Friday, May 09, 2008

U2 Friday, Part Two

U2 Fridays continue here at De Regnis Duobus, this week focusing on one of the two best epochs of the band’s history, as well as upon one of their two best album triads. The years under consideration are 1984 – 1988, and the albums being discussed are The Unforgettable Fire, The Joshua Tree, and Rattle and Hum.

1984’s The Unforgettable Fire marked a radical departure for the lads. Gone were the anthems, the rebel songs, and the white flags that decorated the stage during the War Tour. This album was very European and quite sensual (by which I mean the very opposite of cerebral). Most of the songs can be likened not so much to stories being told, but to pictures being painted (“Carnival, the wheels fly and colors spin, through alcohol, red wine that punctures the skin. Face to face, in a dry and waterless place”). No, it doesn’t make much sense, but that was due to producer Brian Eno’s insisting that Bono improvise most of the lyrics. In fact, the penultimate song (“Elvis Presley and America”) resulted from Eno playing some random, slowed-down music backwards and handing Bono a mike and telling him to improvise one take, which is what appears on the album (“And you know, though no one told, you tried; and your heart is left out from the side”). Amazing stuff.

1987’s The Joshua Tree is perhaps the band’s best album (certainly the best of this threesome). Unlike its predecessor, this is American through and through (the band originally wanted to call it The Two Americas). Whether The Joshua Tree is U2’s best effort or not, I would certainly argue that it represents the band at their lyrical best. Some great lines include: “She runs through the streets with her eyes painted red, under a black belly of cloud in the rain. In through a doorway she brings me white gold and pearls, stolen from the sea” (“Running to Stand Still”); “She stands with a naked flame; I stand with the sons of Cain, burned by the fire of love” (“In God’s Country”); and “I don’t believe in painted roses or bleeding hearts while bullets rape the night of the merciful” (“One Tree Hill”).

Rattle and Hum (1988) is the soundtrack to the film by the same name. An eclectic mix of live recordings and new songs, I find it hard to listen to all the way through. I prefer to skip songs like “Pride” (which I rarely like when played live) and “Freedom For My People” (obviously). The song that stands out, in my opinion, is “Heartland” (“Freeway, like a river, cuts through this land into the side of love like a burning spear”). And though I’m not a huge fan of “When Love Comes to Town,” I love the line, “I was there when they crucified my Lord; I held the scabbard when the soldier drew his sword; I rolled the dice when they pierced his side, but I’ve seen love conquer the great divide.” In the words of B.B. King (who sang that line) to Bono: “You mighty young to write such heavy lyrics!”

I miss ‘80s U2….