The Wanderer is a U2 song, on a U2 album, and yet it is perhaps the least U2-y song ever. There might be some competition for that title, but in this case you never hear Bono sing, except for a little warbling at the end, as it’s all done by Johnny Cash. This is a really good song, great music, especially the bass (which is actually most of the music), perhaps even the best song on Zooropa, which is also odd because it’s so out of sync with the rest of the album. Kind of a finishing piece, and in a way it reminds me of The Joshua Tree, which I mentioned a few days ago goes into a kind of dark ending with Exit and Mothers Of The Disappeared. Zooropa does the same with this song.
I have always thought of The Wanderer as a song which could be the theme for the Stephen King story, The Stand. We’re talking apocalyptic, end of the world kind of stuff, and that’s exactly what the song is about. It has heavy lyrics, once again God is deep in it, and in some ways the story of man, both pre- and post-apocalypse. I can quote this one line for line, and many of the lines are trigger lines for me. My favorite is “They say they want the kingdom, but they don’t want God in it,” yet again a reminder of modern day religion.
It reminds me greatly of When The Man Comes Around, another song by Johnny Cash. Obviously the voice is the same, but in that case the music is similar and the lyrics are even along the same sort of thread. I don’t have much exposure to Johnny Cash (I was never much of a country fan), and I think the first time I heard that song was on an episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, the television version of the Terminator movies. That was a great show, sadly met its demise way too soon. Anyway, in one of the episodes a SWAT team is moving in to arrest a terminator. When The Man Comes Around begins playing at the start of the scene (the only sound we hear throughout is the song), and we watch the raid, and watch the terminator kill the entire SWAT team (except the hero, of course). It is violent and shocking and emotionally jarring. I don’t get nearly that emotion from The Wanderer, of course, but I wouldn’t get that from When The Man Comes Around if I hadn’t watched the tv show.
In other music where U2 has been influenced by or joined with other artists, I have developed an interest in their other work. Except in this case, I didn’t develop it from the U2 song, I got it from a different song which I often conflate with the U2 song due to their similarities. And unlike other artists, I never took much further interest in Johnny Cash and his music.
By the way I’m irritated at iTunes, because when you have multiple artists it splits them by artist name. So you have the album Zooropa, which according to iTunes has 9 songs, and then further down you have another album called Zooropa, by U2 featuring Johnny Cash, with just one song. And they’re not right next to each other, because it sorts by artist name first (this is my choice), and U2 featured other artists who get to be in between alphabetically, so the Zooropa album is split in two. If you don’t know better, you wouldn’t know that last song was on there. I don’t know how to fix this, or if there even is a fix. And yeah, if you think that’s annoying, you ought to see what they did with Duals. One album per song…
My rating for The Wanderer: 7 / 10