Seconds

This might seem a little obvious, but U2 have been around for ages. “Seconds” is testimony to this – a grim march on the resumption of Cold War paranoia during the Reagan era (or, depending on your viewpoint in 1983, the Andropov era), it’s a subject that has not only had the chance to fall out of relevance, but also to creep back in gradually again (or, in a non-nuclear context, come right back in). Still, thematically it’s an excellent follow-up to “Sunday Bloody Sunday”; where the album opener looked at war traditionally as the consequence of passed-down prejudices and schisms, “Seconds” realises a new potential for, effectively, the democratisation of war (In an apartment on Times Square/You can assemble them anywhere), and the sudden ability within the last few decades for world-altering and possibly world-destroying power (Like a thief in the night). It’s all summed up in the brutal envisioning of lives extinguished (Push the button and pull the plug/Say goodbye). That said, there’s also the band’s surreal humour seeping through slightly – And they’re doing the atomic bomb/Do they know where the dance comes from? conflates the idea of nuclear holocaust with fashion trends, part Dada imagery and part a notion that maybe we’ll all realise how silly nuclear weaponry is.

Musically the bass comes to prominence, bringing the rhythm possibly more so than the drums themselves. The guitar is pushed back somewhat, and the drums, whilst carrying a steady beat, don’t truly mark themselves out until two minutes into the three minutes of the song – everything stops for the film dialogue (from 1982’s Soldier Girls, incidentally), and Larry finally gets his moment by crashing in, an insistent fill that drags the song back into line for a final chorus.

This is also the first U2 album track not to be sung entirely by Bono; Edge sings the first verse and effectively co-sings the last verse too. Whilst it’s true that Edge sounds similar to Bono here (their voices have diverged remarkably since), it’s actually quite obvious once pointed out – Edge sings somewhat flatter and lower, and sounds oddly underzealous to be Bono. It does, however, make for a cunning amount of difference, the slight deception adding to the paranoid undercurrent of the song, which in itself is one of the most powerful on War.

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~ by 4trak on September 6, 2008.

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