If You Wear That Velvet Dress

Saturday night was Halloween, which is a tradition I am not much into, coming from a country where it is not generally celebrated. I have learned to at least tolerate it, if not enjoy it, since my son was born. He obviously loves it, and will go all out, as will my wife each year. I tend to switch back and forth, usually not bothering to do anything but on occasion doing something pretty much last minute. For example one year I went out and got a Darth Vader costume to wear. I would guess that over the years I’ve probably done maybe a half dozen costumes, not many more than that. And getting to the point that I am making, this year my wife dressed as the bad woman from the Minions movie, and while in general I wasn’t a fan of the movie (it’s for kids, not me), I can tell you that she did a good job, and it made me think of the velvet dress that Bono sings about in If You Wear That Velvet Dress. Yes, I know, some of you are thinking TMI right now, but we’re all adults here, right? And ironically I have been feeling ill today, which also gets referenced in the song.

If You Wear That Velvet Dress is a good song on a generally bad album, I think I have it as about the second best song on Pop. Above average overall though, it could be considered a little creepy, a little perverted, a little like some kind of lounge singer in a bar somewhere, singing a song about a guy hitting on women. Dark and mysterious in many ways.

The music is great, deep and dark, mystifying, just a song where everything is understated, nothing stands out too much, they work together in the background to play while Bono sings. This is definitely the idea of the singer I mentioned above, he is taking the lead and the band in the back is just there playing, not at all the focus of the song.

“I’ve been good” is one of those trigger lines for me, every time I hear it “because I know you don’t want me to” pops right into my head, and sometimes out my mouth, depending on who I’m talking to. Other triggers in this song are “we’ve been here before” and “the moon is a mirrorball,” although that second one doesn’t come up too often. I guess the actual trigger there is just the word “mirrorball,” which brings out the whole line.

The song is sexual in its intent and meaning, there are few more obviously sexual U2 songs. It all depends on how you listen to it though, as to whether you take it as that creepy version, or the lustful version that is probably a little better. I will take it as the second way, as a song between two consenting adults in their own room, and enjoy it for that rather than anything else you might be imagining.

My rating for If You Wear That Velvet Dress: 6 / 10

Gone

Wandering through the middle of Pop is an adventure in randomness and a series of not very good songs. Sorry to say it but it’s true, Pop is one of the worst albums, and it’s best songs are at the end. The middle and perhaps the early part of the album are weak to terrible. Gone, being right in there, qualifies the same way. It feels like a song that maybe could have something in it, like much of the rest of the album it feels undercooked. U2 have said that the problem with the album is that they set a release date before it was finished, and thus never really got to finish many of the songs before they had to let it go.

The music is typically Pop, in some ways typical of the bad songs that U2 have released. A lot of drums - no offense Larry, but I think it’s pretty clear that for most of the good U2 songs you are working in the back, trying to get the rhythm going, rather than pushing out in front and guiding things. Similar thought for Adam, although that doesn’t really happen on this song, I guess I might say that the one thing that works on the song is the bass, very understated, just pushing things along as it should rather than getting in the way. Edge is out in his experimental self, and that’s okay when you’re working on a song, when you’re being creative with it, but again, you need to dial back the wildness to get to the core of the song, and that doesn’t happen here.

Bono’s lyrics leave a little to be desired too, there’s a little too much falling back into “I’m not coming down” when he doesn’t know what else to say, along with the end which is just all repeating Gone and similar sounding words to try and get an effect going. The song is ostensibly about being a rock star, about having everything thrown at you and feeling like you don’t deserve it. It’s the same feeling so many people get, that they’re frauds who are going to be found out someday, so they get nervous and defensive about their actions and success. I have recently been reading a lot about success, about this feeling, and come to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter. What matters is yourself, if you are successful you deserve it for a reason. I have always been nervous about public speaking, even speaking in front of a small group of coworkers. But again, lately I’ve realized that everyone is, and no-one is ready to stand up and do things. So if I do things then I’ll get to be the person that others admire, or go to, or whatever. So I’ve been trying to do that more lately. Tomorrow I have to present in front of a large group of strangers, next week I have to present in front of my coworkers. I’ll try to think of Bono’s words when I’m doing it, maybe I’m learning to like the way it feels.

And after all that, the news coming from Bono today was a rumor that the next album, Songs Of Experience, will be out next year. I’d like to say sooner rather than later, but I’d also like to make sure they cook it properly before they release it, so we don’t end up with an album like Pop and songs like Gone.

