All That You Can't Leave Behind

It felt like forever since there had been a U2 album when they released All That You Can’t Leave Behind. I think it was because after the weirdness of Pop (I use that word advisedly) there was something that seemed missing for a while. All That You Can’t Leave Behind was a breath of fresh air, and not just because it had a long title that I can use to fill in the word count. But speaking of, have you ever noticed how word counts changed over the years with the band? Most notably in the album titles, which started with one word (Boy, October War), then went to three (The Unforgettable Fire, The Joshua Tree, Rattle And Hum), then went back down (Achtung Baby, Zooropa, Pop), and back up again (All That You Can’t Leave Behind, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, No Line On The Horizon). Now we go to Songs Of Innocence and Songs Of Experience. After that will have to be another three word album. Okay, diversion over.

I remember being astounded by All That You Can’t Leave Behind. It was a wildly different album from Pop, it was really quite different from most of the others. There were hints of different things, it was rock and roll much more than many. I would suggest it most sounded like The Joshua Tree, but even that’s a bit of a stretch. It was more mellow, more laid back, somewhat more musical than other albums. That sounds weird when I put it like that, but it’s a little bit true. We’ve all heard them grow up through their career, from the early days when they were enthusiastic but inexperienced, through the experience and power of the middle days, and as they passed by that little weird phase they kind of grew up a lot. It led to an excellent album, outstanding in some ways, and one that I rate the third best album they’ve released.

They had the musical and emotional power in Walk On, a song for the ages. They had a string of decent and above average songs through the middle of the album, and little that is weak. And that’s been the thing about many of the albums, the difference between being good and great is that you have a short tail, nothing weak at the end. Almost every album has a top song or two, but to get to the best albums you have to eliminate the bad stuff at the bottom, the songs that get kept because there’s nothing else to replace them. All That You Can’t Leave Behind does this well, the lowest rated song being a four.

There are a couple of real rockers in Beautiful Day and Elevation, but most of the rest of the album is smooth and relaxing. It is another of those albums where I can put it on and wallow in the music, listen attentively and deeply, or that I can turn on and use as background noise. It works both ways, and I like that about it.

My rating for All That You Can’t Leave Behind: 6.3 / 10

Always

Yet another of those phrases that stick in my head, but this time it’s only the title. Any time I hear the word always, I hear it repeated in my head a few times, in Bono’s singing voice. I don’t know any of the other lyrics to the song, just that one word, but it’s enough. No, that’s again a little bit of an exaggeration, because I know the song enough to know several of the lines in it. I just tend to either mix them up, or half remember them, and find myself sounding a little like my son, who when he sings songs he doesn’t really know, he tends to mumble the missing parts, sing something similar sounding but wrong, or just make noises that sound like the lyrics. Oh, who am I kidding, I do that too. Probably most of you do as well.

As I listen to Always, I often find myself drifting away into Beautiful Day, which is what Always eventually evolved into. You can actually follow along with Always and see much of Beautiful Day in it, and also see points at which the two songs diverged. Obviously the lyrics, but there are many of the guitar parts that you’re listening and thinking of Beautiful Day, then suddenly get jarred back to Always because it differs from what you’re expecting to hear.

And having said that, apart from the music surviving, not much of the lyrics did. Little bits and pieces here and there, but mostly they remind me of other songs, like the thought stuck in Bono’s head and he kept it noodling back there until it popped out into another song. Or bits from older songs that coalesce a little into this song. Again with the looking at how the sausage is made, learning all those tricks and twists that get put into the work. Always interesting.

Word on the street is that the Dublin ticket sales have been a bit of a snafu. As in, people offering tickets for sale on secondary sites before they’ve even gone on sale to members. These are scalpers that are assuming they can get tickets, and they probably can. There was that story in New York about security letting scalpers into Madison Square Garden to buy U2 tickets while keeping regular folks out. This is an irritation and I don’t know how it can change. The big sites don’t care, they get their money either way, as does the band. There are attempts at ways to stop scalping, like in Chicago when I had ticketless entry with the credit card I used, but even then there’s scalpers all around. I don’t have a solution, how do you get a hugely successful band like U2 with a limited number of tickets, and get those tickets to everyone who loves them?  Memberships? I have a membership on U2.com, but I was able to get tickets for my wife and son. Anyone with enough money will be able to get tickets, right? The only answer I can think of is that U2 comes to my house to play, and I decide who gets in. You might not think that’s fair, but it is.

