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