The Hands That Built America

I never saw the movie Gangs Of New York, although I heard it was pretty good. It was (as far as I know) about a group of Irish immigrants in New York (probably other nationalities too, given that the title is Gangs), which means that it is right in the wheelhouse for U2 to write a song for. And they did a good job, they’ve done a number of songs for movies over the years, but this is certainly one of the better ones. I guess I ought to make a list of U2 movie songs, just to make sure that I do rate this higher than others.

Musically it’s interesting, there are several different emotions that come through. I don’t know why but I actually think of the music for Exit when I listen to this song, it’s not quite the same but there is a similar deep and dark feeling to it, that slow kind of languid nighttime feeling. It starts slow, a little piano, then a little guitar, and then the chorus comes along and the bass kicks in and the song takes off a little. I really like when they sing the title line, then quietly in the background they list some nationalities, it’s a little indistinct but it works, it sounds really good. The lyrics are fairly obvious given the subject, it’s about the land you’ve left and the people you’ve left behind to come to America and try and make your way in the new world. In terms of that subject, I guess it could remind a little of Van Diemen’s Land, similar topic although different reasons for leaving. I suppose I could have little bit of feeling for it, being an immigrant myself, although I cannot in any way claim to be hands that built America, at least not in the way they mean in the song.

There are two versions of the video. One is just the band playing, the other intersperses that video with clips from the movie. They sound different, so I guess they are different versions of the song? Either way, I prefer the one off the 1990-2000 CD to the ones on the video.

The first video reminds me a lot of Rattle And Hum, possibly because it is black and white. Specifically when I see it I think of the early part of the movie, when they’re playing Van Diemen’s Land (there it is again) and Desire, at the Point Depot. It just has that same kind of vibe, not the open space of course, but rather just them sitting around and playing together. The irritation is how much panning back and forth the cameras do, they can’t seem to stand still for a second, and they’ll pan across someone (mostly Bono) then pan back, or start a fresh pan across him. Edge is only on the keyboard, Bono plays guitar, but what’s interesting to me is Adam, when he comes in near the start the phrase “his fingers are as light as feathers on the strings”, which is what it looks like, and I’m amazed how much sound he gets out of the bass by just that light touch.

The second video, like I said, takes the first video, makes it sepia-toned, and splashes scenes from the movie across and around it. It doesn’t do much for me, I prefer the first video. Maybe I’ll have to actually see the movie to appreciate the video more.

My rating for The Hands That Built America: 6 / 10