My rating for Always: 3 / 10

Wild Honey

Every album has one of these, don’t they? That weird, slightly off song that seems as though it doesn’t belong on the album, maybe belonged on the one before or the one after. No Line On The Horizon had a bunch of them, the most obvious was probably Stand Up Comedy. I would pick on Pop, but, well, you know, so instead I’ll go for Achtung Baby, the choice there would be Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses.

But on All That You Can’t Leave Behind the odd duck was Wild Honey. To this day I’m not so sure about it. I think I like it, but I don’t really know. It’s the comic relief, so it’s there to be laughed at you would think, and I think if you take it that way then it’s enjoyable, but I also feel like I should take it a little deeper and try and figure out the point. Because with Bono there’s always a point, right?

A fun twanging at the start leads into it, the group steps in together and it just bounces along. When the first line talks about monkeys, you know you’re in for a bit of a ride. The whole song just jingles and jangles along, essentially the same music all the way, that twanging guitar, some light drumming with a lot of cymbal crashing going on, and a bass that hides timidly in the background, trying to show that it is playing although really giving off the vibe that it doesn’t really belong (or maybe that it doesn’t want to be there).

So let’s see if we can unwrap the song. The very first lines, in the days when we were swinging from the trees, you can take that to mean either early man, or early Bono. Which of those comes first? Early man, of course, so let’s try that. Let’s take it back in fact to the earliest man, Adam, and see if that makes sense. Well, he’s talking about chasing someone around the trees, about before the clocks kept time, and the garden being full. Well that was easy, a few lines here and there and we’re talking Adam and Eve and getting the religion right into it. This is a simple solution to the dilemma of the song’s point. Go back and read through the lyrics a few times and you’ll pick up on many of the lines and references right there. I actually started with the idea of the wild honey being God, trying to find God (in a most oblique way of course), but making it about Eve is much clearer I think.

And what if we try for a literal interpretation. Let’s say it’s actually about Bono and Ali. Pretty easy too, he’s playing around on the jungle gym at school trying to impress her. Again, before the clocks kept time, this time it means before they wore a watch, or cared about what time of day it was. And going on to him waiting for her, sending her flowers, her garden being full maybe suggesting other suitors, and him looking for hope. So we can get this entirely separate interpretation out of it.

And of the few times it was played live, I actually was at one of them (Austin in 2001), but I have zero memory of it. Makes me wonder if there’s a tape out there somewhere.

My rating for Wild Honey: 5 / 10

Kite

I believe Kite was dedicated to Edge’s daughter at one point, whether on the album or in subsequent concerts, because she was going through medical issues at the time. Maybe due to the theme of the song, which is family for the most part. The other idea that came out of it was of Bono sitting in a park flying kites (hence the name) with his kids, and having thoughts about that.

It is a really nice song, fits in well with the rest of the album (All That You Can’t Leave Behind). Relatively slow and relaxing, fairly simple music that is easy to follow along with. Enjoyable song to listen to, without concentrating too much on the theme.

So the theme is family, as I said, but it’s a little more complicated than that. It is perhaps the idea of letting someone go, not so much in a life and death way, or even in a romantic way, but rather in the way of having helped them grow up, and letting them spread their wings, leave the nest as it were, and head out into the world. I have seen this action up close recently in my family, with nephews and nieces heading off to college and their parents having the reactions that the song sings about (or rather, the reaction that they don’t want to let go). Haven’t had it yet for my own son, who is only ten, but the day is coming. In fact, now that I think about it, he’s actually closer to going to college than he is to having been born, something which seems amazing to me since it seems like just yesterday he was born. Crazy the way we think of dates like that.

“I don’t know which way the wind will blow” is the theme of the song, meaning I don’t know what will happen in the future, but “I know that this is not goodbye,” that we will always be together in some way. And the line “I wonder what’s gonna happen to you” is one of the most poignant lines Bono has sung. You can just imagine him sitting on a hillside watching his kids playing with a kite, and think up that line. Or standing over the child while he sleeps, thinking the same thing.

There is a live version, was on the back of the Window In The Skies CD (well, not the back, but you know what I mean), it was recorded in Australia, and they add in a didgeridoo, which sounds really good in context. I do like the way that add in that bit of local flavor into shows, I’m not talking about mentioning the city name that you’re playing in, but rather bringing in a local musician, like they have done in South Africa, or even in Rattle And Hum.

Anyway, I liked that live version, and as with so many live versions before, it is easily my favorite version. What is it about live versions that sound so much better than the album versions, at least for U2? I can’t think of a single album version of any song that I prefer to the live.