My rating for Gone: 4 / 10

Please

Please is far and away the best song off Pop, there’s no doubt about that. The rest of the album struggles, as I’ve detailed before, just a few days ago in fact. But Please, it belongs in the upper echelon of U2 songs. I don’t know that it would make my top 20, but it wouldn’t be far outside of it. A great song, especially live.

This is one of those rare songs that I chose a date to review it on. If you don’t know what date it is, or you’re reading this years from now, I will tell you that I am posting this on September 11. A date that sends a shiver down the spine every time you hear it, right? When you hear that date it automatically throws you back to that day. It is one of the very few moments in my life - maybe three, maybe four - where I can tell you exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard what was happening. You all have that exact same story - well, not the exact one, but you know what I mean - and just reading this makes you think back to it, doesn’t it? The shock, the fear, the anger, being absolutely glued to news that day and for days afterwards.

I think back to U2 playing in the months after 9/11. That really did feel cathartic, I know it sounds crazy to think so, but it did. I’ve said before, I’m not very religious, I am definitely on the side of Bono when he talks about the show being his Sunday morning. I’ve also said before that I have felt more “religion” in a U2 show than any church, and this was perhaps the most of any. I saw them play twice in Texas then, crying my eyes out as names scrolled across the ceiling during One. It was fantastic. So why am I doing Please instead of One? Because Please is the song I associate with 9/11 more than any other. Why? Try these lyrics:

“September, streets capsizing, spilling over and down the drain,

Shards of glass, splinters like rain, but you can only feel your own pain.

October, talk getting nowhere,

November, December, remember, are we just starting again?”

Now read that again and again. Remember this came out in 1997, four years before 9/11, but isn’t that an absolute description of that day, and the months after? The first two lines were the day itself, you couldn’t be more clear about that. October was when the hawks were dragging us into war (against the wrong person, of course, but Bush Jr. had daddy issues). November, when I saw both the shows, there was an absolute feeling that it was starting again, that we were going to go to war again over a land far away. And here we are all these years later, and we’re still doing it. But at least the profiteers have made their money.

And all that and I’ve barely mentioned the song itself. I could talk about the love side of things, I could talk about the religion side of things. But I chose that date, and that’s what it means to me now. It is a funky song, really fantastic guitar, drums, bass, this is one of those songs where everything comes together. There is a live version that was released on the single (how quick was that?) which I consider to be the definitive version (and it rolls into Streets, making a perfect pairing). You listen to that and you hear each one of them, almost in turn, taking their step forward, playing their part, then stepping back for someone else. They don’t, of course, but it sounds like they line up just right. So well done, love listening to it.

If only I could do so without crying.

My rating for Please: 8 / 10

Pop

I’m going to remove all suspense and tell you right now that Pop is U2’s second worst album, at least in my opinion. We all know the story of the album, the fact they went a little out to the edge of things and it didn’t work. They’ve done that many times over the years and sometimes it has worked in a great way - Achtung Baby - and other times it just hasn’t worked at all. Pop is the latter, with almost nothing on the album working well. They tried I think to grab the zeitgeist, to get into the club scene and so on, but really they are better when they are leading the way.

The way to make a poor album is simple, make one without any hit songs. That sounds obvious, but there is a clear curve on every album from great to poor, and there are some otherwise average albums that have been pulled up by one or two great songs. Look at War, which rates just a tenth of a point higher than Pop, and that’s simply because of one song on War that got a ten - I haven’t reviewed it yet, but you can guess which one. If not for that song, the curve these two albums follows is almost identical, several in the average range and several in the poor range.

One of the things that colors the image of Pop is the way it was promoted by the band. Their whole facetious take on the music of the time, trying to say that the music in the 1990s sucked, and the idea of the attacks on consumerism and the way the world was going at the time, well, it just didn’t work. Their weird costumes and presenting the tour in a department store, the public just didn’t get it. And that made U2 a bit of a parody in the eye of the public, especially after Bono had done all that weird stuff with MacPhisto on the prior tour, people just began thinking of them as full of themselves and getting kind of weird. That may have been a death blow to the band, but fortunately they came back to their senses in later albums and moved back to the top again, for the most part. There are still people who have an image of U2 in a giant lemon, and that’s the way they will always think of them.

