Bad

Of all the songs in the U2 pantheon, the ones that make the top of the top are the ones that are great songs whenever you hear them. It doesn’t matter if you are listening to them on an album, or one of potentially many live versions of a song. What matters is that excitement you feel the moment you start hearing the sounds of the song, or in some cases the anticipation that builds when you know that song is coming on next.

When I first started listening to U2, I began with The Joshua Tree, and not long after began working my way back through their catalog. On listening to The Unforgettable Fire, there were a few songs that I liked, but the one that stood out immediately was Bad. It is always a good sign if I like a song right away, often I have to listen to a song many times before I “know” it, and only then can I begin to like it. But for Bad it was an instant love, and it was a love that has carried over to this day. I was so happy during the Innocence and Experience tour every time they played Bad (although I wished they had played it more, in fact there are times when I wish they would play it more than once during a single show).

Bad is for me the top of the top in U2 songs. It’s not number one, Streets already has that position, and in reality there are other songs ahead of it too, but not many. Sneak preview of a review I will be writing at the end of the year, with a top 20 in it, you can expect to see Bad very close to the top. I love the song from the album, I love it live in every variation (I actually downloaded the Boston 3 show this year just because I liked that version of Bad so much, with the tributes to Lou Reed in it).

Bad is perhaps the ultimate live song, because it has such a good middle section that can be repeated while Bono goes off on a rant, or off telling a story somewhere, while the band just plays on and on until they get the signal to continue the song. That’s probably why it has all those variations, because it is so easy like that. That’s probably why it is one of the few U2 songs I can play pretty well, because the notes themselves are relatively simple, it’s the combinations of echo that really make this song stand out. I am often surprised by how little Edge is actually playing, when he hits three or four notes and you get ten out of the pedals he is using. I have played around with it, not really good at it, but I think many U2 fans would recognize what I was playing.

I think on this tour I learned much more about the history of Bad that I didn’t know. I knew it was about drugs, but combining it with Raised By Wolves, and Bono’s statements about that song, helped give it much more intimacy. Basically Bono’s friend was at the bombing talked about in Wolves, which tells of him going into drugs to try and forget. Then Bad is a much deeper part of the drug story, the same person’s story. A really interesting connection between the two songs. It was also good to hear Bono talking about that guy coming to their shows in Dublin, having apparently solved at least some of his demons. I wonder if there might be a third song in the future, telling us about that part of the story.

My rating for Bad: 10 / 10

Making of The Unforgettable Fire

There was a mini documentary a while back, half an hour long, it was called the Making of the Unforgettable Fire. A slice of life in the history of the band, it showed a little of the recording process, a little of the studio work, and a little of them messing around here and there. I’ve seen it several times over the years, it is always a fun time watching it. The sound quality isn’t that great, it tends to go up and down in both the ability to hear and understand them, and the volume, which is surprising given that it came from a recording experience. But it is certainly an enjoyable video to watch.

At the very start of the video Bono says “I believe the song’s already written,” and I think that’s something that I have discussed over the last several months. The idea of him trying to get the words out, that he is singing the words that haven’t formed yet, that’s been a bit of a theme. He starts by making noises, sounds like words, that slowly as they go back and forth making the song, that I think is what he is getting to here, and it is a really profound thing to say. The idea that you’re not creating it, that it already exists and you’re just revealing it. It’s like the infamous block of marble, where the sculptor just chips away all the bits that aren’t the statue he’s carving. Really interesting thought.

They all look so different today, of course. Larry as always looks like a little kid hanging around with the grownups. Edge, hair receding, looks surprisingly like Brian Eno. Bono with the mullet, how fun was that, how stylish? I’m doing a program with some kids at my son’s school, they’re supposed to create a play set in the past, I wonder if I can convince them to do the 80s and have them dress up with Bono mullets? That’d be great. And Adam, he’s changed by far the most from this, I don’t remember him looking like this in photos, he looks positively normal in many ways. The dark hair is what throws me, it makes him look so different.

It’s funny watching Bono singing in the film, there are a few times (when he’s wearing these crazy looking boots) when he looks like he really needs to pee. Like he’s so desperate to pee, and his voice keeps getting higher and higher as he tries to hold it in. So funny to watch. But then you see other shots of him, and he looks like this earnest young man (remember they are mid 20s at this point) trying to make music history. I don’t know, I guess this is good based on the results, but I can’t help feeling that if I’d been hanging around there at the time I would have thought he was a bit of an ass.

The video really shows how much influence Eno and Lanois had on the band, them playing or singing or telling the band what to do, pointing them in the direction they wanted them to go. There are parts of the video when I’m wondering which of them is actually in the band, these two guys at the mixing board or those bunch of punks laying on the sofa behind them.

