"Everything I ever lost now has been returned. The most beautiful sound I'd ever heard."
Opening up about my U2 fandom and playing another round of Fantasy A&R with U2's two most recent albums.
Amongst some music
snobs fans, the one thing that might be more controversial than my Grateful Dead fandom is my extreme and unabashed love for U2. Perhaps it’s not surprising given that I love Springsteen, someone who like U2 deals with big themes and ideas (spirituality, morality, things of that nature), but I always feel a bit on the defensive when the Irish group is brought up. Yet, just like I’m being more comfortable in my Dead fandom, I’m owning my U2 love a bit more.
I know I’m dating myself here (and some of you will probably say “good lord, he’s not that old”) but my high school years lined up with the release of U2’s big comeback album All That You Can’t Leave Behind. That album, which returned U2 to the top of the rock band mountain, prompted me to go digging into their previous output (The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby) and had me asking my mom if I could go to shows on the Elevation Tour. Out of that, a U2 fan was born.
However, I’ve realized I’ve been doing something I don’t enjoy with U2—I’ve been only listening to their older stuff and disregarding what they’d done after a certain point in their career. Specifically, I’d checked out after Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. I thought No Line on the Horizon, the album that they promoted on the U2 360 tour, was pretty strong (maybe not in the top tier/Mount Rushmore stuff, but an album I enjoyed putting on). But I never clicked with those two albums with titles taken from William Blake. It was time to rectify this and spend some time with these two records.
Like I did with Springsteen’s two “Other Band” albums and the three albums from Bob Dylan’s Christian period (the stretches by musicians I really love that I’d never spent that much time listening to), I decide to condense those two albums into one single playlist that I’ve called The Miracle (Innocence and Experience). The title comes from “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)” which might be my favorite song of any that the band put out over these two albums. Here’s what I put together:
I tried to balance this with equal songs from both albums (though I am a bit more fond of the Songs of Innocence material). I also included a few songs from this stretch that were non-album releases but that would certainly have their place in something compiling the strongest U2 work from that time. There are also some album bonus tracks and alternate takes/versions of songs.
What you’ve got here is an interesting U2 record; a record that, at least in terms of its vibe, feels closer to Pop or Zooropa with the depth/darkness and the more electronic musical elements. There’s certainly plenty of the classic U2 sound embedded in there as you get the Edge’s ringing guitar on songs like “Every Breaking Wave” and “Get Out of Your Own Way.”
Though I do enjoy that sound that can fill up a stadium, I elected to go with the stripped-down acoustic version of “Song for Someone” because that’s a track that stands out even when it’s stripped of its flourishes and accoutrements. It’s a love song, though not a straight-forward one (U2 doesn’t really write those kinds of songs) and could be open to different interpretations.
If there is a light you can't always see
And there is a world we can't always be
If there is a dark that we shouldn't doubt
And there is a light, don't let it go out
This smaller-scale U2 also pops up on “The Showman (Little More Better)” in a way that made a potentially forgettable album track seem interesting.
Bono was pretty open about these records being very personal and the lyrics reflecting his own life. When I think about the songs that really jumped out to me, like the aforementioned “Song for Someone” or “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone),” they do have that personal element. “Miracle” is a great song about a song, or music in general and the way in which it can awaken something in the listener.
I was shaking from a storm in me
Haunted by the spectres that we had to see
Yeah, I wanted to be the melody
Above the noise, above the hurt
I don’t think this stretch of music by U2, which I’ve compiled into one single album, is as good as their extreme high points (Boy, Joshua Tree, Achtung Baby, All That You Can’t Leave Behind). I think even albums like War, Unforgettable Fire, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, and No Line on the Horizon are probably better (and Pop too, though it’s divisive). But even though I don’t think Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience quite measure up, they still produced some good tracks.
Did I miss anything? Were there songs I left off that I should’ve included? Let me know!
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I honestly think the angst about how this album was offered up as a free download from the iTunes music store was extremely ridiculous (basically, people found a way to get off their lazy jokes about U2) and unfairly maligned a pretty good album.
I honestly don't know what should/shouldn't be included here as, I did exactly the same thing as you; I stopped listening to anything after a certain point.
In my case, on paper that was "All That You Can't Leave Behind," but that's really just down to "Beautiful Day." In reality, it was probably Pop, or maybe even Achtung Baby. Sounds like I'm overdue to check out the more recent stuff, starting with your playlist!