My highest rating for a song on Pop is for Please, the review of which will be coming up in about a week, for specific reasons I will explain then. Please is a really good song, and really emotional for me, but it doesn’t have great resonance with the public, it hasn’t had great legs with the band, and it isn’t able to carry the album by itself. When you then have to drop a couple of points to get down to Wake Up Dead Man and Velvet Dress (which have a lot in common), you can see that things aren’t well in Pop land (or the PopMart if you prefer).

The album starts with Discotheque, which I think surprised many people, myself included. It seems like one of those parody songs, especially the way they presented it. It slowly moves through the early songs, then gets to what I think of as a trilogy, If God Will Send His Angels, Staring At The Sun, and Last Night On Earth. They make for a middle of the album that is just a little odd, kind of an attempt to go somewhat post-apocalyptic with the music, and again I’m not sure that’s a good thing. It doesn’t exactly bring on a sense of happiness to sing about those things, does it? It’s kind of like the Smashing Pumpkins and their Mellon Collie album, which had one CD of sunshine and one CD of darkness, and there was a clear difference in mood between them. The problem with Pop is that there isn’t that sunshine CD to flip to when you get depressed by the other.

Harsh, right? I don’t have much good to say about it all. They move on through Miami and Playboy Mansion, which are once again throwaways, junk or filler for the album. But they end on a good note, or maybe I should say interesting note, with Velvet Dress, Please and Dead Man ending the album. Interesting that my three highest rated songs are all at the end? Yes, especially given what followed on the next album. Those three songs certainly seemed to hit the ideas of All That You Can’t Leave Behind better than they did Pop, didn’t they?

Pop was in a gap between other albums that was probably the longest in U2 history (not checking specific dates here), it filling in a space of seven years between Zooropa and ATYCLB. I have to say that gap now feels a lot longer than seven years. Even the wait for recent albums technically may have been longer, but they just didn’t feel longer. Pop kind of filled the void in the late 90s, but it was just fluff or filler, and that’s what leaves a disappointing taste.

My rating for Pop: 4.6 / 10

Mofo

Ah yes, the song I couldn’t play in front of my mother. Might have been about her (or at least about Bono’s mother, who stands in for many other mothers), but that doesn’t mean I could play a song with a title like Mofo or words like that. I would have gotten a whooping for doing that, and it might have changed the entire trajectory of my musical history, Well, not really, by the time Pop came out U2 was well entrenched in my life. But still, might have engendered some unhappy memories. Not that the song didn’t manage to do that by itself.

Of all the songs on the album, which is where U2 went kind of crazy for a little while, this is very close to the worst. By very close I mean there are three or four songs on Pop that rate around this badly, and honestly I haven’t ranked them in order from worst to least worst. I’ve done that at the top of the list, ranking the top songs, but haven’t done the bottom. Maybe that’ll get to be one of the year-end pieces, if I can stand to do it. Mofo will certainly be a contender for the top spot, or the bottom spot, or however you want to term it.

So we’ll start with the music, it is pretty terrible, dance music much more than the rest of the songs on the album. I have to admit I am not a dance music fan, I’m not a fan of all those versions that U2 did trying to get into clubs, the 101 mixes of some of the songs in the 90s. I’ll listen to them, but not very often. That’s kind of the same with this song, Mofo is all beeps and whistles instead of real music. Just a bunch of looping crap back and forth, I’m glad Edge got it out of his system but I’ll be honest and wish it had never gotten in there in the first place.

And then you get Bono singing, and his voice is extraordinarily distinctive on this song, isn’t it? I mean, he must have been up all night smoking cigar after cigar to try and get his voice to sound like that. Rough, stretched out, scratchy. Terrible. Painful to listen to. Not even much better when you see it live, when you watch the PopMart video. I can’t help thinking of this when I think of bad sound from the band.

The whole point of the song then is the relationship to his mother, of course. An early attempt at something, but not very well done. Thankfully he tried and tried again, and ended up with Iris, which is a thousand percent better all round. The one little weird bridge in the middle of Mofo is out of sync with the rest of the song, and it really does sound like a line that could have come out of Iris. But the rest of it, no, just awful.

Must admit to liking the “white dopes on punk” line but then again I think he took that from somewhere else so it might not even count.

My rating for Mofo:  1 / 10

Pop Muzik

I actually remember the original Pop Muzik, by a band called M. It’s amusing going back and watching the video on YouTube, these days they’d be torn apart for lip-synching (check the woman, needs to learn how to hold her microphone in front of her face while pretending to sing). I was a kid when it came out, it was apparently famous enough that not only do I remember the song but enough of the lyrics to be able to sing along with it (although technically I may be tainted by the U2 version).