And it ends with “I hope you don’t mind a bit of volume boys” as they roll into the Pride video. A neat ending to the film, which is in many ways a deconstruction of how Pride was created. An enjoyable stroll through music history you might say.

My rating for The Making of the Unforgettable Fire: 7 / 10

The Three Sunrises

The Three Sunrises was a b side from The Unforgettable Fire single, and although I know the song and could sing at least some of the lyrics and hum at least some of the tune, I have to say that it is not quite unforgettable. In fact it’s mostly dull, mostly just seems like a half finished kind of piece, not fully formed I guess you would say. Feels like it could do with a bit more baking, perhaps a lot of work on the lyrics, and you might get a half decent song out of it. The half decent part is what bothers me though, it might be the explanation for why the song didn’t go very far, because it doesn’t sound like much of a hit, or even a worthwhile song to complete. If it’s in a stack of partially done songs, it’s going to float to the bottom of the stack as others jump above it.

Now if you’ve heard this song you’ll know it contains one of my chief complaints, that of repetition. I feel like I’m being a little repetitious in saying this. The whole “in this love song” part, what you would probably call the chorus, is repeated four times, but each of those is repeating “love song” four times, so you could say it’s repeated sixteen times in total. That’s a bit too much for me. But then it’s even compounded after that, because the verses in between repeat themselves too. “Love won’t find its own way home” and “sunshine on me” repeat throughout the song. This is what I’m talking about when I say it needs more work on the lyrics, because each of these parts appearing once or twice is okay, but four times is overkill.

I don’t know the point of the song. I don’t know what the three sunrises are. There are not enough words in the song to make it any clearer. I could call this a love song, and make something up about sunrises, but I don’t know. I could call it religious, and say that on the third day Jesus rose again, so maybe they’re referring to those three sunrises. Don’t know. And then I could point out that this came from The Unforgettable Fire, and survivors have talked about there being a second sun on the day the bombs were dropped. Again, might be a bit of a stretch. I just don’t think there are enough lyrics to determine the point of it.

The song’s other claim to fame is that it was on the Wide Awake In America CD, which I listened to a lot in the early days because a) it was one of a few U2 songs that I had live recordings of, and b) it had Bad on it, which for the longest time (and still to this day) was in my top few U2 songs of all time. So I heard The Three Sunrises quite a bit while listening to that CD. Doesn’t mean I remember much about it these days though.

My rating for The Three Sunrises: 3 / 10

A Sort Of Homecoming

A Sort Of Homecoming, what a great song. I think I keep saying that about songs off The Unforgettable Fire, but it really is true. The album was kind of a breakthrough, from the hard rocking of War to the ethereal, peaceful sounds on The Unforgettable Fire. And the first song, the introduction if you will, was A Sort Of Homecoming, and it grabs hold and shakes you to your soul if you let it.

It starts with a little drumming, then the guitars open up and you get this strong feeling of both power and detachment. Not sure how to explain that any better. It’s the idea of floating above the fields he talks about, sweeping through a town and looking around and down. It is so very cinematic in that sense, I almost feel like some of the images from a Wim Wenders movie is what inspires this, but Wings Of Desire was years later I believe.

Bono starts with that voice, the one he had in the mid 1980s, the one that gathered all the attention. It wasn’t the strident sound from the earlier albums, he had clearly learned a lot on how to sing in that time, but still it had a little bit of an edge to it. The rest of the band was also approaching that mastery point, if it is possible to say that one can master the instruments, but certainly they were playing at the top of their game. At the pinnacle of their profession is a phrase you might think of.

I’ve talked before about listening to this album when I went to college, I would sit on the bus for an hour’s ride each way, listening to U2 all the way for months at a time. I remember listening to A Sort Of Homecoming over and over, concentrating on the music this time, then on the lyrics the next time. I think this is perhaps the song that really got to me the idea that a song isn’t just a bunch of music and words, but that the song itself can be poetry. The thought that you could strip away all the instruments and just have the words, maybe change them a little to remove the thought of it being a song (the repetition that a song has which a poem usually doesn’t), and put it in a book and have people say wow, this is really good writing. Bono has done that a number of other times of course, but this was one of the earlier versions, and one that really set a scene in your mind’s eye.

“Across the fields of morning, lights in the distance,” I don’t know why but that’s one of those phrases that pop into my mind every now and then and I am instantly transported to this song again. It’s a song I may not listen to for months at a time, and yet I think of it much more often than that, and imagine myself in this scene regularly. Hope is what it feels like, I think.

