Moment Of Surrender

•March 2, 2009 • 2 Comments

WARNING: As a still-current song, opinion may yet change and significant alterations to the post may occur as said opinion changes or new details emerge.

As it turns out, it’s taken fifteen and a half years and five albums for U2 to make a song that outlasts “Lemon”, and appropriately enough, just as “Lemon” came about in rapidly-recorded circumstances, so “Moment of Surrender” is one of four songs on NLOTH to have arisen out of the quickest circumstances of all – a single take. Besides the 7:24 running time, though, there’s an important other factor; one press quote from Bono suggested an attempt at “modern gospel”, which was odd, because few songs on the album overtly demonstrate this (if any has a spiritual epiphany as a result of “Boots”, however, do let us know), and “Moment of Surrender” is just about the only song to come closest to really, really amping Jesus up to 11, mostly with the lines We set ourselves on fire/Oh God, do not deny her. For the most part, though, the broken feeling perhaps more suggests another heroin song. This would be redundant, but “Bad”, terrific though it is, is more impressionistic than giving any real ideas, and “Running To Stand Still” is resolutely third person. Musically the song suggests something from Achtung Baby (probably not “One”, as I’ve heard from some journalistic quarters), so it’s only appropriate that we get Fire and Baby references straight from the start – I tied myself with wire/To let the horses run free.

Musically the song holds up – a weird, scrubbing percussion loop disappears (it’s hard to tell exactly when it ceases) into an organ, a drifting bassline that admittedly feels slightly familiar, and measured drums. All players on this track hold up reasonably well, but it’s vocals that form the key to this song – Bono starts each verse as if struck in the neck with a machete, which is surprisingly effective, even if lazy comparisons to “Stay” in the coda harmonies (you might think they’re one, but they’re definitely not the same) have abounded across the Internet. And whilst “Moment of Surrender”, a song that threatens a horrific abbreviation to “Moz”, may spawn various comparisons to around half a dozen other U2 songs, that’s only really a small detraction. It’s probably the weakest of the opening four songs, but that’s some heavy competition. Overall, “Moment of Surrender” isn’t a song that yields immediate meaning, and demands to be listened to repeatedly, but it would not be surprising if the band are still addicted to heroin* and it still turns out to be quite good for them.

*as a songwriting subject. Obviously.
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Fez – Being Born

•February 24, 2009 • Leave a Comment

WARNING: As a still-current song, opinion may yet change and significant alterations to the post may occur as said opinion changes or new details emerge.

The most “out there” song on NLOTH, the hyphen suggests that we’re not actually to regard it as two songs, which is fair enough – what would be “Fez”, if we did, would only last a minute, and the division is not much more discrete than that between the three parts of “Zooropa”; the song retains it sense of tension throughout, switching up the tempo and solidifying. As suggested in the title, the first part is very Morrocan, ethnic percussion, vocal harmonies and the ghostly sound of Bono’s “let me in the sound” refrain (interestingly, this comes after “Boots” on the album, but foreshadows it on the at-time-of-writing forthcoming Linear). After a quick descending melody that sounds like some special-effects cue from a 70s TV show (and somehow isn’t as naff as that sounds), it bursts out into a driving, urgent piece, the most kinetic moment on an album that isn’t exactly lacking in them. We especially thank Larry for this – rendered somewhat inert on many areas of the previous two albums (and not always having much to do on the likes of “Velvet Dress” and “The First Time”), he’s really pushed forward not just here, but across the album.

That said, a weakness of the song is how Bono – the other band member to have raised their game markedly – isn’t given the chance to show it here. The vocals here are minimal, harmonised Passengers-stylee, and as such don’t necessarily come across as being as striking as much of the rest of the song. Although there’s a sleekness and slightly 70s vibe (inevitable mentions of Can, Kraftwerk and Eno should be gotten out of the way here) updated for 2009, the inevitable comparison with respect to U2’s back catalogue is easily with “Race Against Time” from the Joshua Tree. 22 years on, however, this is the fuller, stronger song.