My rating for Kite: 7 / 10

Elevation

“High, higher than the sun, you shoot me from a gun,” words guaranteed to get everyone jumping. It didn’t get much playtime during Innocence + Experience, only ten times in 36 shows, but I did get to see it once in Chicago. 

My favorite story about this song comes from my sister-in-law. When the song was released her son was three, and she (a big U2 fan) would listen to it repeatedly in the car. At some point one night she heard noise from his room, went and listened and he was laying in bed singing “a mole, digging in a hole” over and over. That’s the perfect kind of indoctrination we should be giving our kids, right? What worked for my son was taking him to a couple of shows in Chicago, he’s been singing U2 in the shower ever since (mostly Miracle, every now and then Song For Someone or Cedarwood Road).

Elevation is one of those songs that grabs you and won’t let go. It’s a perfect song for a crowd, because it is light and easy to get the lyrics, to listen to the bounce, and to roll with it. At the very least the crowd can sing the “ooo-ooo” as many times as they want. That’s what makes it a popular song with the public, makes it stand out in a crowd you might say. And it certainly does, I think it is one of the more popular U2 songs in recent years, even though I think it has kind of played itself out a little. What I mean by that is that it was so dominant in the recent tours, it sort of got over-exposed, and for me lost a little of its attractiveness. I said a similar thing about Beautiful Day recently. Beautiful Day was appearing in every show this tour though, Elevation just here and there. Kind of made it a little more acceptable to me.

I do love the sound right at the start, the weird warble or whatever it is. Sounds funky, you might say. Gives it an interesting sound from the get-go, the catch that a song needs to grab your attention. Then it takes off a little, everybody starting to play together, and a sudden pause as Bono starts singing, with just the drums being noticeable for a moment. You hear the rest of them in the back, it’s the drums that take the attention somehow. You kind of get that vibe throughout, that the drums are controlling things much more than the others are in this song. 

I’m not trying to say it’s a bad song. Just overused, as I did say. I take it more often than I leave it these days, but that may be because I took it too much in the old days and wore out on it.

I’m also not going to try and interpret the song. I think it’s about sex, but it may or may not be. Maybe about relationships, about a woman lifting up the man every time he sees her. Which could work in multiple ways.

I’m not even going to mention the Tomb Raider tie-in.

My rating for Elevation: 6 / 10

Grace

I told this story before in my review of The Joshua Tree, but I’m going to tell it again. When my wife and I were trying to come up with names for our son, I immediately came up with Joshua as the name. Now, we didn’t know if it was going to be a boy or a girl, but we had the boy name down just like that. She agreed, it really was that easy. I barely had to do the whole Joshua Tree explanation (despite my desperate desire to talk about U2 for hours). But we never fixed on a girl’s name. It was a few months in when we were doing a scan that the doctor said something about “he” and the nurse had to say “shhh, they don’t want to know.” But it was too late, the cat was out of the bag (if you haven’t had kids yet, you’ll learn that parents hang on every single word the doctor says). For the rest of the pregnancy, we kind of drifted in and out on choosing a girl’s name, because we were convinced it was going to be a boy. It would have been really bad if a girl had come out, and the doctor asked us what we were going to name her, and we’d said “uhhhhh.”

So cutting to the point of the story, when we had talked about girl names, I was pretty strongly in favor of Grace, but my wife wasn’t in favor of it much. I remember trying to convince her, and not getting very far. We bandied about a few names, I don’t remember any of them, but I was kind of focused on Grace anyway. Obviously we didn’t need it, but it would have been interesting if it was a girl, and I said “Grace” and my wife said no.

I mean, what’s wrong with it? It’s the name for a girl, and a thought that can change the world. You can’t go past that, can you?

The song is soft, slow, sweet. It seems to meander back and forth. It seems short, but it’s five and a half minutes. It only has three verses, which might be what makes it seem short, but they are long verses. There’s also no real chorus, which is a little different. The song is really odd, because there are times when you feel like it’s starting to be a little anti (covers the shame, removes the stain), but it quickly turns around into the nice version of the word.

By the end it’s really got a good feeling. You’ve stepped up into the Grace that is attracting everyone to her, hearing strings just while she walks. She’s making beauty out of ugly things, growing the pearl from the hurt. This is a fantastic image, in fact the whole song is, that idea of grace as just a person but also the image of hope and feeling and love. It really is a perfect ending to the album.

My rating for Grace: 7 / 10

Summer Rain

I was listening to the show tonight, New York 1, and during Streets Bono sang “I want to take shelter, from the summer rain,” and it made me think of this song, so instead of picking at random I picked Summer Rain. One of the b sides from All That You Can’t Leave Behind, and it should be reviewed in the summer, although this is Texas so there’s no chance of any rain for the next couple of months.

