Staring At The Sun came out of U2’s weird period, when they recorded Pop in an attempt at irony during the backlash to their wild success. They produced some very different music to what they’d done before. The sound was at times odd, at times crazy, and at times really in line with what would follow later. Staring At The Sun starts with a kind of warble, but that goes away to mostly standard strumming, with another warble appearing during the chorus, which is more driven by the bass and drums. I find myself tapping along, humming the music for this song, which is something I don’t get from much of the rest of the album. It’s really quite catchy.
Lyrically it’s not quite all there for me. I do like the chorus, and the first verse. The rest of it not so much. I definitely dislike the few lines that begin with “There’s an insect in your ear.” They just seem odd, not at all in sync with most anything U2 has written. Their usual lyrics tend to be obscure or artful, and lines like this tend to throw me off, because it is so literal. On the other hand I like the “those that can’t do often have to preach,” because it’s a little twist on the old “he who can’t, teaches” line. And yet another dig at religion, as we’ve seen so many times already.
I don’t know what the song is about. There are a bunch of interpretations online, none of which is very satisfying. It can be taken mostly literally, the story of a couple enjoying a summer day with a roll in the hay. There’s an undercurrent though, which is the itch that can’t be scratched (bah, back to that lyric), or the trying to avoid looking at a particular problem (not staring at the sun). Presumably talking about the relationship between the couple, and perhaps problems between them. Seems to be a fairly common thread in Bono’s lyrics.
The bridge section that starts with “Intransigence is all around” disturbs this idea though, and it also disturbs the song. This is one of the few songs where I don’t like the change in tone within the song, normally they’re entertaining twists on the music. This time though it feels like an itch, or like someone dragging the needle across the record (and I don’t mean the music, but the feeling of it). Both the words and the music at this point are a little jarring, it’s a point where I wish I could skip it and jump ahead through that part.
There are two videos out there for this song, one is the band wandering around what kind of appears to be Cuba (but I doubt it is), doing random stuff. Mostly stars Bono of course, being really weird in places, and occasionally the rest of the gang shows up. In fact at one point we see Larry sitting on a sofa and watching the antics and wishing he was somewhere else. Then there’s a more artistic video, which apparently was directed by Edge’s girlfriend (or wife? not sure about the timing) Morleigh (or at least that’s what the official site calls it). That one is much more interesting, even though you would say less happens in it. It is dark, the band is singing and playing, and interesting lighting effects (the sun they are staring at, of course) make it look good. The weird part is seeing Edge without a hat on, you don’t see that often. I wonder how she talked him into it.
My rating for Staring At The Sun: 6 / 10