By coincidence this song comes out of the hat just a few days after making it’s live debut on the Innocence + Experience tour. Gives it a slightly different aspect, I have to say, since I am well on the record as being a big fan of live U2 more than recorded U2, at least in most cases.
So I’m not that enamored with Lucifer’s Hands, haven’t been since I first heard it when I got the extended version of Songs Of Innocence. Listened to it and Crystal Ballroom, and neither of them stuck with me, as is fairly standard for me. But I did try it on and off, and lately a little more on than off, and I would say it has grown on me somewhat. Not enough to make me think it should have been on the album, it’s not that good, but it’s certainly a decent b side, or additional songs, or whatever you call it these days.
It is I think taken from Return of the Stingray Guitar, which is something the band played live on a number of occasions as a warmup, or an instrumental, just a piece of music that never developed very far. It was always interesting that they played it the way they did. But clearly they took that instrumental and messed around with it and did develop it into something, and added lyrics, and turned it into Lucifer’s Hands. Yet another example of U2 evolution at work. This time all above board, not quite that they were creating in public but certainly showing a few steps along the way. Stingray must have been interesting enough to them that they kept playing it, and kicking off shows with it, and then going on and doing this from it. I must say I always thought of Stingray as an Edge song, he seemed to have a lot of fun playing it, and the fact that Bono wasn’t really involved was odd. How is it possible for Bono to stay quiet long enough for the rest of them to complete a song without him? Obviously he couldn’t, so he added lyrics to get himself involved.
And what’s it actually about? I think this is another one of those innocence versions of songs, where Bono’s singing about the early days of the band, living in Dublin. He’s looking back at them as young guys: “Everybody’s famous here but nobody’s known.” Or “Prayers of fire on a raindog night,” that’s a strong allusion to Red Rocks, right? I think mostly it’s saying that they escaped the devil by taking control of their own lives. The devil being anything you want to choose, drugs, suburbia, terror, you name it, whatever they needed to get away from. The song also splits a reference to Rejoice, by singing “I can change the world,” then later “But I can’t change the world in me,” which is the opposite theme of the line in Rejoice.
Here’s a little oddity to end with: while checking the lyrics on U2.com, I happened to scroll down to the Performed At section. There’s June 13, in Montreal, the first time they played it on the tour. But they also list it on October 10 in Barcelona. Yeah, four months from now. Have they already written the playlists for the next four months? Are they somehow coming from the future? Or just a mistake? I know which one I’d choose.
My rating for Lucifer’s Hands: 4 / 10