Just like yesterday it’s a fun song, a little Pop-like, a Pop-Tart if you will, there for entertainment but not much else. They’ve never played it live, which suggests that it was a bit of a throwaway, although I don’t have any kind of stats on how many b sides have actually been played live. There are obviously many of them though, so maybe Summer Rain should feel a little left out. It would be a little bit of an oddity to play it though, but then again they played October tonight for the first time in 25 years, and not only that but it’s July, so in theory anything could happen live, right? Not going to hold my breath though.

The songs starts with just guitar strumming, then Bono comes in with the first verse, and it sounds peppy and bouncy (boy do I feel like I’m rewriting yesterday’s review). It goes that way for a bit, through the first chorus and into the second verse, and at that point the rhythm section come in, and it sounds pretty good at that point. There is another U2 song that goes like this, but for the life of me I can’t remember what it is. I really think it’s this song, but the bass and drums sound much stronger in the version I’m thinking of (and I’m sure I don’t have another version, I have the one on the 1990-2000 cd and the one on the 7 cd, which I think are identical versions). Whatever it is I’m thinking of, it’s a case where the bass is bone-shakingly good, feeling it deep down. Maybe I’ve just played the song really loud in the past, with the bass turned up high?

“When you stop taking chances you’ll stay where you sit, you won’t live any longer, but it’ll feel like it,” this is the takeaway line for me. I so often feel like life is drifting by, I’m not getting anywhere with it. Something like going to Chicago to see U2 four times, that feels like a magical adventure, but one that doesn’t happen nearly often enough. I’ve been sitting here the last few days staring at calendars, at Ticketmaster, trying to figure out how I can get to New York and see a few more shows in the next week. It’s really not possible, and I’m afraid I may be stopping taking those chances. Is this what a mid-life crisis feels like?

Crazy things happening on the tour. Can’t wait for every night. Online, not in person.

My rating for Summer Rain: 5 / 10

Beautiful Day

I have a love-hate relationship with Beautiful Day. It’s a fantastic song, in general I love it, but there come certain times when I hear it and really don’t want to be hearing it. I’ll fast-forward to the next song so I don’t have to listen to it. I don’t know why, I don’t know if it’s a mood thing or what. I can tell you that every time I heard it in Chicago I had a brief thought of “why didn’t they play something else in this slot?” and also the thought that it’s a little out of place where they are playing it. It seems like an early song, a dawning song within a show, and odd to play it so late as they do. But that’s just me.

The point I’m trying to make with the dawning comment is that it feels like a taking off sort of song. Bono actually said that about the song, it was an attempt to get the album airborne (All That You Can’t Leave Behind), and it is very successful at that. It is the opening song on the album, it makes you stand up and sing and shout straight away, does it really well. But playing it late in the show, you should have already taken off and been flying by that point.

Interesting song, it mixes in a few different sounds and a few different feelings. The start of it is a little slow, melancholy perhaps, with the religious vibe of nowhere to rent in the town, along with the rest of that verse. But then it booms into the chorus and you get that takeoff feeling going. In fact the video was filmed at an airport with planes taking off around them, which also points to the theme of the song.

Even when you get to the bridge,     all the “see the” lines back and forth, it still sounds interesting, in fact this might be my favorite part of the whole song. It’s like a little pause there, I don’t know how you’d define it in terms of a plane taking off, but if it were a rocket heading to space it would be the point where the boosters break away, just before you ignite the next stage to head to the stars. I like that image the bridge brings across of spinning across the globe, looking down on different things happening around the world. I have a small problem with the tour though, at that point the video on the screen is showing a world on fire, all blacks and reds and not looking good at all. Not sure if that was the point they were going for, but it is one of my small dislikes as well.

I do like the way Bono has mixed up those lyrics in the bridge, in that there is the recorded version, and when it is sung live he sings some of those lines, skips others, adds in newer or different versions here and there. Not necessarily intentional, he may just have forgotten the actual lines, he’s been known to do that too (registration 1385-WZ anyone?).

My rating for Beautiful Day: 7 / 10

Stuck In A Moment You Can't Get Out Of

I appreciate a song like Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of. You see, my daily goal for writing these things is 500 words, so when I get something like Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of I just have to repeat the title a few times and then I’m halfway to the goal. So if you see me writing Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of over and over, you’ll know that I ran out of things to say.

