind of okay to listen to, but the bass makes me sit up and listen.

So we’re going to a blue room with Bono. He’s going to ask us questions. The future is just hanging there. But then he’ll be back one day. He hopes he remembers where to go, which would be a good idea. Not sure if I’m making myself clear by these lines, the point I’m trying to make is that the song is just so random, meaningless. I can’t make head nor tails of it. I don’t think I’ve been this confused about a song all year long. I’ve looked at the usual suspects, religion, love, sex, the things they usually are talking about, and none of them make sense. It’s a whole disjointed set of words, there’s no

I’ll be honest I have no idea who is singing the backing, and no idea what they’re saying. I assumed it’s Eno, but the internet says it’s Bono. In the live version they had Sinead O’Connor singing it, so if it really is Bono then why doesn’t he do it? Maybe to get

But you get some lines from Adam at the end, which is an extreme rarity. Although to be fair he sounds a little weird, not just the accent, but like he’s half asleep (or something else, but I won’t make any allusions there).

There’s also a twang right at the end of the song, and that makes me think of Dire Straits.

So during 360 they filmed some stuff with astronauts on the International Space Station. That version is the one I see and hear when I think of the song, they’re showing clips from space, words from astronauts at the start. Then they go to various videos from space as Bono sings (with Sinead), and at the end Frank De Winne says Adam’s lines (and interestingly the camera cuts to Adam at the start of the words) then leaves, and Bono says “Hey Frank? Frank?” at the end. There’s also the bit where Bono’s singing “soldier boy,” and I have no idea what that’s from (U2gigs says snippet from Hands That Built America, but it’s not, although it ends with him saying “America” so I can see the confusion), but it sounds interesting and good.

I would probably have given this a five for the music and the feeling, but the whole confusion over the lyrics and the point of the song makes me drop it some. You can’t live by music alone, unless you’re an instrumental, which it isn’t.

My rating for Your Blue Room: 3 / 10

Luminous Times (Hold On To Love)

So the story has been that three songs were meant to form some kind of trilogy, but only one of them ever made it big. That of course was With Or Without You, the others being Walk To The Water and Luminous Times (Hold On To Love). I mentioned this trilogy a little in the Walk To The Water review.

I ended the Walk To The Water review by suggesting that the theme was let me love you, with or without you, and hold on to love. It might just be that continuation, I think I can see it that way. Needing to hold on, not wanting to let go. She is all these influences in his life. It does support that theory. I’m still not quite sure of the order though, I don’t necessarily see it in the order shown above. Dang, the more I write the more I convince myself it’s not a trilogy after all. Maybe I ought to stop.

Slow start, waiting for something to happen, and it does when Bono starts singing. Actually the song really takes off, or at least grabs my attention, when he sings the second “save my soul,” I don’t know why but that’s the point it starts sounding good. 

The “she” verses are interesting, he has used that technique before in a number of songs, that repetitive part, sound, echo, whatever you want to call it. This is the way that I like repetition, doing it a little different each time, so that you don’t quite know what to expect next. This is one of those songs that you know he’d have trouble singing live, mixing up the lines into different orders each time.

There is the “she is the car crash” line, and the way it is sung and the way the music goes right after that line, I always think that is the end of the song. But then it kicks back up into the next line, and I’m left feeling a little perplexed about it.

His guttural “hold on to love” in the middle is an interesting sound too, not sure how he doesn’t hurt his voice singing it like that.

And now I get to end with a huge twist in the tale. As I wrote this, as I read the lyrics, it suddenly occurred to me that he wasn’t talking about love, or the trilogy that was mentioned earlier. No, he was talking about a baby. Not his baby, because the song was written two years before his first child was born. But take the line “God has given me your hand, it holds me in a tiny fist” and tell me that doesn’t mean child. Then read back through the rest of it with that thought in mind. “She comes like carnival, she is the big wheel.” Doesn’t all of it make you think of having a kid in your life? The wildness that takes over and the dedication to that person, that force of nature. Just a thought.

My rating for Luminous Times (Hold On To Love): 5 / 10

Zooropa

I’m not saying that Zooropa was a bad album. I’m not. In terms of U2 albums I have it rated just below average (although numerically it is just above average, but you then have to remember that there is no zero rating and so 5.5 would be average, thus again just below average) (yeah, sorry for nerd diversion there). Zooropa’s biggest problem was that it followed Achtung Baby, and thus the drop-off (a full two points) seemed like a huge chasm of failure. Not true.

Let’s just say that the album was very experimental for its time in the U2 pantheon. If Achtung Baby was a huge right turn, a chopping down of The Joshua Tree, then Zooropa was, umm, another right turn? A left turn? No, that would put them back in the same direction, which is clearly not the case. I know, it would be a downturn.

The album starts with the title track, an immediate odd sound, followed by Babyface and then Numb, even odder. Numb is one of those songs where you listen to it again and again, not because you have to, but more along the lines of watching a car wreck, can’t take your eyes off it. And you know that Daddy Isn’t Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car when it’s this terrible.

Yeah okay, so I can make a whole bunch of puns along these lines, doesn’t make this review any better. I don’t know, what is there that I can say about this album that I haven’t said a hundred different ways before? The early albums had the excuse that the band was still learning their craft. Their middle albums had them exploding in the musical universe. Achtung was a big leap into something different. Zooropa was supposed to be a quick followup, but frankly most of it didn’t work too well.

But the real thing about Zooropa is that nothing stands out, in either direction. The highest rated song I have is a 7, there’s only a couple of albums who’s best song is that low, and the lowest is a 3, and there are only a few albums with the lowest song that high. In other words it’s really average, as the rating suggests. I don’t know why I keep harping on this point, I suspect I’m trying to say that this is the most average U2 album, and that because of that I don’t listen to it nearly as much as any other. I mean, if you were looking for a good song, you’d take a highly rated song, and then end up listening to the rest of that album. If you listen like that, you end up not getting to the album that is the most mediocre.

My top three songs, in no particular order, are Stay, Lemon and The Wanderer. I really like the treatment that Wanderer has gotten during Innocence + Experience, but not enough to raise it up. I like Stay, there are days I want to listen to it, but it’s still outside the best songs for me. And Lemon, well, haven’t gotten to that yet this year. Enjoy but again nothing special.

Maybe that’s why I keep repeating the average and mediocre lines, because that’s what I’m feeling as I write this today. Subject matter.

My rating for Zooropa: 5.3 / 10