Beautiful Day

Pop had opened with a drum machine and synthesiser, and been a commercial disappointment (‘only’ seven million copies sold), so U2 neatly skirted around the issue with the next album by, well, opening with a drum machine and synthesiser. Of course, this got utterly ignored once the guitar came in, actually adopting a delay tone that hadn’t been heard since War – it’s a blunter, less nuanced delay that doesn’t necessarily suggest the uplifting, warmer chime of the Joshua Tree era, more an ambiguous presence. The drum machine itself oddly clanks out a steady motorik throughout, the tambourine preset sounding particularly as if the machine itself is a bit loose. As for the bass, it’s a linear line, often running for long stretches on an A note, like a machine ticking over. Indeed, Adam did risk being replaced by a machine on this track, but the bass synth that would have met Brian Eno’s approval instead received intervention from Steve Lillywhite. That’s just as well – a bass synth may have worked on a bigger arrangement, as with R.E.M.’s effective equivalent song “Imitation of Life”, but here it’d have been awkward amongst the sleeker, more futuristic song that U2 realised.

As for the lyrics, there’s a key dichotomy in that the verses express a dour desire for escape, a series of negative attitudes, being crushed under oppressing influences (You love this town/Even if that doesn’t ring true/You’ve been all over/And it’s been all over you), and quite possibly referring to “Zooropa” with the You’re in the mud line, whilst the chorus fits the titular attitude. Bono’s description that the song is about “a person who loses everything and has never been happier” doesn’t seem quite accurate, but it’ll do. There’s also that odd bridge referencing vistas of Earth from space – apparently a space theme was considered for the album, but got dropped, leaving behind certain residues (“Elevation” and “In A Little While”, among others, also mention skies and space).

Another point is the supposed plaigirism issue. Maybe I’m biased, but the use of two words in a similar manner (Touch me) hardly renders this a carbon copy of said A-Ha song – if it does, there’s a lot of bands out there facing veritable towers of legal documents. In any event, “Beautiful Day” has become a latter-day classic from U2, and it’s admittedly one of the strongest and life-affirming songs from ATYCLB. It was also U2’s 4th #1 in the UK, and a #21 hit in the US, despite the fact that no commercial single was released – indeed, there’s been no such releases in the US since, barring the 7 EP.

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~ by 4trak on August 31, 2008.

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