Last Night On Earth

The first point at which Pop turns into the bleak and dark album its second half largely is starts at the very end of the first half. It also happens to be the third single for the album, although turning up on July 14th when the album had been out since March 3rd meant there was little it could do to make up for the relative failure of the first two singles, despite its return-to-form video and the fact that it’s an album highlight. It’s also the first real song on the album that can be labelled a rock song, given that the previous two were both in the realm of relatively ambient ballads. The very first noise, though, is an extremely rough half-strumming of guitar, which shifts into a full riff, which then dies and decays into a ground of slightly farty synthesisers. Then the proper song kicks in, the same riff returning with a bassline, drumbeat and slightly more cowbell than is tasteful, i.e. the right amount if you’re going to use any at all. There’s also that heavily distorted jabbing that ends each chorus that blurs the line between guitar and keyboards, although a study of liner notes suggests the former at work.

Bono’s voice in the chorus (not recorded at the same time as the verses; in fact, famously [among Pop fans] recorded on the day of mastering) is admittedly shot, although I suppose the consolation prize is a somewhat unintended death-rattling tone that fits the tone nicely. The whole song seems to drop away for the bridge, which emphasises in physical terms the situation – it’s dizzy, spinning, missing, slipping away and so forth. The details are sketched out in the verses, which seem to describe a female protagonist – as is the U2 manner of focusing on the third person, as opposed to the recent and past tendencies of second and occasionally first person narrative – who seemingly lives in the short-term, not bothered in the slightest about future consequences, and thus it would appear, is due for the ultimate downfall. Six songs later, we seem to hear of a female character (not US-based – see note below as to the song’s UK, possibly Ireland setting) in a way that aligns with this narrative.

Interesting namecheck note: with the exception of “The Playboy Mansion”, overt namechecks are rare in U2 songs, but there’s two here in quick succession, namely the News of the World and The Sun. These happen to be the UK tabloid newspaper wing of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. Murdoch is, of course, well-known for his strong neoliberal views, which tip his publications towards the Conservatives in the UK and the Republicans in the US. Bono showing his true colours?

Lyrics note: the last two verse lines in the song appear to be She hasn’t been to bed in a week/She’ll be dead soon then she’ll sleep, which is not what the booklet claims (The future is so unpredictable/The past is too uncomfortable). I don’t reckon there’s a significance here, but it is slightly unnerving if you know the lyrics inside out, especially as I tend to regard the lyric booklet in albums as pretty much the definitive source.

Chart note: “Last Night On Earth” reached #10 in the UK and #57 in the US, which is at least 9 and 56 places too low respectively.

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~ by 4trak on September 28, 2008.

One Response to “Last Night On Earth”

  1. Really enjoying your comments but one thing to point out about Last Night On Earth – IIRC it was the backing vocals to The Playboy Mansion that were done in the mastering suite, not the lead vocals for this song. I remembering reading it in a Q interview in 1997 (I still have the issue). The Edge said it “felt like the last night on earth” as they were under such pressure to finish it.

    To me the chorus vocal of LNOE sounds just like the verse – same tone, same reverb. The backing vox of Playboy Mansion do sound slightly seperated from the rest of the track, if you listen from that point of view.

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