Where The Streets Have No Name

A.k.a. the exact point where U2 became aligned, for better or worse, with the cause of Africa. Sure, Live Aid was the performance that marked them out, but had they stopped there, they’d have been no different to Queen. Bono’s visit to Ethiopia the year after was a private one, so that wasn’t going to do the trick either. So here it is, the very beginning of the U2 and Africa connection.

Of course, the oddest thing about criticism aimed at Bono (and, for that matter, Geldof) is the accusation of paternalism, of depicting Africa as beyond its own reprieve and constantly in need of Western help. Yet “Streets” in particular isn’t depicting a poor and helpless land with eternal issues – even if it is full of unnamed streets, harsh winds, poisoned rain and the like. If anything, there’s a romanticised view of Africa here, as noble individuals who appreciate community, unlike the spoilt, comfortable but unappreciative Western world. The key lines in particular – We’re still building/Then burning down love – suggesting that Africa has endured in its sense of feeling and togetherness where the ‘First World’ has slumped into isolation and apathy. “Streets”, however, is possibly the most abstract of the songs on The Joshua Tree – the listener is given a series of images instead of a coherent one, or a narrative. It’s for these reasons of vagueness that I can’t really rate it the best song on the album, although it clearly is a classic and a part of the career canon regardless.

Of course, the Edge had a seperate agenda here, and that was to create the ultimate live song. That it was played at U2’s Superbowl performance fifteen years later says plenty about the success there – the lyrics are almost completely inappropriate (of course, you could twist them into context, but I’ve never heard of the 2002 Superbowl being amidst flooded cities and desert plains, even metaphorically), but the music ultimately carries it, an intro full of drive and determination in filling every 16th note on the guitar, bass and drums. The last note at the end of that guitar riff has a particular ping to it, as if to give extra shine. The chugging of the verses gives the impression of an overhead shot of savannah and desert, bushes and trees whipping underneath the view periodically. It all sounds like it took an insane amount of time to perfect, and sure enough, this means at least some reference to the Brian-Eno-tape-erasing legend. His idea was that, in destroying previous efforts, they’d have to build up something bigger and better. Of course, whether they would have done is purely hypothetical; as it is, we’ve still got a song that is obligatory on most compilations and on most setlists (although not all, it seems – it’s interestingly not one of the songs to have been played at every show).

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~ by 4trak on September 11, 2008.

One Response to “Where The Streets Have No Name”

  1. Metaphorically, no, but prophetically? “The cities a flood…”. Super Bowl XXXVI (2002) was played in New Orleans

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