My rating for A Sort Of Homecoming: 8 / 10

Love Comes Tumbling

Love Comes Tumbling is one of the best rhythm section songs the band has ever recorded, great bass and drums working together. It is one of those songs that you could listen to just for that, and in fact I usually do just leave it running when I want to hear the bass and drums. The problem is that there are times when I don’t want to hear them, by themselves, which is what the rest of the song feels like. The lead guitar is present, just not exceptional or particularly interesting, and there’s little or nothing to the lyrics, which seem to be done with a couple of minutes left in the song. I wonder if this was just music that they put together, then tried to put lyrics over it and didn’t get very far.

Love Comes Tumbling was a b side on The Unforgettable Fire single, then again right after that on Wide Awake In America, ostensibly a live mini EP, but in reality only two of the four songs on it were live. Not sure why they made it, really. Promo thing, I guess. But either way, Love Comes Tumbling got relegated to a b side on both, and that’s about where it deserves to be. There’s a bunch of b sides that I have thought were good enough to get onto their related albums, but this is not one of them. It belongs on the b side at best. The more I write about it the more I realize that I really don’t want to be writing about it, just as I don’t want to be listening to it that much.

There is an alternate lyrics version out there, but although I’ve read the lyrics and can imagine what they sound like, I’ve never heard it. I wonder how it would sound if the two sets of lyrics were combined on one song, might make it a little more interesting. The song is confused, unfocused, various words in that sort of vein. Maybe I just don’t understand what it’s about, which is entirely possible. “All roads lead to where you are” is kind of the theme, could be the title of the song based on my son’s theory that they name each song after the phrase they use the most (which is true, in a very general sort of way, but it was amusing that he said it when he did, because seconds later The Wanderer began and destroyed his theory). The other parts of the song, the verses in this case, they don’t make much sense. I’m going to file this one under poetic license, and not worry about it any more.

Listened to some of New York 3 tonight. Was really irritated, connections were terrible so I had to jump back and forth between Periscope and Mixlr and Meerkat. You’d think a big arena in the biggest city in the world would do better than that. Come on Madison Square Garden.

My rating for Love Comes Tumbling: 2 / 10

Indian Summer Sky

Another summer theme, just because I feel like it, having spent all day playing and swimming with friends. A perfect complement to the songs next to it on The Unforgettable Fire, Indian Summer Sky is fast but loud, has good beat and music, interesting lyrics, and just works well overall. It follows Bad and leads into Elvis Presley and America, which give interest at the end of the album. It’s kind of like the ending to The Joshua Tree, where the last few songs are a little deep and introspective sounding, a little mystical, and really take your attention when you’re starting to think the album is tailing away. In this case I almost think that these three songs are the best songs on the album, with at least one exception (Pride).

When I talked about Elvis Presley and America I was somewhat amazed that the lyrics were very lyrical and poetic, even though they were essentially a stream of consciousness from Bono as the song was being played. Nothing done to clean them up, just laid down as they were sung the first time. For Indian Summer Sky, it gives off much of the same feeling, but with the exception that it feels like the song was actually cleaned up, proper lyrics completed, basically a few steps further than Elvis was taken when it was done. This is a good thing, because these lyrics really sound complete, like Bono was trying to say something, although I’m not sure what.

It starts with him saying that whether he’s in the ocean, a forest or in a hole in the ground, he wants to head up and look at the sky. Then he talks about sparks of flame, light striking the trees, wind blowing through his heart. I’m not sure what he’s trying to get at here, what the meaning might be. If anything, reading into it a little shallowly, it seems to be a celebration of nature, of light, the sky and sunlight and the earth. Is it just a hippy song, getting back to nature? It’s possible, although as always Bono has multiple layers within a song. But I do think this is at least the general feeling of the song, trying to get out of somewhere and into pure nature. Something I love to do myself, too.

“Hup hup hup hup” is sung in the background, not sure who that might be. Eno? Lanois? I don’t even know who was working on the album at the time, and I am not going to go look at liner notes to figure out who they credit with it.

Going back to the rest of the music, this is again a song where the band is working so well together. As time has gone on, listening to the different songs on the albums, you see a clear progression from the rough and tumble early stuff, working forward with each album becoming better and better musically. They have learned their instruments (or at least are many steps further along the path of learning) and now they are working together, timing things correctly, each part coming in to make a much superior whole. It’s really an amazing thing to listen to the band progress this way.

My rating for Indian Summer Sky: 7 / 10

Boomerang I / II

There are two versions of Boomerang, obviously called I and II. They were released as b sides to Pride, variously on different editions and sometimes on the same one. Boomerang I was an instrumental, although I didn’t mention it a couple of weeks ago when I covered instrumentals, because I was saving it for this review, just because it went with version II. Boomerang II had lyrics, which make it better than I, but not better enough to make it worth much.

