Even before U2 had finished Rattle and Hum, there were signs that they had to change, and one song to cite here is “Desire”; quite simply, U2 rocked harder here than they’d done since War, the song demonstrating a Bo Diddley influence that was in itself a fair turn away from the widescreen-epic-approach of Joshua Tree. Ironically enough, whilst it points to the harder-rock approach of the early 1990s, it’s also precisely the sort of concise song that U2 avoided through the 1990s too, and most notably in opposition to the coming decade, it’s low on arrangement details.

I’ve already mentioned Bo Diddley, whose shuffling beat runs throughout, yet of course Edge also adopts pure old-fashioned distortion over delay (not even the new hair-metal fuzz work – there’s a genuine 60s sound there) and I-IV-V early rock’n’roll/R&B style chords over ambiguous fifths. And guitar/bass/drums setup is seemingly all there is, apart from, of course, the cameo from a harmonica, a trilling, vibrato-laden solo that almost suggests it’s being sung into instead of blown into.

Yet lyrically there’s also Bono flitting from image to image around the titular theme, be it desire for drugs (I’m like the needle/Needle and the spoon), desire to be fashionable (Pretty soon, everybody’s got one) or desire for power (She’s a promise in the year of election). It’s a kind of free-association that, once again, is implying without showing the 90s U2 attitude of jump-cut postmodernism, and the ZooTV screens that blasted “Religion Is A Club” and “Wear A Condom” at viewers could well have flashed up bits of this song too. Overall, then, “Desire” shows U2 with a subconscious, well, desire to change, but a foot still stuck in the 1980s, and even to a degree in the 1960s. It thus makes for an interesting song, one that could sound truly, utterly fantastic if it didn’t sound quite a hesitantly traditional as it does. And indeed, come ZooTV the song received an upgrade, with a whirling, complex and bizarre phasing effect being used as Bono strutted around dressed as Mirrorball Man. And, of course, this is the song where Mirrorball Man delivered his big speech.

Incidentally, “Desire” was U2’s first #1 hit in the UK (and fifth in Ireland).


~ by 4trak on August 23, 2008.

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