U2 did it ironically, at least I hope they did, as part of the Pop experience. The whole Pop Mart thing was kind of hokey, what you look back at today and cringe about. They used Pop Muzik as an intro to the tour, playing it each night as the opener, kind of like they have been playing People Have The Power on Innocence + Experience this year, the walk-on music (not to be confused with the Walk On music).

They put a club music kind of theme onto the song, as you can tell by the start, a whole bunch of electronic stuff while the words New York, London, Paris, Munich are repeated over and over. Then it goes into a different kind of electronic beat, repeating Pop Musik again and again. Wow, my complaints about repetitive music this year are reaching a new high. Well, to be fair, that’s the point of the song, and I certainly can’t blame Bono, except you know, this is the U2 mix, which means it is their fault.

It gets a review because they released it on Last Night On Earth, otherwise it would be just another one of those oddities you’d hear of every now and then. Not that it isn’t, of course, it would just be even more obscure. It could be considered the throwaway at the end if you want. I certainly do.

Interesting oddity, every time I type the title of the song my Mac tries to correct the spelling to Musik. I could understand if it corrected to Music, but a K at the end is considered correct spelling?

Okay, so it’s not written by U2, not Bono’s lyrics or Edge’s guitar or anything like that. It’s a pile of crap to be honest. One of those songs where you remember it and look back and laugh at how terrible it really was, and how famous it was too. Yes, this is the kind of music that was sung back in the day, when U2 were trying to get going. Not by them, but by bands looking for that one hit wonder. That kind of music is still around though, in fact you might say it’s even worse these days, given the groups that top the charts these days. I have zero respect for any musician that doesn’t write their own songs. Thank God U2 didn’t go into this, they decided to become a real band instead.

My rating for Pop Muzik: 1 / 10

The Playboy Mansion

Poor topic, poor music, poor lyrics. The trifecta of poor. Just a dull dull song that I haven’t listened to in a long time, and won’t listen to again for a long time if I have the choice. It came off Pop, one of the lowest rated albums, and was one of the worst songs on the album, so it’s another that would have a serious shot at being worst U2 song ever. I don’t think it is, but it would certainly be in a bottom ten somewhere.

The topic of the song is difficult to discern, it does seem to be all over the place a bit. The initial sections of the song make me think of religion, make me think that he’s talking about whether he has been good enough to get into the mansion of heaven. That image is of course burst, and burst badly, at the end, when he flips it around to talk about the Playboy Mansion instead. It is an interesting image though, to take what is essentially the two opposites, heaven and Playboy, and invert the song that way.

The music is kind of funky, it starts out sounding like it might be a little bit interesting. You hear some fairly regular drums and bass, but there’s a waah-waah coming from the lead guitar, and that seems like it might make a song. But then Bono starts singing, and those ten or fifteen seconds or so of interesting stuff suddenly dips down and becomes very bland, hanging around in the background, just making much of nothing really. The music just doesn’t grab me at all after that.

Despite the words messing up the music, the lyrics in general struggle, but there are occasional bursts of interest in them. There’s a quote from Bono talking about how mentioning Michael Jackson and OJ Simpson tends to date the song, and he’s right about that. I am one of those people that dislike movies that have very topical references, that kind of movie tends to age badly, and tends to suck for many other reasons too. Mostly that if you’re the kind of movie trying to put those references in, it’s because you don’t have much of a story in the first place. The same applies to the song, there is not much there and he is trying to put them in to fill it out.

So despite all that, I have to find something good about the song, right? Well there is one part that I like, somewhere in the middle. And it’s not so much the music, or the lyrics themselves, but it’s more just the feeling at that point in the song. It’s the verse that begins with “I never bought a lotto ticket,” and also the verse that starts with “Chance is a kind of religion.” Ignore the words, listen to the tempo, and it is really quite interesting. It speeds up just a little compared to the rest of the song, again not the music, but the speed of the words that Bono is singing. It speaks to how the song could end up being better, with different and more interesting lyrics, but also a slightly faster tempo. Again, the possibility of something decent coming out if they worked on it more.

My rating for The Playboy Mansion: 2 / 10

Do You Feel Loved

It’s funny but this song is one I haven’t listened to in a long time, I don’t remember certain parts of it at all. Of all the songs I have listened to for reviews this year, this is the first one that has made me think that way. It is such a nothing song that it has just dropped out of my mind. The very high “do you feel loved” part is pretty much the main thing I remember from the song, words that bounce around in my head every so often, don’t know what the trigger is for that. Much of the rest of it is just different kinds of noise, and often not even very good noise either.