My untrained ear can’t tell much about version I. I hear a loop of about four seconds, maybe even not that long, repeated over and over. Slowly during the song other little bits are added here and there, a wah-wah-wah comes in and out, and a high pitched jingle-jingle joins and sticks around. So overall it’s basically additive, each bit that gets added in staying for most if not all of the rest of the song. Doesn’t make for particularly compelling music, in fact I guess you could tune in for the last four seconds of the song and you would have heard all of it, right? Well, maybe a little more than that, because the end kind of dies away. But you could listen to the time from thirty seconds left to twenty seconds left and you’d have it all. I also keep imagining I’m about to hear Bono pop in and start wailing at any time, which suggests I’ve listened to version II too much.

Version II adds a couple of minutes, which may tell you all you need to know about Bono. Oh, I kid, you know I do. Singing pops up around 30 seconds in. The lyrics follow throughout, but really kind of indistinct. I have to go read the lyrics to be able to follow them completely. And they turn out to be fairly disappointing, the repetitive “soul wind blow” isn’t very exciting. The most exciting part is the “in the drift” section, repeated a couple of times, which actually brings up a little bit of excitement. Not much though, and like the rest of the song just not enough to be of long lasting interest. There are obvious reasons why this is a b side. And there are also obvious reasons why it is a b side on The Unforgettable Fire, this is a song that was tailor made for Brian Eno, or perhaps by Brian Eno. It’s one of those that are the soundtrack of his life.

I can’t really hear the music in the second version well enough to tell if it does the same stuff as the first. It does build the same, at least in the early stages, but I can’t tell if it just continues with the same from that two minute mark to the end. There are a couple of spots where it changes slightly, but not that much.

Great show tonight, the last one in Boston. Really wish I was heading to New York.

My rating for Boomerang I / II: 3 / 10

The Unforgettable Fire (song)

If you had asked me a few years ago, I might not have rated The Unforgettable Fire as highly as I do now. This one has been on a slow burn, like many others not being liked much at first hearing, but unlike most others taking a long time to reach a point of being better than average in my opinion. It may have been from hearing it live, specifically the version from 360 on U22, although I’ve heard it live in other places and it hasn’t had that effect. Maybe this one was just better? Of course it had taken a long hiatus between the Joshua Tree tour and 360, so it’s also possible they were old recordings.

The song starts off kind of ethereal, a sound of seagulls (but not a flock), and you start to wonder what it’s about. Then the drums come in, Bono starts panting, and the words hit. Now the words for The Unforgettable Fire are a little weird, maybe dreamy is a better word. Remember when I said that Elvis Presley And America (off the same album) was made up by Bono as the music played? Well, this song in many ways feels somewhat like that. It has more structure, and I guess while Elvis Presley was a one shot that made it, maybe they tried that with Unforgettable Fire, but then went back and cleaned up the words a little. I have no clue about that, it’s just the kind of sound or vibe that I get from the song, like it’s not quite all got meaning, but it has a little.

They talk about the title of the song and album being related to the atomic bomb in Japan, and you would think that the song would have some relationship to it too. Does it? Not from the words, not from the sound, there’s nothing there that I would relate to a bomb going off (unlike Raised By Wolves on the current tour). But once again I am left wondering what the meaning of the song is. It’s clearly poetic, and the few pieces I do get from it might be, as always, about love and relationships. There’s enough pointers to love, save your love, “stay tonight in a lie,” that sort of thing.

Supposedly the song was difficult to play live, although they ended up playing it hundreds of times in the early years, so it can’t have been too bad. And then after that long break, to bring it back either they had forgotten how bad it was, they didn’t think it was that bad, or maybe they had learned how to do something with it. Talking here about the U22 version, it sounds good, it doesn’t sound too different from the album version for the most part.

So in all, a good song that keeps growing on me. Maybe if I come back in another ten years and write about it, it’ll be my favorite U2 song of all. Yeah, maybe not.

My rating for The Unforgettable Fire (song): 7 / 10

Wire

I sit here tonight hunting streams, listening to iHeartRadio, and refreshing Twitter every ten seconds. Yes, that’s right, tonight is the night for the new tour. But while I want to be there, and am there in spirit, I have to write, and today I jump back in time some thirty years to the Innocence part of the band’s life.

Wire came off The Unforgettable Fire, one of those songs on the weaker side of the album. I’ve never really understood it, it hasn’t made much sense to me over the years. Like so many songs on the album, it has what I consider to be disconnected lyrics, another stream of consciousness that Bono was into at the time. Okay, so the song is about drugs, I’m not too hip on that topic (and never was) so maybe it is all over my head (or under it). But once again even though it’s a stream of consciousness, it is way more connected than anything I could do, and maybe it’s making sense for someone who is under the influence.