No, seriously, Stuck In A Moment (see what I did there?) is a really fun song, and a really good song. I think it’s fun because it’s very listenable, it’s bouncy and light and amusing. And it’s good because of the theme, the idea of being stuck in something and feeling that you’re trapped, but being able to realize that no, anything will change if you want it to. I guess you could say it’s the “it gets better” idea writ large. Or maybe the other way round, since I think Stuck came first.

So the song gets a lot of attention because of Michael Hutchence, being the idea that Bono is trying to talk to him, after Hutchence had killed himself. It’s something that I have actually read is not a good thing, the idea of telling a depressed person to pull themselves together, because it’s not that easy. But the message here is a bit deeper than that, because it’s not “get over yourself,” but rather that things will change, and you know they will, because that’s the way a person with depression lives. Bouts of depression, as they say, meaning they don’t stay there all the time. I’m no expert though, these are just my really generalized thoughts. But I would say, if you’re thinking depressed thoughts, get to the idea of the song. Or, better yet, call someone, there are people who can help you.

There are two videos for Stuck In A Moment. The first is fun, at a football game, with lots of references here and there, and I love Adam reading the soccer news, and Larry screaming his head off, and Edge being a klutz, and Bono leading the wave (although the wave sucks). It is very poignant, very nail on the head at the end. On the other hand, nowadays when I see it I can only think back to the Superbowl this year, and I realize that this video may be the story of my year (I’m a Seahawks fan).

The second video is kind of creepy, I don’t know why they made it. It is maybe 80% showing Bono laying down, panning around his head, kind of a loveliest of Bono closeups. It features a lot of bad lip-syncing, as you would expect to see from Bono, and a few shots of the band looking like a boy band. Can’t say I’m a big fan of this one.

I have a confession, there is one version I hate, it’s the Duals version where the band plays with Mick Jagger. I don’t know why, but I just can’t stand Jagger’s voice, and it ruins the song for me. This is literally the only live U2 song that I won’t listen to. Fortunately there’s another live version on From The Ground Up.

My rating for Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of: 7 / 10

New York

I have been to New York once, spent about five days there a few years ago, when my sister was playing Carnegie Hall. I enjoyed the city, it wasn’t as scary as people say (except for the cab rides, holy cow that was a close your eyes and try and breathe experience). The subway was clean, didn’t smell like pee, didn’t have U2 playing in disguise (sadly). It was easy to take a cab anywhere, although we spent our entire time in Manhattan, except for the trip to the airport, a ride across the harbor to Staten Island, and the subway ride up to see Yankee Stadium (the old was being torn down and the new was about to open). I remember coming back home and saying that it was a city full of energy, and I’d love to live there. Not sure about that now though, it’s been a few years and maybe the memories have faded a little too much. Maybe I just like the idea of New York, not the reality.

New York is a slow and thoughtful song, for the most part, from All That You Can’t Leave Behind. Lots of cymbals at the start, in fact mostly Larry to begin, everyone joins in here and there, like I said slow. Bono adds on his voice, kind of quietly, not at all loud and in your face as you’d expect New York to be. The song is a little too literal for me, as I’ve said several times before Bono works at his best when he’s alluding to things, not describing them directly. The song explodes into action partway through, for a short period, before drifting back down into the quiet music. It speeds up again slowly, which is kind of interesting, then explodes again. Meanders back and forth between the two, then ends. Then does a really short and quiet bit where Bono sings New York, and it’s done. I don’t know why that bit is there.

I assume this is Bono’s love song to the city. Certainly feels like it. I know he has a place there, somewhere looking down on Central Park, where he has been known to ride a bicycle now and then. Well, then, anyway.

It is odd that he switches to a verse about the Titanic, although he keeps calling it New York. The Titanic was heading to New York of course, although his description is equating it with a relationship, and I haven’t heard that detailed an allusion in that way before. He says he hit an iceberg in his life, but I don’t know what he was referring to there. Also says “you lose your balance, lose your wife,” which clearly didn’t happen to him.

Perhaps my favorite part of the song is near the end, the “In the stillness of the evening” verse. I’m not really talking about the content here though, it’s just the sound, both the sound of the music and the sound of the words. It just sounds interesting, relaxing, peaceful. Not things I associate with New York.

My rating for New York: 4 / 10

Flower Child

“On the fifth day of May she was breaking away…”

One of those rarities that wasn’t released on an album, Flower Child came out on the Complete U2 after being left off All That You Can’t Leave Behind. It would have been a nice fit on that or any of the later albums, it is soft and slow, but somewhat bouncy. Maybe a little too acoustic, the drums don’t add much and the bass is almost non-existent. I should say they’re there, they just don’t add much. I could see Bono and Edge playing this song while Adam and Larry take a break. Of course it’s never been played live, and probably never will be, so that scenario is unlikely.