I didn’t remember the opening fifteen seconds, which sound like a completely different song. Then they kick into the electronic stuff and that opening sound is pushed to the back, and it all takes off in a different direction, which is a shame because that start actually sounds quite interesting.

There’s a couple of verses saying “Take these…” and that is a phrase that came back around several years later when they released Yahweh, because it uses the exact same words. I guess either it stuck in Bono’s mind (even though it didn’t stick in mine), or he subconsciously brought it back up again, or maybe he was trying to finish this song in some way.

The song is obviously about sex, quite descriptive in parts, if you were to split off a few of the verses (basically the non-“take the” verses) it would be kind of a narrative of a couple having sex. The title “do you feel loved” ends up making you think about a relationship of course, but the interesting line in the song is “stick together, a man and a woman,” which is both referring to the title, as in stay together, but also to the actual sex act again. 

The one mystery to me is the title, which doesn’t have a question mark at the end. I actually had to check the title in iTunes to make sure it doesn’t have a question mark, because obviously it should. Or should it? Does leaving off the question mark turn it from a question to a statement? If you listen to the way Bono sings the line, you can’t even say that there should be a question mark there, because he doesn’t quite have that lift at the end that would turn it into a question. It certainly does sound more like a statement when he sings it that way. So why is it not a question? It’s kind of like the “do I not like that” phrase (google it), which the question mark changes a little, I think. So too with the song title, which could take on different meanings when read either way.

The song kind of dies out at the end, which is kind of an appropriate phrase for this song. The whole thing kind of dies out, or perhaps it was a mercy killing. They only played it live half a dozen times, which usually means they couldn’t figure how to play it live, or they just didn’t get a reaction from the audience for it. Not surprised about that.

My rating for Do You Feel Loved: 2 / 10

Last Night On Earth

By some weird coincidence I am writing this as I watch a movie, I put the movie on and then started with the review, and the random number generator pulled out Last Night On Earth while I watch the movie Zombieland. A perfect soundtrack for the movie, amirite?

Last Night On Earth is another of those songs that I enjoy depending on my mood. If I’m in the right mood it’s really good, if I’m not then I don’t want to listen to it at all. I suppose that description could apply to much of Pop.

It’s one of those songs that, like much of Pop, was recorded quickly and wasn’t really completed, even when they went and re-recorded it for the single (and then did a mix, the First Night In Hell mix, during their “mix everything several times” period). The single in most ways would be considered cleaner, maybe a little lighter, less rough around the edges, and unfortunately I would say a little sanitized. Not quite so much interest in it. But isn’t that always the way when you have a single, what is essentially a radio version, that you want to be played and liked by a wide audience. You have to clean it up because the public in general doesn’t want that rough side. And they certainly don’t want the First Night version, which is frankly one of those mixes that I listen to just to write about the song, and may never listen to again.

Some fun and interesting guitar effects here and there, mostly in the start. I also like the intro part where Bono is singing relatively quietly, before what you might consider the song proper takes off. It’s always interesting when he does those sorts of chants, or spoken words, or whatever you might call it. What’s disappointing is when they get to the single version, they’ve actually removed that part.

Has the repetitive “You’ve got to give it away,” which Bono says is pretty much the last part he came up with, when he was running on fumes trying to finish the song and album. That’s why it shows up something like twenty times during the song, heavy repetition which I usually dislike. There are minor lyrics changes during the chorus, at least the last one, but that doesn’t necessarily make up for the rest of it. So points lost for that.

The video is kind of awful too, they try to do a narrative but it doesn’t really work too well. You have William Burroughs being the bad guy, I think, I’m not quite sure because it is so random. You have really bad lighting effects, if they’re going for a washed out sort of color they got it, but I dislike it like that. Supposedly they shut down the highway in Kansas City to film the video, I bet KC wants their money back for doing that. Irritate a lot of people while filming, and then produce an outcome like that? I’ve been to Kansas City once, I don’t know which highway it was that they filmed on though. Wasn’t a great city, not somewhere I would go visit again real soon, unless I really had a reason to be there.

My rating for Last Night On Earth: 3 / 10

Discotheque

Well, where can I start on this one? Discotheque, there is so much right with it and so much wrong with it. On balance though, it’s the wrong that makes all the difference, and ends up dropping the song in my estimation.

