City of Blinding Lights

At 5:46, the longest song on HTDAAB and, indeed, one of the few songs to support the notion that U2 nowadays are repeating The Joshua Tree. The use of piano, the steady charge of the rhythm section and the stadium-readiness of the song all provoked the average music critic into regarding this as a modern “Streets”. That said, guitar riffs don’t define this song, even as numerous phrases slide in and out, the song ends rather than fades out and the change of location is a pretty big one (New York v. Ethiopia). It’s also, as veteran bands have a tendency to be, more detailed in lyric and thus less immediate – where “Streets” had a coda that effectively retrospected the song before it, here the end verse is effectively retrospecting U2’s past (The more you know the less you feel in particular sounds like an old line, possibly from “Last Night On Earth”, which is an interesting transposition).

“City of Blinding Lights” opened much of the Vertigo tour, and indeed it is possibly the most suitable song live on an album that was never exactly likely to go down badly in large venues. Certainly, on a qualitative level, it succeeds, but like possibly too much of Bomb, there’s a question of how much of it engages beyond pure emotion; it isn’t clear whether this song wants to be an abstract ballad or a love song, or even, like “New York” on ATYCLB, a kind of slightly journalistic number about a time and place. There might even be an R.E.M. reference in there too (I’ve seen you walk unafraid). Of course, it sounds great whilst being listened to lightly – and some would argue that nothing else matters – but U2 have been more nuanced, and have had songs work on far more levels, than is demonstrated here. It’s for these sorts of reasons that Bomb didn’t live up to its immediate few predecessors, although as a six-minute compilation of bits it’s damn good. Although the singles charts were slipping into irrelevance in the UK in 2005, it still made #2 as a single.

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~ by 4trak on August 29, 2008.

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