Starts with a little light guitar that gets louder and faster, a little jagged edge you might say, as the rest of the band kicks in. Then Bono comes in and everything else calms down a little, which I think is something that doesn’t happen very often in real life. But then he takes it up again and we’re rolling. I guess now that I think about it that this is one of the rockier songs on the album, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing for this album, although somewhat out of tune with the rest of it.

Anyway after all that, I end up reading through the lyrics and realizing just how many of them I actually relate to and think back on regularly. Those words that when I hear something it pings them into my head. The opening word, innocent, every time I hear that I think “and in a sense I am.” “The longest sleep,” “Such a nice day to throw your life away,” “I’m no dope,” these are all triggers for short bursts of memory. And speaking of “I’m no dope,” the very end is “Here’s the rope, now swing away,” according to U2.com, but I swear I have always thought that it was “swing on it,” which is an entirely different meaning to the end of the song. Or, maybe not.

And apologies for how disjointed this, I discovered it was impossible to write when the band came on stage, had to stop and listen. But iHeartRadio only played the first three songs, so I had to stop and finish writing this. And then of course I decided to stop again, and go find streams, links, Periscopes, anything I could. I can only say wow to the new tour, can’t wait until I see it live in person, it’s going to be fantastic. I might have to write some more on it in the next few days, too.

And sorry to any Wire fans who might have wanted me to be a little more focused.

My rating for Wire: 4 / 10

The Unforgettable Fire

When I first listened to the album The Unforgettable Fire I wasn’t sure what I was hearing. I was coming backwards from The Joshua Tree, and the difference between the two is quite profound. The Joshua Tree is a rock album, whereas The Unforgettable Fire at times feels like an art project, one of those “experience” albums people release. It has the clearest influence from Brian Eno of any U2 album.

The Unforgettable Fire is a mix of songs, everything is either good or bad, there’s nothing in the middle. In fact it is the only U2 album where I have no songs rated either a five or a six. Ironically though the average song ends up in that middle ground, because I have half the songs rated highly and half the songs rated poorly. It leads it to be one of those albums that the average rating doesn’t really work on too well. 

The most well-known song is Pride, but the best song is Bad. I absolutely love Bad, especially live, I will tell you that it just barely missed the cut for getting a rating of ten out of ten. It is a song that draws you in, gets into your soul in a way. There are in fact other songs on the album that do that too - the title track and Promenade especially so. Just like the album, it took me a while to warm up to the title song, and as so often has happened, it took a live version of the song to get me really into it. Maybe that’s why I didn’t like this album initially, because I didn’t have live experiences of it, and the songs that I rated poorly were also ones I haven’t heard live much and the band hasn’t played live much, if at all.

So to the question of what the album is about. The phrase The Unforgettable Fire refers to the detonation of a nuclear bomb, if I remember correctly they took it from a Japanese art or history project on World War Two. But that is not very thematic, and neither is most of the album. You have something like Pride and MLK, which both talk about Martin Luther King, then you have Bad which is about drugs, The Unforgettable Fire which could be nuclear war, and so on. Nothing specifically sticking together in that lot.

The thing about The Unforgettable Fire that keeps coming back to me though is the idea that it is something very cinematic in a way. More than a decade later U2 would get back together with Eno and make the Passengers album, which was designed as a set of theme songs for movies. If I were to describe The Unforgettable Fire I would describe it in that same way, like they created the idea with this album and used it, then it was a decade later the idea came back to them. For many if not most of these songs it is very possible to close your eyes, listen to the music - and sometimes the words - and feel images running through your mind brought on by it. It usually leads to something very calming, and the feeling that you could be watching the end credits of a movie with the soundtrack running over the top. For most of it, it really does work that way, and perhaps that’s the theme that is missing from the album when you listen to it intentionally.

I can’t help feeling that this is a really good album that just misses a mark, that it should grab me much more than it does. But then there are times, like in the paragraph above, where it grabs me and won’t let go, and it’s those times that I want to get into it. Like the songs themselves, the album as a whole has a split personality, that if I’m in the mood it is fantastic, but if not then I just want to get it done with.

My rating for The Unforgettable Fire: 5.5 / 10

Disappearing Act

I don’t know what the random number generator is doing this week, but it’s pulled up another great unknown. A few days ago it stopped on Holy Joe, which I said was good enough to be the second best song on Pop, if it had made the album. Today we get Disappearing Act, which I would have had as third or fourth best song on The Unforgettable Fire, if it had made it instead of waiting forever to get onto the Deluxe edition of the album.

