#90 - "I Threw a Brick Through a Window"
It’s not often that Larry and Adam are the reason I love a U2 song. But it is the opening, tribal, echoing drums, combined with the drum-and-bass solo in the middle, that make this October track one that sticks with me. Don’t get me wrong; I like the central riff just fine, and the angry young man lyrics are perfectly good angry young man lyrics, but it’s the rolling, restless quality of the drums that push the song up a notch.
#89 & #88 – “An Cat Dubh/Into the Heart”
I find it impossible to separate this pair of Boy tracks, so I didn’t. “An Cat Dubh” is a slow, moody piece of rock, with an almost-threatening bass line and deliberate riffs from the Edge giving the song a whiff of violence. Add in a chiming bell and some howling guitar effects and you have a songs that nicely captures a specific little atmosphere. But it’s in the transition to the second “half” of the song (the tracks are listed separately, but the transition is seamless) that the effect becomes complete, as that somewhat dark edge gets lifted up by a long instrumental intro of hopeful, ascending riffs. It’s a simple trick, of course, and “Into the Heart” itself is as simple a song as they come, but that main guitar melody is just so pure, hopeful, and optimistic, chiming away over the top of an insistent heartbeat bass, that I can’t help but get taken in. Pretty nice work for a young band still figuring so much out.
#87 – “Fire”
More October goodness, with yet another mid-tempo U2 rock song. There’s a kind of quiet grand mood evoked by the riff that supports the “Fire” chorus. It strikes me that early U2 is a more patient band than it gets credit for being—they never felt the need to pile on the volume, speed, or aggression to make their points. Lyrically, they were still on October struggling with where to go after the fresh adolescent openness of Boy, but musically it’s a much more interesting album than it is typically given credit for being.
#86 – “Fast Cars”
This bonus track was featured on the UK release of How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, but not the U.S. release. The chord progression feels to this musical theory dummy like a little bit of a departure for the band, and there’s an overall “Mid-Eastern” vibe. Driven by an acoustic guitar, this song has a nice, nervous, skittish feel, with some Dylan-inspired rat-a-tat lyrics (“Check the stocks/I'm in detox/I want the lot of what you've got/If what you've got can make this stop.”). Songs like this remind me that, while U2 has a well they got to reliably, a well that I love to death, they are often (not always, but often) rewarded when they try new things.
#85 – “Staring at the Sun”
This bright, melodic pop song off of Pop seemed destined to be a summer hit, given the bounciness and hookiness of the chorus and the sunny title, but it was not to be. Pop may be U2’s best album lyrically, and this song has some nicely trenchant lyrics (“Will we ever live in peace/'Cause those that can't do/Often have to/And those that can't do/Often have to preach”). Musically there’s a nice combo of acoustic strumming and electric chords here, with a wonderful crunchy guitar break in the bridge. “Staring at the Sun” is also one of those U2 songs that got reworked live as an acoustic song performed just by Bono and the Edge, and that version really hits nicely, with some lovely harmony provided by the Edge on the chorus.
#84 – “Stand Up Comedy”
This is one of the deeper cuts off of No Line on the Horizon, and at first it seems like a bit of a throwaway, with pleasant but perhaps not special verses sung to a pugnacious, meaty riff. But the very brief chorus does an interesting thing by briefly elevating the song before quickly reverting to that one-two punch of a riff. I’m also quite fond of some of the lyrics on this one, especially a great self-deprecating line by the diminutive Bono (“Stand up to rock stars, Napoleon is in high heels/Josephine, be careful of small men with big ideas”).
#83 – “Promenade”
Another one of those experiments that work, this slow, sleepy drift of a song, with murmuring guitar lines and little mini-crescendos that sound like waves lapping up on a beach, expertly achieves a mood. Bono’s impassioned singing on the chorus, and the way the music rises to support him, is very lovely, and best of all this little mood scene of a song doesn’t outstay its welcome, ending after barely more than two and a half minutes.
#82 – “New York”
I get the feeling U2 thought this would be a bigger song than it was, the “Bad” of All That You Can’t Leave Behind (in this scenario, “Beautiful Day” equates to “Pride (In the Name of Love)”). And yet it still is a pretty great song, with its beat poetry, tourist observation opening (“In New York summers get hot, well into the hundreds/You can walk around the block without a change of clothing/Hot as a hair dryer in your face/Hot as handbag and a can of mace”). Then the chorus hits and takes off for a bit, before pretty quickly coming back down to earth for more observations. There’s a line in here that hints at some problems that may have been taking place between Bono and his wife Allison at the time, especially considering that he does have an apartment in the city:
In New York I lost it all to you and your vices
Still I'm staying on to figure out my mid-life crisis
I hit an iceberg in my life
But you know I'm still afloat
You lose your balance, lose your wife
In the queue for the lifeboat
You got to put the women and children first
But you've got an unquenchable thirst for New York
Hearing the song in this light adds some complexity and nuance to those travelogue lyrics, as well as a little pathos. No, it may not have been the new “Bad,” but this is still a song that need make no apologies.
#81 – “A Sort of Homecoming”
Back to The Unforgettable Fire for this album-opener, a great example of that classic U2 sound in the service of something good. Like many classic U2 songs, this one is anchored, not by a riff, but by a driving bass line from Adam. There are early hints of The Joshua Tree in here, especially in Bono’s big, held, open notes in the chorus. There’s also a nice turn from Larry here, with a pushing “smack” sound on the drums that we don’t always hear from him. This song really does do a good job of introducing the listener to what was a little bit of a different sound from U2, more open, minimalist, and grander than the tighter songwriting that featured on War.