Stay (Faraway, So Close!)

After four songs of strange noises and voices, pianos, keyboards, synthesisers, fuzzed-out and dub-style guitars, heavy bass, and rarely a naturally acoustic drum in sight, “Stay (With Inevitable Wim Wenders Film Title In Brackets To Avoid Confusion With The Eleven Squillion Other Songs By This Title)” seems like a compromise towards standard, normal U2; certainly, this is the only song from Zooropa to get a standard, normal single release (#4 UK, #61 US) and one of the few to sound like a pure rock ballad. Yet it’s not that simple (is it ever? All the same…). The loping guitar line repeats over and over in the verses as if it’s been looped, and the bass effectively doubles it. Yes, it’s a rock song, but it’s one behaving like a piece of downtempo, complete with its steady tempo, regular rhythm and odd textures, drones and janglings, most notably in the pre-chorus. That said, it does move into a chorus that is pure U2 lift, and actually one of the few bits of recorded ZooTV-era U2 to actually justify a lot of the croonerish b-side material (“I’ve Got You Under My Skin”, which incidentally b-sided this, and “Night And Day” being the most notable examples).

Lyrically, Bono commented that the song was about an unworkable relationship, and that “observing and the desire to intervene can poison everything.” This makes sense, given the pre-choruses (And if you look, you look through me/And when you talk it’s not to me/And when I touch you, you don’t feel a thing) The song also shares themes with the Wim Wenders film of a similar name, which explored the idea of angels visiting Earth. The song detours at various points, though, offering up interesting couplets that work whilst self-contained; the image of someone stumbling out of a hole in the ground, which the narrator reflects on as an ambiguous event differing according to perception. Then there’s the sad, depressed individual (possibly an brought-to-earth angel) who could lip-synch to the talk shows, suggesting someone deeply insular who, judging by that action, finds something very predictable about human behaviour.

In the third verse, several cities (not all European, despite the themes of the album, although the mention of 7Eleven suggests an American setting, which may explain this) are referenced, and they happen to be significant to U2 – Miami, which the band visited and wrote about a few years later; New Orleans, which came into play in 2006 with “The Saints Are Coming” and Music Rising; Belfast, the epicentre of the Troubles, and Berlin, which was obviously the starting location for Achtung Baby. The final point to note is the last verse, which Wim Wenders himself cited as a particularly great set of lines, and I’m inclined to agree – the singer’s voice easing downwards along the lines Just the bang and the clatter/As an angel hits the ground, followed by an illustrative bash of a cymbal, is a great ending to the album’s side one. Where “Stay” on initial listens can sound a little slow, conservative and boring, it later creeps into the consciousness, being subtly odd rather than barking mad, and interesting rather than high-octane. More radical than it seems, and all the better for it.

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~ by 4trak on September 30, 2008.

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