I was a teenager in the 1980s, but the whole nuclear war thing really passed me by. I never felt that anything bad could happen. It just didn’t seem possible that someone could start a nuclear war. I read all kinds of books about it, like Clancy and that sort of thing, but it was all just stories. I guess the end of the real threat was with Gorbachev, but really that could have gone either way, instead of choosing openness he could have been pushed into war.
Seconds is about a nuclear bomb being built and detonated in an apartment, the kind of scare that became much more prevalent about 20 years after the song was released. If I were being worried about anything today, it would be this, the idea of terrorists building and detonating a bomb in a city, or several cities at the same time. That would be absolutely destructive to any society, you would never have people living in a city ever again.
The song is interesting in the way it shows a breakthrough in writing by the band, in turning themselves toward protest music - not the traditional kind that you would think of when you hear that term, but the more awareness kind that U2 certainly made famous throughout their career. The War album is where they sort of took off on this path, several songs being in the vein of “what the heck is going on and how do we stop it?” Seconds is a wide look at a global problem whereas Sunday Bloody Sunday was more specifically aimed at their homeland.
Big drums at the start remind us of Larry’s history in a military band of sorts, and you get the bass driving the song throughout, the rhythm section really coming together here. Edge does a lot of singing in Seconds, there aren’t too many songs where he sings this much (although there are the occasional Numb or Van Diemen’s Land where he does pretty much all the singing). It is a nice change of pace for the band, Bono’s higher voice contrasts nicely with Edge’s deeper one, and I think it helps in making the song sound like an increase in urgency as it goes along.
Seconds has that weird little bit in the middle (“I want to be an airborne ranger”) that I guess fits in the context of the song but if you were to feature something like that in a different song it would sound very odd indeed. No, it’s not right of me to say that, because if you are going to come up with something like that, you can probably come up with it in an appropriate way for another song too. But I can’t think of many - if any - songs where there is an absolute pause in the song for ten seconds before it continues. There are some where the music stops but starts again right away, just not like this.
Speaking of stopping abruptly, just yesterday I was complaining about the end of Volcano, where it comes to an end quickly and doesn’t sound right. Seconds comes to a stop just like that, but in this case it sounds much better, more planned and fitting in with the continuity of the song. Singing “say goodbye” several times, then the instruments coming to a stop at just the right time.
My rating for Seconds: 4 / 10