Overall, “Fez – Being Born” is one of the weakest songs on the album, but it comes across as one of those songs truly designed for Linear. I’m thinking, particularly, of a bike-along-an-empty-road scene filled with helicopter shots. The song also bears the important role of cutting the album away from the central three songs, what I’ll call the Sloganeering Section due to its message-heavy lyrics, and taking us to the final three, which switch about in arrangements not unlike this. So: good, not great, but a certain Tony Corbijn’s film will perhaps unlock the true potential of it.

I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight

•February 23, 2009 • Leave a Comment

WARNING: As a still-current song, opinion may yet change and significant alterations to the post may occur as said opinion changes or new details emerge.

NOTE: I aim to add polls to all the other songs as and when I can be bothered to.¬† If you particularly want to vote on a song that has no poll, just comment on said song and it’ll move up the queue.

A song announced to the sound of a million bloggers murmuring “wow, shit title”. Really, it should’ve been cut down to “Crazy Tonight”, or even just “Crazy”, although the latter may have been a little generic. Lyrically and musically, though, this is the closest NLOTH, as it is now doomed to be abbrievated to forevermore, comes to HTDAAB, and even here there are differences. Lyrically there’s a notably less platidunous tone; whilst Bono is pushing it with some lines – We’re gonna make it all the way to the light – some lines are more questioning than 2004’s comforts and certainties – Is it true that perfect love drives out all fear (you suspect that on Bomb that line would’ve started “it is”). And as if by way of explanation for the title, there’s the blatant line The right to appear ridiculous is something I hold dear. Like “Boots”‘ I don’t wanna talk about wars between nations line, Bono’s finally translating the self-deprecation of his interviews into his lyrics, and whilst he can make a bit too much of a point about it (it’s essentially a notable part of three songs off the album), it’s still a good move. Similarly, It’s not a hill, it’s a mountain is actually oddly cynical considering the way it’s sung, but like We get to carry each other, it’s one of those not-actually-hippie-once-you-think-about-it sentiments.

As implied earlier, this is almost certainly the least radical song off NLOTH, and similarly one of, if not the weakest song(s) on the disc too as a consequence, but that doesn’t mean it’s utterly devoid of merit. Perhaps one of the best moments is in the pre-chorus, where the song briefly drops, the kick drums thud quickly into a roll and the bass fuzzes ominously, suggesting that some sort of rumbling metal thrash is due, but in a nice bit of bait-and-switch we’re given our original song direction back. It’s perhaps this, more than anything, that makes NLOTH such an improvement over its predecessor – even the dullest songs on here don’t go with the most painfully obvious choice. In a league of U2 album tracks, “IGCIIDGCT” (pronounciation: rip larynx out with right hand via anus) would perhaps be mid-table, but it’s encouraging that at least eight or nine other songs surrounding it beat it.

Get On Your Boots

•January 23, 2009 • 1 Comment

WARNING: As a still-current song, opinion may yet change and significant alterations to the post may occur as said opinion changes or new details emerge.

Well, this has caused a stir. It seems that no-one can decide whether this is a “Vertigo” retread or something new. Well let’s look at the facts – first of all, where “Vertigo”‘s riff is very much a chorded blooze-rock piece, “Get On Your Boots”, whilst ostensibly Led Zeppelin-ish (but with slightly “Fly”-esque wah effect), actually has most to do with “Discotheque”, only the distortion here allows it to roll and flow too much to render it too similar. Edge also goes and plays chords (D and G) in the verses, which wasn’t present on “Vertigo”, and the chorus is actual weirdly atonal, all major-triad chromaticism that completely flips what would be a cliched lyric (You don’t know how beautiful you are) into a deeply strange sentiment indeed. I assume, of course, that what I’ve quoted is a chorus, because the titular refrain might well count too. Outside of these riffs, Edge also adds various fret noises, a bit of extra jangle at the end, and some classic Boy U2 riffage in the bridge, some feedback to finish the song, and what must surely be the shortest guitar solo ever – at six notes, he’s surely gunning for the job of being Kirk Hammett’s arch nemesis.

