War is an album that a lot of people love, but I’m not really in that category. I didn’t rate it very highly when I reviewed it, because I felt there were a couple of great songs that have stood the test of time, some songs that were fairly mediocre, and a fairly long tail of poor songs that have quickly disappeared into nothing. Red Light is one of those songs, a song I don’t listen to much, one I don’t want to listen to much, and a song that is fairly competitive as the worst song off the album.
The red light phrase is fairly well-known across the world, especially the red light district of a city, and I think I tend to associate it with Amsterdam more than anything. The song I think is going for the idea of a person being trapped into the life of a prostitute, and the singer is perhaps in love with them, and wants to try and rescue them from that situation, but can’t because they’re not welcome.
The song to me is a little bit of a reversion to the earlier sound in the U2 catalog. It features fairly simple instrumentation and fairly simple lyrics. As I go through the song I’m mostly hearing the bass, and a whole lot of drums, which were a feature of the early days but they also boomed on War, so maybe there is a little bit of progress in the song. There’s also a trumpet playing here and there, turns out that Kid Creole and the Coconuts were in town and some of their musicians helped out on the song in various ways. It is fairly uncommon for an instrument like that to appear on a U2 album in such a prominent way. Mostly when they have guests they’re backing music or short inserts, not leading the song and not showing up throughout. In this case the trumpet doesn’t seem to add much either, it’s not like it is really integral to the song like say when they have the backing musicians on All I Want Is You.
For the lyrics it is quite simple, there are some verses, and then the chorus is overloaded throughout the song. The “I give you my love” is repeated so many times it is irritating, especially at the end of the song when they just ran out of ideas and sang that repeatedly until the song finally faded away, perhaps out of boredom. That is one of those irritations for me, that in the early days they were unable to take an extra step and finish a song, whereas today they would work on it for months to get it just right. I guess that’s a sign of success, that you could push through that problem enough to get to the point where it no longer is a problem. How many bands are never given that chance?
I’m in California right now, just a couple of days for a wedding. I have thought of the song a number of times, I had the idea of visiting the locations in the song, but haven’t had time to do any of that. About the only part I was successful on was the blood-orange sunset, which I actually saw as I flew in on Friday. It was really pretty, I can see why it would stick 30 years later to get into a song.
My rating for Red Light: 2 / 10