Okay, so I go do some research and it turns out it wasn’t even finished until just a few years ago, during the 360 tour and for the deluxe Unforgettable Fire release. Maybe that’s why it sounds so good, although they kept the music from back then and just added the lyrics lately. 

It starts with the basic guitar line from I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (interesting that it was created during the Unforgettable Fire sessions but held off, and not used until it was resurrected during the Joshua Tree). Then the rest of the band joins in and it starts rocking. This song really soars, it is pretty much exactly what I would describe if I was trying to describe the U2 sound overall. You have the drums thumping away, the bass is driving the song forward, the guitar is alternately quiet and chiming and really pulling away. Then add the lyrics, which are really interesting, and the whole thing is great. Perhaps the epitome of U2.

They get into the section that starts with “Alone,” and ends with “And you think that you can love,” and I just love it. I mean, this is one of the best sounds I think U2 ever created. I would, I could, and I have listened to just this part of the song over and over. They repeat it twice during the song, but in the best way possible, which is that there is the same sound, and some of the same words (I.e. the ones I just listed), but everything in between has the same rhythm but different lyrics. It works really well both times. 

Okay, so now we get to my impression of the lyrics. I’m studying them and thinking about them, and here’s what I come up with. As always, your mileage may vary, and I may be way off the charts on this. I’m going to say that it’s about a relationship that has ended. The first part is about the guy (or girl I suppose, my natural way is to think of it as the guy since I am one), he’s been left, and he’s saying okay, that’s fine, I’m alone now and I’m happy about it. Probably a bad relationship for a while and he’s glad to be free. Then the second part he’s changed his tune, he’s talking about her, he’s saying that he misses her and wonders if she found what she was looking for (see what I did there?) when she left, or if she’s missing him too. Yes, no, maybe? Something else to add to my movie based on U2 songs (yeah, you’ll have to dig deep to find those references).

My rating for Disappearing Act: 8 / 10

Pride (In The Name Of Love)

Early evening, April 4, as Bono has corrected himself over the years. I was fortunate that they have two songs about Martin Luther King, so I could put this one on the date mentioned in the song, and give MLK to Martin Luther King Day.

Pride is one of the classic songs from U2 history, and it still means a lot today. I think this is at or near the top for many U2 fans. For some reason though I find myself cringing slightly when it comes on now, maybe because I’ve heard it so many times over the years. I would say I’m a little bored with it, but that doesn’t apply to some of the other songs that I’ve heard way more times that I’ve heard Pride. Not sure what it is. Maybe because of Rattle and Hum, where it is the last song before the credits, and honestly it’s not a great version of it. I don’t know. In fact thinking about it right now, I don’t think I can even name a great live version of the song.

The other thought that comes to mind is about the simplicity of the lyrics. I have gone on about old songs not being as interesting to me, because they repeated a few lines over and over. Pride actually ends up being one of those cases. If you look at the lyrics on U2.com you’ll see seven separate sections, and four of them are the repeated chorus, and that is even repeated within itself (the line “in the name of love, what more in the name of love” runs twice within each chorus). The verses also repeat the “one man” theme over and over, at least in the first two. So maybe that’s my boredom with the song.

There is of course the one section that refers to Martin Luther King, as I mentioned at the start. That seems to have overtaken the whole meaning of the song, despite it being one of the three verses, and the last one at that. I suppose the other verses could generally refer to MLK, although it is only the third that is explicit. For example the second ends with “one man betrayed with a kiss,” an obvious reference to Jesus and Judas (which would be explored in much greater detail a few years later in Until The End Of The World).

There are three versions of the video, which I didn’t know until I was researching this. Up until this week I had only seen two of them. The first was the one in black and white, in the performance hall. I always liked that one, the story seemed interesting. The second was the film from Slane Castle during the making of the album. That one amused me, there are different shots of each of the band members doing different things and it’s a great slice of life from that time. And the third, the one I’d never seen before. Produced by Anton Corbijn, who I just wrote about so glowingly. Well, if I’d seen this video before writing that, I don’t know what I would have thought of him. But this video is of the band in a room with effectively no lighting, and it is terrible. Very close up shots of the guys, so you only see half of their heads most of the time. And when you see all of them, it’s Bono really hamming up the lip-synching, looking quite stupid as he does. I very much dislike this video, and I’m glad I never saw it before.

My rating for Pride (In The Name Of Love): 9 / 10

Promenade

I think The Unforgettable Fire is a very underrated album. I know I underrate it myself, when I guessed as to where the rating would be, I was quite a way below where it turned out. It not only has some standout hits, but it also has some deep sleepers that no-one who isn’t a U2 fan has ever heard. Promenade is one of those. It’s short and quiet and poetic and deep and interesting.

