In A Little While

Back in the 1960s, recording was an arduous process. With no MIDI, no easy computer editing, and only the kind of 4-track tape machine that’s nowadays used for demos, if at all, it required take after take until one run-through was perfect, or sometimes beyond. Nowadays, dynamic range compression, computer editing, looping and programming all render it all much easier, but also often incredibly antiseptic. You could search any CD you own from the last five years, but you would struggle in the extreme to spot a single mistake – or at least, a single unintentional one.

I say all of this because “In A Little While” actually has an audible flaw in it – Bono had apparently slept for just two hours beforehand, and it sounds like it. But that’s part of the genius of this song’s arrangement – it humanises the performance, the ragged tone in the voice drifting in and out (the line Turn it on actually sounds remarkably alert). The tone also is pretty much all you need to figure out meaning in this song, too – it’s yearning, pleading but also anticipatory at being with its subject.

It is, essentially, “The Sweetest Thing 2000”, although I’d say this is the better song. Where the 1998 single sounds somewhat reserved and deliberately poppy, “In A Little While” is more of a soundscape, the bass expressive and the guitar alternately childlike (the main riff) and harsh (the ludicrously distorted tone during Bono’s numerous vocal glissandos). There’s also – and the otherwise, well, U2ish nature of this song obscures it well – a hip-hop beat going on in there. This is essentially U2’s take on modern R&B, bizarre as it sounds, and even weirder, a sonic follow-up to “Numb”. It also has the most subdued string arrangement going, barely noticeable until the end as it fades away, and also another guitar and a synthesiser in there too.

It’s to the band’s (and the Eno/Lanois team’s) credit that none of this sounds cluttered, or even complex. What it all adds up to, in fact, is one of the simplest-sounding songs on ATYCLB, and a song that is all the better for it. Through a combination of sounding mechanised and tight as well as expressive and flowing, “In A Little While” is, I’ll argue, a highlight of its parent album.

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~ by 4trak on September 9, 2008.

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