Mercy came out of the How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb sessions, it was apparently leaked during the recording and thus never taken any further. Actually they did play it live a few times during 360, and it ended up on the Wide Awake In Europe release in 2010, but that’s it. Listening to it now it doesn’t feel quite finished, like they got to a certain point on it (pretty far along I think), then it leaked and so they stopped. If I was to put a number of it, I’d say something like 85% finished, with some work to do on the lyrics (I think Bono could work on them forever though, and still not be satisfied), and some to do on the music too.
It is a song of opposites, from the very first line which conjures up the idea of the communion service in the Catholic church, but immediately throws a curve into it by asking about the use of religion. It goes on throughout the song, every line being a two-part opposition to each other, like for example “If you were ice, I’m water,” or “we’re binary code, a one and a zero.” This idea of the dichotomy has come in a number of U2 songs I have covered this year, Bono seems like talking about the thought of being opposites, or opposites attracting. He has referred to it in shows as well, in many of his mentions of Ali he has talked about she and he being not quite opposites, but certainly in him wondering what she would see in him since they are different. It makes me think that all of these songs are talking about the same thing, the conflict between two people that somehow keeps them together more than it pushes them apart.
Musically the song is fast, definitely has the sound from How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, reminds me of several songs from that era. Most notably I think the early part of the song sounds like City Of Blinding Lights, but I also get a few echoes later in the song from Always, which was an earlier song for the band, and also Falling At Your Feet in some places. I wonder if they took the music from Always and repurposed it to get to Mercy, then repurposed it again to get to City Of Blinding Lights. Just pure speculation on my part, I have no idea what the history of the song is.
Something else interesting about the song is that there is no bridge, and there is no chorus. Now there are parts where the music changes a little, but it’s not that noticeable, what surprises me each time I listen is that at the end of that change I tend to notice the switch, rather than the switch into it. I don’t recall other U2 songs not having a really different bridge section. And as for the chorus, there are a couple of sections that repeat together later in the song, but again they don’t feel like a chorus, they just feel like the verse being repeated. They have enough similarity to the rest of the song that it’s not chorus-like. I don’t know how else to explain both of these things, there just isn’t the differentiation that we see in most U2 songs.
My rating for Mercy: 4 /10