I don’t know how to talk about Smile. I quite honestly don’t know what the song is about, and I’m not sure if anyone else does either. It came out of the Atomic Bomb sessions. Never a B side, it was released in the Complete U2 digital set and then in Medium, Rare & Remastered. There is almost nothing official about it. Was it just a leftover that didn’t make the album cut? Personally I rate it higher than several of the songs that made the album, but that doesn’t mean others do.
So what’s it actually about? The lyrics are not necessarily helpful. You kind of assume, based on the airiness of the words and the tune, that it’s kind of a love song. But then you stop yourself, because the repeated line through the song is “I don’t want to see you smile,” and that’s the opposite of a love song. So not about relationships, at least not good ones. Could it be talking about the end of a relationship, and you don’t want to see the other person being happy? In that case I would think of it as from the perspective of the person who’s been dumped, and they’re mad about it. Obvious line to get that idea from is “love is in this soul of mine, it’s not in your eyes”, but there’s also “the smoke machine is yours not mine”. It’s definitely possible to think about it that way, but I can’t say I’m one hundred percent in love with that idea.
So it is about religion? References to God, praying, “the ground to kneel upon”, “I will live again”. All these flat-out tell us religion, but then how to interpret them in that way? Is it about death? As I read the first verse, I’m thinking of someone that has died (“gravity not pulling me”, “picture with no sound”, “decaying”). Second verse is leaving their earthly body (“I’m breaking it”). Third has the obvious (“I’m leaving on the day of the dead”, and “I will live again, you will live again”). So I could interpret it that way, but that still leaves us with the smile line. “I don’t want to see you smile”. Is he saying he doesn’t want to go to heaven and see God, who will smile when he gets there? I don’t see it as wanting to go to hell, but rather as not being ready to go to heaven.
Well that was very interpretive of me, wasn’t it? Does it make sense, any of it? Maybe this is one of those moments when you realize that a song can have multiple interpretations depending on how you look at it, and what you’re feeling when you hear it. And then you get a definitive answer from the person who wrote it, and it turns out to mean something else.
But I’ll tell you one thing I do know: this is a really nice song. I like the music a lot, soft, slow, a little dreamy. The lyrics, if you don’t try and interpret them too deeply, are very singable. I’m always happy when I hear this song come on.
My rating for Smile: 6 / 10