New Year’s Day

And so we are told, this is the golden age/And gold is the reason for the wars we wage. These are, essentially, the key missing lines from the single version of this song, yet to remove them effectively neuters the song’s political intent; bound up in those two lines are a brilliantly verbose critique of the military-industrial complex, and indeed there’s a snarl at so we are told, as if to dismiss Western spin and propaganda. Even so, “New Year’s Day” is the first U2 single to become part of an iconic line (“Sunday Bloody Sunday” wasn’t widely released). Naturally it’s a huge song in Poland, where its primary subject of Lech Walsea and Solidarity has particular resonance. Yet naturally, more elements got mixed up in this – it started as a basic love song (Though I want to be with you, be with you, night and day), which is obviously still there, and the band’s renewal in the aftermath of October also comes through (I, I will begin again). Even so, there’s open cynicism about what does change – although 1st January is supposed to be an event, we’re assured that nothing changes on New Year’s Day, a kind of limitation that isn’t what U2 are normally known for.

“New Year’s Day”, whilst driving and purposeful, is also one of the first U2 songs (apart from “October”) to put piano (more accurately, keyboard) front and centre of the arrangement, although guitar plays a heavy role too. Of course, the key element is the bassline, a quick four-note piece that the whole song is seemingly built around, just as the crash of drums in the two preceding songs seem to define them and the guitar in the following song defines it. Finally, the drumbeat, of whose minimalism Larry Mullen has oft complained about, but on a certain level it has a kind of motorik simplicity that adds drive. “New Year’s Day” is possibly one of, maybe the most complex song U2 had written to date, but it doesn’t give that impression, making its classic status largely deserved.

Incidentally, “New Year’s Day” is the third most played U2 song live, although its existence for twenty-five years does admittedly work in its favour in that regard.

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~ by 4trak on August 27, 2008.

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