So the “Vertigo”-retread theory is demolished here, because it’s taken 200 words to largely describe one band member’s efforts here. Indeed, arguably the only true, completely valid¬† similarity is in tempo, in which this song crams ten extra beats per minute over “Vertigo”‘s 140bpm. “Vertigo” contained no overdubs for at least the first two minutes, whereas this has them before the first line, and then adds various beats and percussion, a glockenspeil and the sound of leather rubbing. Larry’s drumming is layered and driving, but such is the detail that it just about makes an impression, until the bridge where that impression suddenly becomes huge, the terse echo slightly disguising that this might be an overdubbed job too. It might sound great live, but the bigger question is how it’ll be done without huge alterations. Maybe it can’t.

Adam seems to have shifted least since 2005, and his bassline does initially double the verse riff, but on the chorus it shifts into something more independent, a faster version of the sort of thing that happens on “With Or Without You” where 8th/16th note runs on one note combine. It also drifts in and out of fuzz, which is relatively new and different, as Adam often seems to be the eye of the storm, simply getting on with dealing with the low end without getting caught up in the other three’s madness. It seems here, however, that even he isn’t safe.

As usual, the biggest contention so far seems to be about Bono; are his lyrics a rip from Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan or (from detractors, it seems) 80s one-hit wonders Escape Club? We could say it sounds like R.E.M.’s “It’s The End of the World…”, but frankly, to make any of these lazy comparisons is boneheaded¬† – why not simply say that it’s a stream-of-consciousness lyric? And like a stream-of-conciousness lyric, it pulls out all kinds of odd juxtapositions, including Satan, suicide bombers, funfairs, liberal feminism, ice cream and submarines, not to mention the sly, overt humour and irony (see Bono’s recent message to Obama) of the line I don’t wanna talk about wars between nations – not right now! It’s a headspinning mix, unafraid to be somewhat gauche, and it crams more into three and a half minutes than anything off the last two albums. Is this the return to the 90s? In spirit, yes, but the song is overall one but not the same. Quite simply, I welcome the band back, and I’d say it’s the best U2 song this decade.

Also, the video is mental.

Discotheque

•October 5, 2008 • 1 Comment

First of all, this:

A|-5----------7----------5------------------------|
E|----7-5-7-----7-5-7------7-5-7--7-7-5-7--------|

Yes, this might well be the greatest riff in all of U2, which is why it simply must be reprinted here. Of course, the other major aspect defining “Discotheque” is that it prompts Super-Fun Things A U2 Fan Could Do With A Time Machine #2, which is to go back to a decade before the single’s release (set your DeLorean to February 3rd, 1987) and describe the video, which pretty much is the last in a run of utter visual classics (the Zooropa era had particular greatness in this regard). Yet, of course, said video provoked a backlash, because in the end a great number of U2’s fans are somewhat, well, American and thus prone to discophobia, instead preferring something very white and electric-guitar led. “Discotheque” is, but dressing up as the Village People, the band gave the impression of it being otherwise.

Even so, to hell with empty backlashes and reactionism; the guitar and synthesisers in this song pull out riff after brilliant riff, unsteady and slightly chaotic in their melodic contours – the one above, for example, bouncing around various perfect intervals, and the post-chorus (Looking for the one/But you know you’re…) one zig-zags as if fighting to gain control of itself. The way it’s all fuzzed out, too, is insane – I initially thought the main riff was chorded, but this is all a good thing. Like “Mofo”, the sheer detail, the bits of squelching synthesiser and mass of cowbell all overload the system, which ironically would’ve have made the song perfect for ZooTV. In any event, the sheer OTT nature of it all certainly set it up well for the lunacy of PopMart – indeed, it was usually the first song of the encore once the band emerged from the Lemon. The other remarkable thing is that, whilst Pop was not viewed (and still isn’t) as an utter renewal of U2 soundwise, this song is them sounding like they’re from outer space again, as the band argued they did with The Unforgettable Fire. Sure, you could point influences – Underworld, The Chemical Brothers, The Prodigy, Depeche Mode, Blur, Saint Etienne – but none of these truly take too much hold.

