Suggesting a lazy drive through, well, the heartlands of the USA, “Heartland” is very evocative of such a place, with subtly driving bass, delayed guitar splashing shimmers about, and highly descriptive lyric utilising the old Joshua Tree tactic of desert’n’water themes – And the poison rain/Brings a flood of fear, Mississippi and the cotton wool heat/Sixty-six, a highway speaks/Of deserts dry, etc.  Apart from the odd guitar overdubs, and  what sounds like a vibraphone in the last minute or so, it’s relatively (and appropriately) spartan in arrangement. It’s also a song the band seem to like and regard as important, as the lyrics appear as a standalone in the front of the CD booklet in a manner similar to R.E.M.’s “World Leader Pretend” on Green, or the band’s own “A Sort of Homecoming” on The Unforgettable Fire.

Said descriptive lyric does go further into detail, detailing “ghost-ranch hills”, “death valley waters” and other suggestions of both the dangerous and supernatural. It also references the “poison rain” mentioned in “Streets”, invoking the idea of somewhere equally barren. There’s the suggestion of heritage and history in referencing Route 66, but of course, there’s also the fact that Route 66 ‘died’, for want of a better word, in 1985. Indeed, bringing all of these elements into play, along with the fact that the narrator has an unnamed woman with him, and a personal dimension emerges, suggesting a couple being severely tested by circumstance. Freeway like a river cuts through this land/Into the side of love/Like a burning spear, apparently, but also note that there’s a contradiction and tension there – the freeway is like a river (referencing “One Tree Hill”, it seems) but also like “a burning spear”.

Overall, then, “Heartland”, essentially only has one problem, which is that the music and singing, whilst not lacking enthusiasm, does sound somewhat laidback and calm for the most part. This means these ambiguities and tensions can be lost (and also caused me not to notice all the self-references until properly studying the lyric either). A good song, but it ultimately just misses the honour of being a Rattle and Hum highlight; it doesn’t step forward and demand my attention, instead expecting me to notice.


~ by 4trak on May 8, 2008.

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