The song is 4:56 but for some reason I think it sounds a lot longer, I would have guessed at something like seven minutes long. There are four separate verses, each sound similar but it’s kind of like starting a new chapter every so often, with somewhat of a different phase to the music each time, but that doesn’t make it a bad thing. I like the song enough that it could stand to be longer. Although in total it isn’t making as much sense as it possibly should.

So what’s it actually about? Not sure, really. I think it’s Bono talking about his daughter, at least that’s the obvious interpretation given the song title. The chorus says “The seeds that you sew, you want to watch them grow,” which may be another hint towards that theme. On the other hand, it may instead be about a relationship. Read through the first verse, “George was the street where you first faced defeat,” as in a relationship fight, which goes on to her being cold and you giving up and going drinking (“the Liffey dry”). And then later it talks about hurling at her door like a dog when she needed a man, as in you’re hanging around desperately waiting for her. These tend to be things you wouldn’t think about your kid (I hope), so maybe it is more this than the child thing.

There’s a reference to Holy Joe, who is presumably not the same one as in the song, although they were from a similar timeframe.

The boat heading north facing south, is it taking a trip north and south of the river? Just one of those little reminders that pop up now and then.

Ultimately I don’t know, I feel like I should like this song, like I want to like the song, but as I try and dig deeper into it, I’m not sure that there’s that much to it. It is kind of wishy washy in the lyrics, and I tend to prefer lyrics that have a point (wait, did I say the opposite somewhere else?). I guess I should say I enjoy it but I don’t seek it out. Or maybe I should say that I feel like it is on the verge of being a good song, but doesn’t quite make the step it needs to.

My rating for Flower Child: 4 / 10

In A Little While

I’m not much of a traveler, apart from family events I don’t go very far from home. A quick count would tell me I’ve been out of state maybe ten or so times in the last fifteen years. I think that’s more than many people, some folks never even leave their home town their whole lives. But compared to some it’s not that much. I’ll be heading out in almost exactly two months, to Chicago for several U2 concerts, and that’s my major trip this year. In the meantime, Bono will have traveled many thousands of miles - with broken shoulder - and have many more to go.

The point? That my reading of In A Little While is that it is a love song, about a person who is far away from his love, but who will be home sometime soon. I think of Bono sitting in a hotel room somewhere, or on a plane, and dreaming of being home with Ali and the rest of his family. I remember where there was a tour or two of Europe where they would be in and out of the concert city, on the plane back home as soon as they could between concerts. Easy to do when you’re a couple of hours flying time from home, not when you’re on another continent. Although I do seem to think they did something similar in the US, where they would fly back to New York between shows.

Also the rocket ship into the sky, took a big focus during 360, where they would pretend that the stage was a rocket, and also they would talk to the guys up on the space station. I did enjoy that, although it would have been more effective if it wasn’t on tape (and that would have been way more expensive in both time and money, for them to stop what they were doing in space to talk to U2). Frank DeWynne, a name that will live in history, not for his work in space, but for being on a U2 show. After all, how many other astronauts can you name? Not too many of them reach that level of fame without doing something spectacular (Chris Hadfield, anyone?).

Interesting that the song starts on the right side only, and stays that way for quite a bit of the song. In fact, I was just playing it with only the left ear plugged in, and I was like “what the heck is this?” because all I was getting was the drum track. It took a few seconds to realize that the guitar was playing on the other side, which was hanging down my shirt. I can’t say I’ve noticed that split as being so markedly different in other songs. There are songs which play and sound like they’re moving from one side to the other, but not where they’re broken apart and then come together (hey, and writing that line makes me think of the song’s theme, of being apart).

My rating for In A Little While: 4 / 10

Peace On Earth

As I listened to this song in preparation for this review, I found myself listening to it over and over, each time focusing on a different member of the band. I found this easy to do, because despite this being a single song, each part is clear and distinct. It made me wonder if this song, musically, is the best song U2 have ever done. I’m not talking about the overall thing, but their actual work as musicians. I’m not sure how to describe this feeling any better. I do remember reading somewhere about Adam taking lessons on the bass sometime around here, I wonder if that might be it (not to pick on Adam, just the idea that they’ve all reached the top of their craft at this point).