Lyrically, the subject matter varies. If you believe Bono, it’s a “Paul McCartney song” about love (You just can’t get enough/Of that lovey-dovey stuff), and if you believe, well, anyone else, it’s obviously about ecstasy and mindless sex (You know you’re chewing bubblegum/You know what that is but you still want some), although this isn’t something the band ruled out. In essence, then, it’s the most effective song on Pop when it comes to what the band intended, which was apparently a lightness that nonetheless acknowledged darker aspects of society (with the link, by the way, you want “Jo Whiley Radio 1 in Dublin”).

Whilst the lyrics do hold a depth underneath their apparent lightness, that lightness is very much trying to assert itself, not least at the end when any subtlety is removed with a coda of BOOM-CHA!. With self-consciousness, this is embarrassing, but U2 aren’t often about self-consciousness, and they’re certainly not here. To sort-of quote Stylus Magazine on this song, “it works as a symbol for [the late 1990s] at large; extremely risky, more than a little embarrassing, but kind of awesome and infinitely preferable to [today]”. Damn right – “Discotheque” and its parent album, I’d argue, captures what I remember of 1997 far more than the most overhyped record of that year (OK Computer, for those unaware.) in that, yes, those were relatively stable and happy times in the (Western?) world – the Bosnian War fading, the Clinton presidency rumbling on steadily, the optimism of early New Labour – even if they were filled with an undercurrent of dread and perhaps outright fear – the whole Y2K panic amongst the IT-illiterate, the debate (in the UK) over the sovereignty-sapping Euro, and the Asian financial crisis. Some may question whether “Discotheque” stood up to the test of time, but today’s music is all too often so backward-looking, ripping from every previous decade instead of forming new ideas for the 2000s that, if anything, the test is yet to come. It may never come.

Actually, what may be “Discotheque”‘s greatest virtue is a virtue in all the best U2 songs, but maybe most here, in that it can be what you want it to be. It can be a smart commentary on society, or it can be a dumb singalong. It can be a rocker (the New Mix or Vertigo tour version) or the complex electronica piece it is on record. The band makes it open enough for the interpretation to be about, erm, your opinion too. And it’s an invitation I gladly accept. Continue reading ‘Discotheque’

Numb

•October 3, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Super-Fun Things A U2 Fan Could Do With A Time Machine #1: go back to July 5th, 1991 and explain to them what kind of material the band will put out in a mere two years. Even compared to Achtung Baby, many of the basic premises behind “Numb” seem incredibly, ludicrously insane – the Edge, not singing, but rapping? The weird main riff that pitch-bends each note, the random squeals of noise and crowds cheering in the manner of some sort of sound collage or musique concrete piece, and the incredibly repetitive lyrics. And when listed like that, it should be a trainwreck – not in the usual “shouldn’t work, but does” manner, but in a really, really bad way, which makes it all the more remarkable that this might be one of U2’s best songs, even relatively unsullied by remixes. Yes, the Gimme Some More Dignity Mix doesn’t give the song any more dignity (or brilliance), and the New Mix added a guitar riff that, whilst lovely, made the song slightly too tasteful. But we can ignore these.

Beginning with a deep kick and reverbed hit, an isolated feel that sounds not unlike a dripping from a ceiling, possibly with footsteps, before the first strain of melody. It’s not entirely possible it’s a guitar, or a synthesiser, but what the hell it is doesn’t sound like an instrument in a healthy state. And in a kind of minimalist brilliance, that’s pretty much the musical foundation of the song, a few unhinged chords. Oh, and a beat that does, admittedly, evolve into something slightly more complex come the second verse, adding slightly militaristic use of snares. Said snares turn out to be sampled, and whilst scanning credits often reveal U2’s tendency to lift from odd sources, here the source is an 11 year old at the 1936 Olympic Games, drumming for Nazi Germany. Add to this what might either be a very treble-laden synthesiser or the sound of tape being rewound, and a suitably blipping, wah’d-out oscillation that’s presumably designed to sound like the FX from Space Invaders (at risk of sounding boastful, I don’t remember Space Invaders, so there’s a Schrodinger’s Cat thing going on there).

