Just to show what I know about U2, I wrote this review based on what I always thought this song was about. Having read some things about it today, I can’t say I was completely off-base, but wow, I missed it by quite a way.
Exit is one of my favorite U2 songs. It’s dark and moody. It feels like you’re walking through fields, farmland or an open plain or desert, at night, in a thunderstorm. Occasional lightning drum strikes. The thundering bass all around. Crickets, of course. Howling wind. It could be a feeling of desolation if you let it. A feeling of having been abandoned, or the whole world fighting against you and trying to beat you down. Edge’s guitar at times is that storm, lashing rain on a tin roof.
But then it’s the passion, the hands of love, God reaching down to help a man in his time of need. Or the man reaching out in his mind to his lover, thinking of her and having those thoughts drive him on against the elements.
Drums come in loud, beating, beating, beating for the hands of love. It’s a feeling of power, of energy. Love it. Larry really banging the drums, I think I’ve used that line before, and will probably use it again. The depth of the bass, along with the sounds of crickets throughout the song, gives it that ambience. It fades into the song at the start, and it fades out of the song at the end, bookends to the lyrics in the middle. Atmosphere.
And a final “hands that build can also pull down”, is this the hand of God again, telling you that what he gave you he can take away? Or the hand of the lover, who in one moment can be the passion and the next the turning away?
So back to the stories I read about the song, which have Bono saying that it is based on the thoughts in the mind of a killer. Like I said, wow. Now that I read it again I can totally see that, although I don’t know that I want to. What’s seen can’t be unseen.
The live version of Exit on the Rattle And Hum movie is great (“like a star shinyshiny from above” gives me chills every time). I have Exit ranked as just the sixth best song on The Joshua Tree, which shows what a strong album it is. In only one other album would it rank lower than third, and on a couple it would be the top ranked song. It never got much attention though, it disappears from view because of the rest of the songs on the album taking all the noise away from it. And yet oddly enough, it fits perfectly within the album, it takes it into a deep and introspective ending, Exit along with Mothers Of The Disappeared (and even One Tree Hill just before them). Not quite a capstone, more a dark fading away into the night, leaving you quiet and thoughtful. At least until the album restarts and Streets kicks back up again.
My rating for Exit: 8 / 10