We begin with Edge, playing quiet and slow but picking up. At the point where Bono starts singing, Edge heads off on a tangent, sort of warbling a little. Then he climbs back into it, before a clear strumming (which may be Bono playing) that I love to hear. Actually all through you do get that warble, high pitch, which kind of lifts the song up to fly and then lets it go back down to the bass for a while.

Larry doesn’t need to pound the drums in Peace On Earth, it’s a slow song, but you do have numerous great moments where he gets to do his own lifting of it. There are those loud bangs, but also the low drums throughout, and cymbals that are restrained but jump in at just the right moments too. He does kick off the song with the snare (I think) playing along with Edge, and when you get in about a minute, he’s playing sounds that are a little odd, almost like castanets. Odd in a good way, it really works, as it does when he heats back up again.

The bass kicks in after thirty seconds or so, and it sounds like booming footsteps when it starts. I don’t know why but I get the feeling of a live concert, you know how you feel it when you’re in the arena and you can literally feel the bass playing beneath you, through your feet. I don’t know that I’ve ever had that feeling before while listening to a song on my computer. The bass follows the lead guitar for a while, sounding really good, a strong sound behind and beneath. Then it goes off in its own direction, coming back and forth. Fantastic.

And there’s Bono. His voice in this takes just the right tone, not too high, not too low. The words are well written, it’s not a screaming cry, or a fatalism. It just fits with the music behind him. “Where there was we’d tear them down, and use them on our enemies,” a line that maybe describes so many things these days, where you just want to hurt others with what you have, rather than being happy with it. I also have to admit to getting tears in my eyes every time “they’re reading names out over the radio.”

It interests me that they have this song on All That You Can’t Leave Behind in 2000, and just five years later the tone switched to Love And Peace Or Else.

None of the above review has really focused on the point of the song, but that’s okay, it’s a little change of pace for me. I think you can tell what the point is based on the title and the words. And if you can’t, go look up the Omagh bombing on Wikipedia. Try to read it without crying.

My rating for Peace On Earth: 8 / 10

When I Look At The World

When I look at the world, what is it that I see? The world is full of violence, both religious and nationalist, it is full of poverty and hunger, and it is full of repression. I see many things the world should be ashamed of. I also see many things the world should be proud of, like the falling of walls, the freedom that we have in many cases, the very fact of the internet. I was thinking this morning about communication, and that people all around the world could read these words if they wanted to, whereas just a hundred years ago, even fifty years ago that would not have been possible. My dream would be for that communication to spread friendship, not hate and fear, and for the voices of darkness that are so loud to be drowned out by the voice of the common people.

Yesterday I reviewed Levitate, and by coincidence today I get another song from the All That You Can’t Leave Behind era. In the Levitate review I said that it could replace several of the songs on the album, that they were all similarly rated and all similar sounds. When I Look At The World is one of those songs that could easily have been replaced by Levitate and not missed a beat. 

I think this is actually a positive song, and I think this is about looking at the world through the eyes of a child. Bono is pretty clear in showing that he is talking about someone who is positive at anything they see, and that he wishes he could see the world they do (“I try to be like you… I can’t see what you see when I look at the world”). He also points out that children will look at someone with some kind of injury, whereas an adult will look away, not necessarily in shame, but not trying to be rude and staring. And somehow he ends it with “what do you see? … What’s wrong with me”, as though it is his problem that he can’t look at the world in this way.

Obligatory religious reference: “I think of you and your holy book while the rest of us choke”, something I think of now and then when I think of the pope in his fabulous gold-plated castle, while poor people everywhere can’t even eat. This leads to the alternate explanation for the song, that instead of it being a child it’s some religious person who is so wrapped up in their faith that they see everything as good, whether it is or not. I happened across such a person online last night, while I was foolishly reading a comments section somewhere. This person was so full of their faith, they were essentially blasting other people for worrying about things like death, destruction and politics, because after all in their view this world is just a transient one. Leads again to my anti-religious argument that people are happy to let others live in misery because of their supposed future in the afterlife. Myself, I’d think you’re more likely to get to that afterlife if you actually help people.

My rating for When I Look At The World: 4 / 10

Levitate

I have talked regularly about the religious aspects of U2 songs, most (if not all) of the ones I’ve reviewed so far have had some religious connection. I couldn’t find any speculation about the point of this song, so I’m going to put out my own idea. I think that Levitate has the most sexual connotation of any song I’ve looked at so far, and perhaps of any U2 song ever. I can’t off the top of my head think of another one quite the same.