Still, it’s appropriate that a young Nazi drummer gets sampled, because the lyrics tumble down imperatives in a long monotone, reportedly edited down from eight pages of material. I say imperatives, i.e. plural, but the truth is there’s only one, for the most part: Don’t. That cunningly fits a dual theme, both that of satirising and commenting on the nature of fascism (Don’t speak out or question the goverment, Don’t talk out of time/Don’t think) – a sharp topic given the ideology’s upturn in Europe in the early 1990s, most notably in Jean-Marie Le Pen’s increasing presence.

There’s also the matter of the sheer quantity of it giving subliminal restriction, an overwhelming, which means that within a few verses the key refrain (I feel numb) becomes appropriate – the voice simply rolls over any protest. It’s not the quality of lyrics that makes an impact, oddly; it’s the sheer quantity, the fact that so many lines, swarming all over the inlay booklet page in small type, batter the listener into submission with their sheer rhythm. This overwhelming, of course, ties into the themes of ZooTV and Zooropa, which effectively makes “Numb” the “Zoo Station” of this album. But of course, Zooropa is Zooropa, which means that this manifesto of sorts is perversely placed at track three. That said, “Zooropa” is also a manifesto of sorts for the album, so it can’t go there. And “Lemon” also steps into the role, in a way. What an album. And what a song – U2’s most unique, certainly, and definitely one of their very best.

One

•October 2, 2008 • 1 Comment

This song may well be an anthem to end all anthems; whilst initially becoming a defacto one for AIDS, seeing as it was effectively a charity single for said cause, it kind-of morphed into a sort of 9/11 anthem ten years later, and is apparently a popular wedding choice for the undiagnosed deaf. It was voted the best song of all time by Q Magazine (pah) and as having the greatest lyrics of all time (One life, with each other/Sisters, brothers) by a VH1 poll. It is, in any event, often roped in with “Streets” and “With Or Without You” as the primary nominations for U2’s Greatest Song (well, not here it ain’t, but the point stands), and it’s also credited as The Song That Saved U2. Clearly the band are grateful – it’s been played at every concert since its introduction, and more so than “Streets” and “40” (both of which have had their setlist omissions), the band are seemingly obliged to at least do an insipid runthrough of it at every single gig they will ever do. So…no baggage, then.

The music (and the lyrics, if we’re honest) are now incredibly familiar, as is the making-of story – band moves to Berlin, band struggles with bleeps, strange noises and uninspired bits of material, Edge in particular struggles with two chord progressions (Am/D/F7/G and C/Am/F7/C by the looks of things), the suggestion arises to put the two together, et voila, the song suddenly appears, band is saved. The music has an austerity to it – Adam in particular stands out as oddly placed to do this sort of song, although Larry’s previous experience which, well, not outright bashing (I’m thinking “Love Rescue Me”) makes him adept enough to undertake a suitably understated part. But this isn’t ultimately about music – all an anthem ever needs is for the music to be there, and to rise as it does at the end, hints of traditional U2 in the gleaming but steady (walking treble?) notes (no 3/16th delay making all that slightly jangly contour to the melody).

And lyrically, because this must be utterly nailed into the minds of everyone who cares – it’s not to be played at a wedding. This should be painstakingly obvious – We hurt each other/Then we do it again is immediate evidence for it. The song is also as bitter as it is prepared to offer an olive branch, the turns of phrase particularly designed to twist the thorn into the antagonist’s side – the most brilliant one being Have you come here to play Jesus to the lepers in your head? Yet, as the band point out, the key line is We get to carry each other. There’s awareness of cruelty, atrocity even, but despite this knowledge there’s a willingness to reach out and embrace others all the same.

It is, essentially, managing to detail the best and worst of humanity, suggesting a wider context but also being in the deeply personal. All of this ultimately renders “One” neither too specific nor too universal, and overall it’s a song that manages, more often than not, to temper its extremities, although I can’t place “One” at, well, the number one position in the U2 canon because there maybe aren’t enough musical extremities to temper. Still, the song’s regarded as a classic, and it’d be hugely controversial not to declare it otherwise; luckily, to deny it classic status would be insincere.