North And South Of The River

Not that the issue ever went away, but by the time Bono delivered his “fuck the revolution!” speech in the late 1980s, the IRA movement was thinning slightly, and some signs of a let-up emerged. Yet by the mid-1990s attacks were in full flow again, and hence U2’s attention to the issue increased appropriately. Initially, “North And South of the River” was put out as a Christy Moore single, co-written with Bono and the Edge in 1995, but a re-release as a “Staring At The Sun” b-side made it canon.

“North And South” takes a different tack to previous (and indeed later) efforts – instead of pleading or expressing disgust, it offers a hand of friendship and speaks of an eventual, better future – I wanna meet you where you are/I don’t need ya to surrender. The water and wind references are very Joshua Tree, as is the slightly folkish feel to the guitar and synth strings, yet the water – namely, the titular river – may well be symbolic of religion as a dividing line, as well as being the literal River Foyle in Londonderry. Overall, the song is lyrically possibly the most effective U2 song about the Troubles; by admitting Darling I don’t have the answer, there’s a realistic approach of reaching out for negotiation, rather than a simplistic “lay down your guns” demand.

Sonically, the song is also markedly different – the solely U2 version (minus Moore) has a wobbling, watery synth sound, sparse guitar and gently thumping kick drums, which manage to sound serene and ballad-like but also remarkably different; neither a cheesy application of standard techno presets, standard folk strumming, or standard ambient work, it makes for a brilliant b-side. Whether it would have fitted on Pop is a different matter, though.

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~ by 4trak on July 14, 2008.

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