So if you have even a passing, nodding acquaintance with contemporary pop culture you probably have noticed that U2 is cycling up the machine again. It started in the fall with the release of “Ordinary Love,” written for the Nelson Mandela biopic Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. “Ordinary Love” won the Golden Globe for Best Song and was then nominated for the Oscar. Then, with the Super Bowl, U2 released what they are saying is not the “first single” from their as yet unnamed and unscheduled new album, but rather “a song from the album.” Released to raise money for Bono’s AIDS charity RED, the single, “Invisible,” has done relatively well, with a few million downloads and some very modest chart movement. Then, this week, U2 helped Jimmy Fallon launch his version of The Tonight Show by appearing to play both songs, “Invisible” from the roof of 30 Rockefeller Plaza (with an assist from the Rutgers University marching band), and “Ordinary Love” in an acoustic rendition from the couch.
All of which is to say that, a year and a half after rather quickly abandoning it, I’ve decided that the time is really right to complete the “every U2 song ranked” project I started lo those many months ago. Given that we will likely not see the new album until late spring or summer (or later), the thinking is that I can complete the project roughly in tandem with the release of the new stuff, which seems like pretty good timing.
So - last year, I had taken us from #161 down to #150. The original post describing the project and its guiding principles is here.
#161-#155 are here.
#154-150 are here.
And now we can continue:
#149 – “Falling at Your Feet”
Up here in the stratosphere, where the least of U2’s catalog sits, we are still looking at lots of oddities and offshoot songs, and at #149 we have our first entry from The Million Dollar Hotel, an odd little vanity project of a film to which U2 contributed several songs and the original story idea (well, Bono gets to take sole credit for that). “Falling at Your Feet” (a duet with Daniel Lanois) is a slight song, with a shuffling drum beat, a lilting circus-like up-and-down melody, and some softly sung listed lyrics. Without much of a build or destination in mind, the song really doesn’t go anywhere. U2 is pretty famous for a protracted and haphazard songwriting process in which they just kind of goof off in the studio until an idea emerges that they can, sometimes over the course of months, push into a song. “Falling at Your Feet” has the feel of one such idea that never really developed further than that original thought.
#148 – “Spanish Eyes”
The B-Side of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” “Spanish Eyes” features another instance of what feel like improvised Bono lyrics and a performance that they never really moved beyond. There’s a little too much growling and squalling from Bono in here than is necessary, and the driving, mid-tempo music, with a pretty boilerplate Joshua Tree-era Edge sound, doesn’t really stick to the soul. For a band that can take so long in between albums, and that can come off as so perfectionist, they really do have a number of songs that feel unfinished and not really thought all the way through.
#147 – “Walk to the Water”
Continuing with our tour of Joshua Tree B-sides, here we have a very Unforgettable Fire-era-sounding B-side to “With or Without You.” This one has a bit of a groove to recommend it, with a very, very (very) slightly funky loping bass line driving things forward. Bits and pieces of other song lyrics float through, and while the whole thing is somewhat ethereal and misty (not necessarily in the good way), there is a kind of hippy-dippy pleasantness to the overall vibe. Sill, another pretty forgettable B-side.
#146 – “Wave of Sorrow (Birdland)”
Another Joshua Tree outtake, this one lost until the 20th anniversary release. Piano leads the way here instead, in yet another mid-tempo slog forward. More rain imagery, rather than being evocative, just kind of reminds you that maybe The Joshua Tree had a little too much weather imagery to begin with? I kind of like the somewhat tribal-sounding drums, and there are some vaguely interesting sound experiments going on in the background, including some kind of buzzing effect, but this is not a keeper either.
#145 – “Winter”
Another entry from the world of cinema, this is a song written by the band for the Jim Sheridan Iraq war drama Brothers. Neither the song nor the movie made as much of a mark as expected, and I can’t say (for the song at least – I haven’t seen the movie) that the lack of impact was unjustified. Really, after listening to this batch of songs back to back I’m hard-pressed to differentiate too much between them. In particular, this, “Wave of Sorrow (Birdland,)” and “Spanish Eyes” have a very familiar feel – think of it as the U2 base color, the starting point that eventually leads to interesting or great songs in other cases. Not here.