For starters, it’s the song that is the signature of the Pop era, the weakest era of U2’s history, which means that it’s a reminder of one of the low points in the band’s life. I just recently said that it was the likes of MacPhisto and other characters that Bono has taken on, that end up defining the band. I probably should have thought of this era, which is perhaps even more in the public’s memory than that is. When I think of the times for Pop, it is the images from the Discotheque video which spring unbidden and unwanted into my mind. It is their time of being freaky, and it is a little disconcerting for me to watch and think about that time.

Weird sound at the start, this is not your parents’ music. It bounces in and out, there’s a lot of distortion, they make Bono’s voice sound weird, and so on. Short, staccato sounds throughout the song. It’s definitely a child of the club scene from that time, which is something I wasn’t ever really into. You get into the section “looking for the one” and you start to hear a little music in the background that sounds pretty good (I actually think it’s just the bass that I like), but then it twists back into the regular stuff and the good disappears. It’s almost like one of those songs that get left off an album for being terrible, but there’s that one sound that gets pulled into something else that is good. Unfortunately in this case they left the terrible in with the very small good. And then you get to the end with the boomchas and the repeated title, where they apparently ran out of a way to finish.

Looking at the video, I don’t know why but the mirrorball at the start looks like Edge. Bono jumping around like a fool. Edge looking weird with that beard. Adam and Larry hiding in the back while the other two make fools of themselves. The costumes. The lights. The Village People. And Larry going through the motions at the end, I can’t blame him, as always. Yeesh.

And a short note to finish with, today Dennis Sheehan died while on tour with the band. I never met him, but I had heard about him and seen him in several videos and photos. In fact just the other day I saw a picture of him on Twitter, Bono was outside one of the recent shows (don’t remember if it was Phoenix or San Jose) meeting and greeting the fans, and there was Dennis standing in the background, checking something on his phone. I thought at the time that would be a cool job, being lead guy for a U2 tour. Many respects to him and to the band tonight.

My rating for Discotheque: 2 / 10

Holy Joe

For some reason I always thought that there were a bunch of versions of Holy Joe, but there are only two. There’s a Garage Mix and a Guilty Mix. Why I thought there were more I don’t know, maybe because it came on the back of Discotheque, which really did have a thousand versions.

I did not realize that Holy Joe was only ever played live once, in the Kmart when U2 launched the Pop tour. I don’t know why they never played it again, it is a really good song. It is in fact better than many of the songs off Pop, if it was on the album I would probably have it as the second best song.

I can’t decide which of the two versions are better, but I think it might be the Garage Mix. It is shorter (4:22 vs 5:09 for the Guilty Mix), and I do think that it feels a little tighter. In fact when I checked the length of the two, I was surprised that Guilty is only 47 seconds longer, I would have guessed it to be about 6 minutes. I think the Guilty mix is a little slower, musically. It’s not that they’re playing slower, it’s almost like the song was played slowed down. Bono’s voice sounds the same, so maybe they just slowed down the music? I don’t know. I don’t have the technology to play the two songs side by side and slow one down, or speed one up, and see how well they match up.

The biggest issue, and again it may be because it was not a truly finished song (which is why it was a b side), is that there are times where Bono’s voice disappears into the music, and I have to strain to hear and figure out the lyrics. I’ve talked before about hearing that they have usually turned up Bono’s mic a bit, so it can be heard over the music, but maybe they didn’t do that this time.

Starts with “I’m a humble guy,” which we know Bono is not, and so that is an amusing line to me. The song does have a bunch of repetition, the “come on come on” sections play eight times, and the “here comes Holy Joe” five times (mostly together with the “come on” as well. Maybe that’s a detraction that took it off the album. I really do like the switch into the “Having the best time…” line, which appears a couple of times, it is a fun little change of pace for him to be singing those lines so much faster than the rest of the song.

As an aside, and a perhaps insulting thing, I have a friend called Joe who is deeply religious, the kind of religious that definitely wears it on his sleeve. Not only do I think of him as “Holy Joe” because of the song, but every time I hear the song I think of him. That’s kind of a double-edged sword right there.

My rating for Holy Joe: 7 / 10

Miami

I’m already on record as saying that Pop is one of U2’s weaker albums. They went off on a  tangent from where they were, and it didn’t really work. Miami is one of the songs that didn’t work too well, I actually have it tied for worst song on the album, and it is probably in the bottom ten of album songs (versus non-album songs, which I don’t have ranked the same way and there are certainly enough of those that are just as bad).