I remember listening to Promenade all those years ago and being very inspired by it. I would listen to it over and over, and write poetry and lyrics, not necessarily based on it but not totally different. To be honest I don’t have any of those poems I wrote and I don’t remember anything about them. I just remember them being brilliant, kind of like all the lyrics that Bono has lost over the years, right? No, seriously, they were more likely terrible pieces of teenage poetry, stuff you’d be ashamed to show anyone these days, but the point is not how bad they were, the point is how inspirational this song is.

There are different ways to read the song, the literal story, the love story, the sex story. Any of them could be plausible interpretations. Literal is of course the look out at a promenade, a party going on, with fireworks and people being active and excited. The love part could be a straight look through several of the lyrics, where he’s talking about being in love with someone and watching for her and feeling all kinds of feelings when she returns. And of course there are a few places where it can be interpreted as sex, going up the spiral staircase to a higher ground and exploding like a roman candle. Each of these has their own validity, can be read by different people this way at different times, and that’s one of the magical things about the song. It’s entirely up to you as to how you choose to interpret it, if you do at all. It can fit any conception you choose.

The music in Promenade is very complementary, there is just the right amount of bass, of guitar, and of drums. They match up really well to Bono’s voice, not too high and not too deep, but kind of casual. The whole song is all light and airy, and bouncing up and down at just the right moments.

This song is I think a demonstration of the essence of poetry that people often don’t understand. I know I don’t, and it takes listening to Promenade again to get to the point. Often when I think of poetry I’m thinking of the different kinds where you’re trying to get an AABB or ABAB rhyming pattern, or any of the variations that I can’t begin to name. I don’t know much about the technical details of poetry. I know that this song is it, true poetry. It’s creating an impression, not necessarily digging through to find that rhyme, or hit that specific number of syllables, or whatever. It’s laying back and getting a strong yet possibly undefined feeling from the words and music. It’s brilliant.

My rating for Promenade: 7 / 10

Bass Trap

Bass Trap is just what it says, a trap, playing bass. An instrumental that showed up on B sides of The Unforgettable Fire single, and for some reason there’s a “Best Of” version on the 1980-1990 B sides. By best of they mean they removed about two minutes of it. If you’re going to listen to one, listen to that one, you’ll hear exactly the same as you would if you listened to the longer version, but you’ll save two minutes of your life. This music would be well-suited to an elevator or a hotel lobby.

Edge says (in The Unforgettable Fire box set that was released in 2009) that they looped a bit of bass, then he and Daniel Lanois played over it. So this ends up being another piece that was influenced by one of the two guys, Lanois or Brian Eno. They recorded so much stuff with U2, or guided them into what to write, that they really are pseudo-members of the band. I’ve never really listened to them by themselves, I wonder what their own music is like? I gave my wife a Daniel Lanois CD, Acadie, because that’s where her family originates from, but I don’t think she’s ever listened to it.

I don’t mind U2 releasing the extended or deluxe versions of albums, they can be very interesting. Listening to some of the stuff that got rejected for an album is often illuminating, when you hear something like Lady With The Spinning Head and see everything that spun out of that one song. Alternatively you hear things that are similar to what made it onto the album, too similar to include as well. And you hear things that didn’t quite get completed in this album, but might have gotten onto another album in the future, the proto-songs if you will. This is all good stuff.

It’s when you get something like Bass Trap, which was apparently included on the original Unforgettable Fire single just to fill in some space on the record. In fact looking at the variants of that single, it’s almost clear that this is exactly why Bass Trap was included, because they went up to a 7 inch record and that’s when it got added, so obviously they didn’t want a big blank space on the record. They threw this song on instead of something interesting. I don’t know if it’s because I much prefer music with lyrics (I’m not a big symphony fan either), but this isn’t worth listening to.

The problem of course is that the space on the record needs to be filled somehow, and if you haven’t recorded anything else, or if the other stuff you have is either good enough to keep for a later date, or bad enough that Bass Trap is better, then maybe it’s the right choice. I’ve never been in a band, but I always assumed they were in the studio recording a bunch of songs, then picking the best and most appropriate for the album. Apparently that’s not true, they really are just trying to get their dozen or so done before closing up shop. There may be others or parts of others left hanging around, but once they get to the magic number they need, the rest of it goes by the wayside.

Anyway, don’t listen to this. Or do, once, just to confirm I’m not missing a gem. Or because you’re in an elevator.

