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