When I think back to Miami, the only thing that comes to mind is “Miami, my mammy,” and that’s as much an indictment of me as of the song. After all, I rarely listen to it, so it’s difficult to remember the words, but then it is a poor song and I don’t necessarily want to listen to it. So today may be the first time in a couple of years that I’ve even listened to it, and when I did it sounded odd, like I didn’t remember any of it. 

Bono sounds odd in this song. I’m not sure how to describe it. It’s clearly him, you can tell the voice, but he’s not really singing, it’s more speaking than he’s done in pretty much anything else I can think of. I can’t place the sound though, I keep trying to relate it to some of the music that we played for my son when he was really young, one or two, but it’s not quite that. The other thought that pops is the even more odd idea of Sesame Street, there’s something about some of the songs and the way they go on Sesame Street that sticks with me. So ultimately I think my description has to stay as “odd”. Like a lot of nothing else. And towards the end he starts screaming Miami, and it’s really a bad sound. Especially since the song just fades away after that.

Don’t care at all about the lyrics themselves. There’s nothing to them, other than the description of a trip they took to Miami. It’s not so out there descriptive that it could be, it’s certainly not the mystical descriptions that he does in some of the much better songs.

The drums stand out on this song, more than most, but this time not in a good way. They’re oddly sounding too, oddly loud. I read some stuff that said they were sampled a lot because Larry was out with a back injury, so they used machines to replace him while experimenting. On the other hand, Adam is absent from this song, in that I don’t hear the bass at all. Edge isn’t much better either, because the sound is so sampled the entire musical part just ends up sounding… odd. I can’t get away from that word, can I? So embrace it, Miami is odd. That’s as good a description of the city as it is of the song.

I’ve never been to Miami and this song doesn’t help me want to go there.

My rating for Miami: 2 / 10

Wake Up Dead Man

If you don’t know who the dead man is, then you haven’t been paying very much attention, have you? This is one of the much more religious songs in the U2 pantheon, as it is directly a conversation with Jesus about the world and the way things are and how they should be.

I always think of Wake Up Dead Man as being a very dark song, the darkest on the album, but I’m not sure that’s so true. Many of the songs on Pop have at least a dark undertone, especially the middle with If God Will Send His Angels, Staring At The Sun, and Last Night On Earth. And If You Wear That Velvet Dress is musically as dark as Wake Up Dead Man. So, it’s not necessarily so far out of place on the album as you might think.

Interesting guitar at the start, the very singular playing is not at all like the multiple layers of echo and delay that Edge usually uses. It takes a minute for the bass to kick in, but when it does it sets a much deeper tone, and then another thirty seconds for the drums to join. Played live it’s really good, I guess it’s the version off Slane that is out there, and that moment when Adam starts playing is just fantastic, really gets the song moving. There is some kind of wailing in the background on the album version of the song, I don’t remember what that is, whether it was something like the birds from Morocco or what. Then you get to the bridge, where it starts doing the “listen to” section, and I just love that. This is one of my favorite sections of any U2 song ever. It’s raw and powerful, the music just takes off by itself. This is one of those moments where the words may not even matter, just their cadence is important.

So the story itself is a person talking to Jesus - presumably in prayer, but not necessarily - and telling him that they need him to return to earth and solve all our problems. Tell me about eternity and how everything’s going to turn out great for us. The idea of the world falling apart, and wanting to rewind things like a tape recorder to get back to a semblance of order where things will turn out all right. That’s interesting to me, because ultimately the world will end up the way it is, that you can change individual events but the arc of the whole is most likely going to bend the same way every time.

Profanity being used in the song (“fucked up world”) is surprisingly rare for U2. Sure, Bono has sworn on tv and caused all kinds of problems with the FCC, but it is uncommon for something to reach an album, despite what you might think based on what the folks who do the ratings say. In fact just sitting here, off the top of my head I can’t come up with anything else. I know there are, they’re just not focusing into my mind right now. And I don’t think there are any other f-bombs in U2 history, are there?

My rating for Wake Up Dead Man: 6 / 10

North And South Of The River

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

Staring At The Sun

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

Two Shots Of Happy, One Shot Of Sad.