Now, I’ll repeat, I’m making this up as I go along. This is my impression and I could be totally wrong, but as I go through this song I read it as a the story of a sexual encounter. Without trying to get at all pornographic, the first verse starts with “ringing like a bell” and “in the mind to let go of control”, goes on to “deep down is not enough”. Then the song goes on to “can’t slow us down, can’t hesitate” and “a love that’s hard”. Of course the “to be the bee and the flower” is obvious. It repeats a few of these ideas, and then the, uhh, moment, is defined by the title, levitate. Repeated twice in the song, so it was a pretty good night.

Okay, now try and get that out of your head. Every time you’ll hear the song you’re going to think about this, aren’t you?

No, I don’t know that any of this is true. My interpretation is as good as anyone else’s, except maybe Bono’s, but I haven’t heard from him yet. It is possible to read religion into it as well, as with every U2 song, but the references to the spirit (“Spirit come on down”) are not very religious, and there’s not much more in there. 

I often think of the line “Gravity not pulling me” when I think of this song, which is weird because the line is from Smile. I guess it’s because of the word gravity, compared to the song title Levitate. 

The song is from the All That You Can’t Leave Behind sessions, and it shows. It fits right in with the musical theme of that album. Apart from Beautiful Day and Elevation, the rest of the album is slow and mellow, kind of relaxed. There are several songs that Levitate could replace on the album in terms of the music, but I don’t think it is better than any of them, which is why it doesn’t make the cut. That’s not to say the music is bad, just that it is too similar to others. There’s a short bit in the song around 1:42, right after Bono sings “not coming down”, just a few seconds of guitar that I think if you were to slow it down you’d be very close to the signature sound of Grace off the album. Is that possible, that it’s a fast version of a slow song, or vice versa? Obviously it is, because they do that all the time. Now that I think of that, I like it a little more, since Grace is one of my favorite U2 songs (oops, spoiler alert).

My rating for Levitate: 5 / 10

Walk On

I’m going to spill a secret right now. When I ranked every U2 song for this project, I came up with four songs that I rated a perfect 10. If you know anything about U2, you can almost certainly name three of them. Heck, my mother could probably name three of them (uhhh, maybe not her. She might recognize the names if I told her them). Those three are I think the most popular U2 songs among the die-hard and casual fans alike. But the fourth, while most folks would know the song, they would also be surprised that Walk On would be among the elite.

I don’t know what it is about Walk On that grabbed me and never let go. It is musically fantastic, lyrically fantastic, there is nothing I don’t like about this song. It has clear and distinct roles for each of the four band members. I could not imagine this song missing any of their parts or any of them being different and not feeling like something was wrong. Adam once again provides the footing for the whole song, driving on with intensity, moving it slow and quick. Larry follows that in many ways, but also steps out and pushes in parts (listen to the version from U22, about the 6:35 mark it’s like a fast-beating heart racing the song along before he falls back into the crashing cymbals) . Edge does everything up front, from the chiming quiet to the loud anthemic punch. And Bono is at his rolling best, writing and singing lyrics that are perhaps his best work since The Joshua Tree.

The song is an anthem to everything. It’s about love. It’s about hanging on in the face of trouble. It’s about Aung San Suu Kyi (I have her picture, I took it out). It is, as Bono sings in many of the live versions, a message of love. It gives us the title of the album. It tells us that no matter what happens, how dark it gets, you can get up and walk on, face your challenges and defeat them. “Home, hard to know what it is if you’ve never had one”, that’s a gut punch to those of us who’ve never had to face situations that millions around the world face daily. The ending, with the "all that"s, is wonderful, pulling you along on a string to hear the different words. I love listening to the end, so many different lyrics Bono has put in there over the years, trying to hear and know each one of them. The change of the music just as that begins to what feels like it should be a chant and response is yet another example of their switching up songs to grab at you.

But what brings it to the top is the emotion. It’s hard to put into words the emotion that Walk On brings out in me. I saw U2 live twice in November 2001, just after 9/11, and the feeling of togetherness was intense. They had just done One, with the scroll of names from the twin towers, and the whole crowd was in tears. And then to bring out this song, this prayer, this anthem, this ode to the feeling that we were all feeling at the time, well, I can’t put it in words. I am not a very religious person, but those moments, in that song, were probably the most intensely religious I have ever felt in my life. As I write this I am thinking back to that and the emotion is definitely welling up again. I often get that feeling just listening to live versions of the song. I can guarantee you that when I am at a U2 concert and see that song played live I will be jumping and singing and crying and laughing and having the most joyful feeling I ever have.

I can’t think of any other song that grabs me like Walk On does. For that reason it elevates to the top of the U2 catalog to be one of the 10s.

My rating for Walk On: 10 / 10