The Unforgettable Fire

The Unforgettable Fire was, as fans of the album will surely know, the name of an art exhibition that showcased art and pictures by survivors of the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombings, referring to the blinding flash of light and gamma radiation in the first phase of such a bombing. It’s a name befitting of both the album and its title song, suggesting a mysterious brightness against a morning sky, or a mass of colours and shades. Here there’s are tones of particular liquidity, that particular reverberating opening sound ringing out like a drop in a pond. Strings are also a key element (indeed, full strings, as opposed to the sole violin that occasionally cropped up on War), building up in suspense-ridden fashion behind the line Don’t push me too far.

Yet despite the tension, the lyrics here are utterly abstract in the extreme; they could well refer to the Hiroshima bombing, some kind of sexual tension, possibly heroin (it crops up amid the oddest places on this album) or indeed all three simultaneously. Getting literal meaning out of it becomes near impossible, although colours are splashed about in the first verse, along with interesting contradictions to the title (Ice/Your only rivers run cold). There’s a push-and-pull element (Walk on by v. Come on, take me away) that belies a degree of certainty (And if the mountains should crumble…). The overall situation, then, is one of tension, with one party or side of the argument perhaps too certain in their convictions, resulting in a dangerous and sinister confrontation.

A somewhat ignored fact about The Unforgettable Fire‘s title song is that it was, in fact, the second single from the album, an easy thing to forget considering the retrospective rise of “Bad” as the album’s second-most well-known song. It charted at #6 in the UK, surprisingly happened to be U2’s first #1 in Ireland, but failed to chart in the US, which may be an interesting show of continental difference; indeed, U2’s biggest hits in the US have often been their most direct and immediate songs (“With Or Without You”, “Still Haven’t Found”), something not always true in the UK (“The Fly”, “Discotheque”).


~ by 4trak on August 18, 2008.

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