My rating for Bass Trap: 1 / 10

MLK

MLK is musically kind of dreary. Just a few different notes repeated back and forth. No drum, no bass. The words are repeated (mostly). A fairly short song overall. But this song is not about the music, and only partly about the words. This song is possibly the closest to a prayer that U2 have done. It does fit fairly well into The Unforgettable Fire, the entire album is kind of quiet and thoughtful.

Personally what I like about it is mostly that it leads into With Or Without You, and yet I’m not sure it has even done that very often. It did in the Rattle And Hum movie, and that’s where I’ve seen it played the most, where WOWY follows right after. For all I know (and I’m not going to do the research), it might have only played that way one time.

It was also sung for Aung San Suu Kyi at some points, which compares her to Martin Luther King. I suppose that could be a valid comparison, both are fighting for their people. Not in the same way, but good enough. I think they’ve also dedicated it to others over the years, which may tend to dilute the message.

On this day we get to pause and reflect about Martin Luther King (and literally as I write a commercial for the movie Selma came on tv). I have to say that I come from a point of privilege, being a white male, and so I’ve never had to live the experiences that many people go through. I can read history though - and much of the news that happens today - and my own liberal leaning tells me that we have a long way to go. The message from the song is that even if there are problems in the short term - the thunderclouds that pass rain - they will be gone one day and dreams will be realized. The question, of course, is how long it will take the dreams.

I have long had the theory that it takes the current leadership dying to produce progress. This applies to race and gender and probably many other things. In the 1960s the leaders of the country were old white men, and the up-and-coming leaders had pretty much the same views. As time goes by they lose power, or die off, and younger people slowly get more tolerant of many things. The arc of history is long but it bends towards progress. Or something like that. The question is how long to wait for progress. We see progress in women’s rights. We see progress in gay marriage. I’m not sure I see this happening in the black community in the same way. It is much more a case where white people are actively working to keep black people poor and in need, rather than enabling them to step up and improve their lot in life. This is why studies consistently show that poor people perform worse in life, and black people are a large subset of poor people, largely for historical reasons.

So how long until we see MLK’s dream realized? How long must we sing this song?

My rating for MLK: 4 / 10

Elvis Presley And America

This is a tough song to review. It’s a tough song to listen to, as well. I remember listening to Elvis Presley And America a number of times when I first listened to The Unforgettable Fire. It has a really good sound, but what I was trying to do was figure out just what the lyrics Bono was singing are. I think that’s a problem for everyone, since googling gives several variations of the lyrics, and even the official site’s lyrics don’t sound like what he’s singing.

Supposedly Brian Eno had slowed down the music for A Sort Of Homecoming, played it back and told Bono to sing. And Bono sang, without any written lyrics, and just made up the entire song on the spot. And they recorded it as he sang, and that became the song on the album. That is a crazy story, of course, but one I can absolutely believe. In those days Bono was at his musical best, and was able to write some great lyrics (just listen to The Unforgettable Fire, some of those words are amazing). I can certainly see him just making up a song on the spot. I could do it myself, but my version would be terrible, would be way out of sync with the music, and wouldn’t flow nearly as well as this song does. Maybe he had the angel from Stay singing the words to him.

The story also goes that he was thinking about Elvis Presley as he sang, thus giving it the name. Supposedly the Elvis of the latter days, when he was fat and tired and still a huge star in Vegas. I don’t see that at all in the song, there’s nothing that mentions Elvis, or even that gives the feeling of Elvis. I could see it being as simple as Larry - a huge Elvis fan - wanting to call it that (I make this up of course). I really have no idea.

There are few lines in the song that I completely understand the whole of the line. Those lines suggest to me that this song is about a relationship, and what they are saying and what the tone of the music is saying is that it’s a sad relationship (“Hopelessly, so hopelessly, I’m breaking through you and me”), or a sad point in the relationship, but the singer has faith that they will continue (“You’re through with me, but I know that you’ll be back for more”). But the end of the songs suggests that even though it’s a stormy relationship (“And this rain keeps on coming down, and this sky is alive”) they will eventually be reconciled (“And you pick me up, bits and pieces on this floor”).

So with all that, I do like this song. I don’t listen to it often, and it’s not one I seek out to listen to unless I’m in that kind of mood. And when I do I also like to listen to it’s album-mate, Indian Summer Sky, as well. They both seem to have a more bassy, deeper kind of tempo. It is a melancholy feeling when listening to Elvis Presley And America, but somehow in a good way. It is, if possible, melancholy with an upbeat sound in there as well. Is it truly the music from A Sort Of Homecoming, just slowed down? I don’t have a way to tell that. If I listen to the first part of Homecoming, before Bono begins to sing, then I listen to the start of Elvis, I do kind of get a similarity there between the music, especially the drums, just slower. So maybe it is.

My rating for Elvis Presley And America: 4 / 10