#161. “Elvis Presley and America” – The Unforgettable FireSo here it is. The worst U2 song. Famous as an improvised first take, this droning, mumbled, repetitive song stands as one of those “experiments” that just didn’t work. Even the mix itself sounds half-hearted, with the vocals lost, the drums faded, and that damn interminable strummed guitar figure so very flat sounding. And at nearly six-and-a-half minutes, it just does. Not. End.
Now, let us not lose fact of the sight that failure is critical to innovation, and that experiments like this are important to the development of artists. I’m glad U2 tried this. I’m not sure it needed to be on the album.
When U2 released a 25th anniversary edition of its (arguably) most important album a few years back, it contained a whole disc of bonus tracks. This track feels less like a song than a collection of boilerplate U2-isms from the period. The parts sound familiar but lazily assembled and executed. Even the title (and refrain) sounds like almost like a U2 parody and less like a really lived-in idea. Bono gives in maybe too much to his “impassioned falsetto” tic, while The Edge tosses off pretty standard-issue Edge ringing figures before trying out a slow solo that sounds like a kid in a guitar shop noodling around, and not a real solo. Nothing worth hearing here.
#159. “4th of July” – The Unforgettable FireThe Unforgettable Fire gets the ignoble award of having two songs in the bottom three. Given the heights a few of its tracks will reach (it’s not a spoiler to say that it will be a long while before I start writing about “Pride (In the Name of Love),” “Bad,” or the title track), it’s a bit surprising, but there it is.
This song is that rare beast, a U2 instrumental, and while its slow, languid rhythms have some appeal, for the most part it’s a repetitive drone of a piece, with Edge soundscapes washing back and forth in the background while Adam plays a basic bass figure over and over in the foreground. Rock instrumentals are hard to pull off, but can be great. This is not.
This oddity is a Bono and The Edge contribution to a Royal Shakespeare Company production of "A Clockwork Orange.” A strange bit of electronica-influenced background stuff, opened by a boy soprano singing some Latin, it’s barely a song at all, and really more of a short score piece that doesn’t hang together at all. Worth a listen for the novelty of it, but pretty disposable.
#157. “The Refugee” – WarThis deep cut off of War has an odd bongo type of beat, with an impassioned Bono chant leading things off, and it has not really dated well. The shouted lyrics, the attempt at different percussion come off, not as U2 excited by something different, but rather more as U2 trying something different just for the sake of it. At the same time, the halfhearted attempt at political lyrics (“Her mama say one day she’s gonna’ live in America.”) some across as a confused attempt to keep with the album’s political leanings, rather than an effort to say something.
#156. “Two Hearts Beat As One” – WarU2 has dabbled in dance music at different parts of its career, and this song kind of qualifies. The problem is that the verses are OK U2 energetic rock stuff, while the chorus abruptly becomes this bouncy, poppy thing that just doesn’t fit with the rest of the song. Not to mention the sheer laziness of the title and chorus “”Two hearts beat as one – really?) and you have another War track that, while pleasant enough, is hardly essential.
#155. “The Playboy Mansion” – PopPop is famously held up as an example of what happens when a band strays too far from what it does well and experiments in places it doesn’t belong. And while on the whole I strenuously disagree with that assessment, I’ll concede that this song is an experiment that does not come out well. Its attempts at hip-hop-styled beats, club rhythms, and the kind of Moby-influenced looping popular at the time all fail, while the self-consciously quirky lyrics about Michael Jackson, Coke, and OJ Simpson dated the song pretty quickly. As a time capsule piece “The Playboy Mansion” has its charms, but that’s about it.