I don’t know anything about Frank Sinatra. I mean, I know the name, I’ve heard of the Rat Pack, the whole gangster thing, sure. And yeah, there’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” that Frank and Bono recorded together. But could I name any of his other songs? No, not without googling. Well, maybe - is that “New York, New York” song by him? If it is, then that’s the sum total of my knowledge. Oh, and he has a daughter, Nancy, who also sings (“boots are made for walking”, which now I think about it, was that a Frank song first?).

So it came to me as a surprise when I was checking out Two Shots Of Happy, One Shot Of Sad to discover that this was not a Sinatra song, but was an original song by U2. I swear I have always thought that U2 covered this song. Weird, huh? So even though I have no idea what Sinatra sings, the sound and the atmosphere of the song just remind me of him. I guess that’s some powerful music right there, that makes you place it so specifically into a particular theme or style. Good job Bono.

For whatever reason, when I listen to this song I’m also transported back in time to old black and white movies. I’m thinking of Humphrey Bogart right now, the Casablanca sort of thing. I don’t think Sinatra had any involvement in that, I vaguely think he did movies but I don’t think it was as long ago as Casablanca. But that’s the impression I get. The sound, the lyrics, make it feel like you’re sitting in one of those old bars in the black and white era, sitting alone or maybe with someone else. No, alone it is, and there’s a girl dancing up on the stage and you’re singing the song to or about her. A failed romance, I think. But then the ending kind of gives some little hope, doesn’t it? A feeling that at the end of the song - or the end of the night, or their lives - that she’s come back to him, the compromise, and everything might end up okay. That they’ve taken the two steps forward and one step back, and eventually they get to where they’re going. Is that plausible? Can we always end up in that happy place, no matter what?

It’s one of the few songs that is just Bono and Edge, with no Larry and Adam involved. There are others, and they’re almost always like this, something slow, something acoustic, so you don’t get the drive of the drums and bass. In general I’m not a big fan of those songs, I guess there are some I like, but overall even in a live show I’m not so happy when Larry and Adam leave the stage while the others perform by themselves. It just feels like there’s something missing. And even with the whole orchestra behind them, it doesn’t really fill in for them either.

My rating for Two Shots Of Happy, One Shot Of Sad: 3 / 10

If God Will Send His Angels

Somehow I always thought the name of this song was If God Would Send His Angels, not Will. Maybe I don’t listen as closely as I thought.

I’m not a big fan of this song. It’s slow, kind of dreary, and not very hopeful. It has a deep religious aspect, of course, but it goes back to the well that other U2 songs have been to, like Wake Up Dead Man does on the same album (and does better, too). I don’t find the hope for the return of Jesus to be very enticing, the whole end of the world bit has been done to death, as it were. It’s not the religion part, it’s that there are certain people who take that idea to the extreme, and live this life with their eyes on the next, meaning they don’t act as they probably should in this life.

There are a few good lyrics in there. This is another one of those trigger songs, where I hear a phrase somewhere and it reminds me of some of the words here. Blister is one - “Jesus’ sister’s eyes are a blister”, although I don’t know what that actually means. My favorite line is “Then they put Jesus in show business, Now it’s hard to get in the door”, which is appropriate for what I said earlier about people in religion. There’s a lot of those guys that are completely fake, just putting on a show, using Jesus as a prop so they can make money. Pretty much anyone who has a tv show about Jesus is only in it for the money. And don’t get me started on the mega-churches, that is the total opposite of everything that Jesus preached. I remember having a conversation with someone about how many millions of dollars their church had raised, to build a huge shiny new building, and thinking what would Jesus do with all that money.

The song is off the Pop album, which (spoiler alert) is not going to rate very highly. I think it’s one of the lesser liked albums among U2 fans, so how it managed to spawn six singles (this one being the fifth) I don’t know. In fact of the entire album there’s only one really good song with staying power (and you’ll have to keep following along to find out which one it is).

Now having said all that, the video for If God Will Send His Angels is brilliant. Not at all related to the content of the song, it shows a split screen in a diner, with Bono at the top, and at the bottom are random people walking in and sitting at his table. I read that he had to act and sing very slowly for the video, because he is in time with the song and everyone else is at high speed. You do see that a couple of times, where his mouth loses sync for a bit with the words, but overall it is really well done. And the point where the rest of the band comes and sits at the table, and Bono turns and stares at Edge for a few seconds, I always think something funny is about to happen, and even though it doesn’t, it still amuses me.

So, can I give a bonus point for the video? Not really, because I’m grading on the music. And that’s not very good.

My rating for If God Will Send His Angels: 4 / 10