Mysterious Ways

Following on just five weeks after “The Fly”, this wasn’t quite the kind of double punch of, say, Guns’N’Roses’ Use Your Illusion I & II (though it’s clear which of the two bands would have an easier time doing a two-fer nowadays). In any event, like its predecessor, the song barges into the listener’s ears with a heavy and odd guitar intro, a sharp but distorted (“distorted” being an oft-used word for everything on Achtung Baby, and to a degree 90s music) hit with just enough wah filtered in to give a proper sense of funk. This is, to this day, one of U2’s very few songs creditable as R&B, what with not just the funkish attitude and themes of Almighty Woman (complete with abilities of omniseduction and omniscorn), but also the seemingly improvised interjections at the end. Perhaps the biggest change, however, is the refrain It’s alright – U2 hadn’t actually had any song that suggested this before, that maybe a situation is adequate. Bad but capable of improving, yes, but fine as it is, no. Yet whilst “Mysterious Ways” is ostensibly sexual, speaking of a woman who becomes a man’s entire focus even as he has no understanding about her, its slightly nursery-rhyme feel (Johnny take a walk with your sister the moon) says this doesn’t have to be so, which has allowed the song to shift over the years. During ZooTV, it was famously performed with a belly dancer (well, not a professional one, but still); come Elevation, the context had shifted, perhaps the more key lines by that point being Lift my days/Light up my nights.

I’ve already suggested that musically this is not that dissimilar to “The Fly” – it’s slower, it’s softer, it sounds more spontaneous, but it retains a swing and groove to it that the previous single had. It’s also more accessible, which allowed for, in the US, a higher chart placed (#9 versus #61, although in the UK we must be forever grateful to “The Fly” for removing from the top Bryan Adams’ interminable “Everything I Do (I Do It For You”). Still, “Mysterious Ways” doesn’t demand complex analysis, although the dual nature of the lyrics mentioned above and the blending of alternative rock with a rhythmic edge (as well as slightly exotic percussion) recalls the other major Eno-produced band whilst in no way copying them – in fact, it’s something entirely unobvious whilst the song’s playing. It’s also to U2’s credit, and to the range within Achtung Baby, that this can appear on the same album as songs such as “One” and “Love Is Blindness” and not at all seem out of place stylistically, although whether it should follow “The Fly” is another matter.

“Mysterious Ways” also had a ton of remixes – it exists in 13 released versions – but I don’t give a rat’s ass about that right now.

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~ by 4trak on September 27, 2008.

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