This has been a very personal song for me in the past. My wife and I met online, lived far apart, her in the north and me in the south. We knew each other online for years before “dating,” and then talked for more years before I moved to be with her. It was in that time, the years in and around Pop, that I latched onto this song as one of those sappy romantic things you do, quoting it to her and getting her to listen to it. North And South Of The River described our relationship, not the actual lyrics of course, but just the title. Oh, you could certainly take many of the lyrics and make it have meaning to us - the opening lines are “I want to reach out over the lough and feel your hand across the water,” how much more romantic could that be?
So even though this was a minor song in the U2 pantheon, didn’t have much impact on anyone or anything, it has always stuck with me for that reason. My wife probably doesn’t even remember it, and if she does it would be barely. I don’t think she realized at the time how much of a U2 fan I really was. She realizes now though, since I’ve dragged her along to several U2 concerts, and watched many U2 videos with her in the room, tolerating at least if not actually enjoying outright.
And having said all that about romance, it turns out that this song is all about the divide between the two Irelands. Perhaps it is a couple who are in love but divided by their nations and their religions and their history. It’s not my place to say what I think about Ireland, that is clearly an issue for the locals, but I would say that any group that would punish people for falling in love with someone of the wrong nationality/religion/gender/color is a group that should stick their noses in their own business, not anyone else’s.
There are only very minor religious references in the song itself. “There’s an old church bell no longer ringing,” may be referencing the breaking down of the complete hold the religions have on the Irish people, giving them a little room to breathe and not be strung up just for looking at a person of the wrong religion (ref. the Every Breaking Wave film that I reviewed a couple of weeks ago). He also sings “Can we stop playing that old tattoo,” which I always heard as “altar tune.” Can’t count that though.
Musically the song is soft, muted in a way. It has a kind of watery sound in the back throughout the song that I’ve kind of decided I dislike. Bono has the voice from the 90s rolling along, at times it feels like his voice is about to break. They have the strings in the background, which are nice. It has a bunch of do-doo-do-do-do-doo in it though, which I’m rarely a fan of, always sounds like you ran out of words at that point.
My rating for North And South Of The River: 4 / 10