Drowning Man

War blasts noise and fury for an EP’s length at the start, but U2 aren’t metal, however squared-off and blunt their rhythm section often is, and as such they resort to some mercy sooner or later. It comes at the end of side one, “Drowning Man” being more spacious. That said, the drums thump and rattle much like they do at the start of “Seconds”, only pushed slightly further back. The guitar line isn’t a delicate folksy fingerpicking exercise either, and Bono continues to sing with an urgency, insisting that the listener Hold on/Hold on tightly. In essence, it’s a jab rather than a slam, although it offers a Celtic violin to ease the pain. It also seems to be in 5/4, or at least something that isn’t common time, a neat way of cutting off the aggression and directness that 4/4 allows.

All of these elements, then, add up to a neatly balanced song, something that isn’t too extreme in dynamics, tone, timbre and suchlike, instead every element always being tempered by an opposite. This essentially gives a realism and stops things getting overblown. The song ends up being aggressively ambient, melodramatically still, furiously calm. The thing it doesn’t do, unfortunately, is lyrical sharpness – apparently arising out of Bono improvising, something that didn’t serve him well during October and only serves him slightly better here. We get the titular image, but little more – it could be literal, it could be figurative, in terms of friendship, love, or God. It’s easy to see how “Drowning Man” could be regarded as a favourite or highlight amongst U2’s discography, but Bono’s unwillingness to focus on lyrics hinders it somewhat, leaving potential exposed; the vagueness can be as frustrating as it could be interesting. As such, it’s one to file under “very good” rather than “classic”, although it can compete with the four songs preceding it.

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~ by 4trak on July 20, 2008.

One Response to “Drowning Man”

  1. Actually…the last part of the song is pretty much a direct quote from Isaiah 40…

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