Monday, April 07, 2014

U2 Ranked - #100 - #91

#100 – “Indian Summer Sky”
And so we begin. The 100 greatest U2 songs. If it’s not clear by now, I pretty much love every single one of these, even if I may be hard-pressed to defend every one as a stone-cold classic song from a more-objective point of view. As for “Indian Summer Sky,” this Unforgettable Fire track has a great intense energy, with a driving, pulsating guitar and bass pushing the song forward. Eschewing a more traditional verse/chorus structure, the song has an interesting feel, with short couplets divided by shifting musical treatments. When they get to the “To lose along the way/The spark that sets the flame” section, there’s this great modulation that feels like lifting, like a rising out of a pit. Beautiful effect. This song is a relatively early indicator of how texture and mood are so important to the U2 sound.

#99 – “Stories for Boys”
This Boy track has always been a favorite from that album, primarily for the on-the-nose but still evocative adolescent lyrics. “Sometimes the hero takes me/Some time I come and go/Stories for boys.” There’s also a great, meaty bass sound in this one that you don’t often hear from Adam. Add to that a simple-but effective early Edge riff and you have a song that I like to imagine really captures what it was like to hear the foursome playing in those very early “making it up as they went along” days.

#98 – “Miracle Drug”
There’s an argument to be made that in their later years, U2 fell into a bad habit of over-engineering their songs and albums. The intro to the How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb is evidence of this habit, with its slow synth intro and bubbling effects murmuring under Edge’s simple up-and-down guitar figure. But when the band gets out of its own way and launches into the soaring chorus, all sins are forgiven. “Freedom has a scent/Like the top of a newborn baby’s head.” Nice. I also like the use of piano here – it’s a sound the band should play with more often. But really what makes this song is that big, anthemic, stadium-built chorus. If that’s your thing, this hits that sweet spot nicely. If not, well, this is likely the wrong band for you, no?

#97 – “Like a Song . . . ”
The verse on this up-tempo War track is damn solid early U2, with a great energy pushed forward by some big Larry hits on the drum, but it’s the angst in the lead-up to the bridge, (“Is there nothing left?”) and the following patient guitar solo that makes the song for me, along with the interesting turn it takes at the end, as that same “Is there nothing left” cry leads into a drum solo, of all things, that builds and builds as the Edge starts adding some guttural guitar strikes into the mix. It’s not often the drumming makes a U2 song for me, but this is one where it does.

#96 – “MLK”
A hushed, solemn organ. “Sleep, sleep tonight/ And may your dreams/Be realized/If the thunder cloud/Passes rain/So let it rain/Rain down on me/So let it be.” That’s the whole song. On paper, it’s too hokey by at least half. In practice it’s actually quite effective—especially towards the end when that quiet organ finally shifts into a noticeable key change. An experiment that works.

#95 – “If God Will Send His Angels”
Most U2 albums have a ballad. Achtung Baby has “One.” The Joshua Tree has “With or Without You.” And Pop has “If God Will Send His Angels.” What makes this one stand out for me is the sadness in it. Over quiet synth sounds Bono sings, “Nobody else here baby/No one here to blame/No one to point the finger/It's just you and me and the rain.” When the chorus kicks in, it does so quietly, in an almost resigned way. “Hey if God will send his angels/And if God will send a sign/And if God will send his angels/Would everything be alright?” Then the rest of the band kicks in, but in a slow, lazy way. This is not a hopeful song: “God has got his phone off the hook, babe/Would he even pick up if he could?” In these brief song descriptions, I haven’t talked much about the overt Christian influence on U2’s music. This song, and much of Pop, is interesting in that it portrays a defeated skepticism about God, an almost loss of faith. This song makes that subtext text. This is an underrated song that, while maybe not having the beauty that the other two I mentioned do, is still a damn fine piece of songwriting, production, and performance working together. 

#94 – “Out of Control”
Back to the beginning, with this Boy song that also featured on the band’s first EP. It’s the primal youth of that lyric that just works so damn well – “I was of a feeling it was out of control/I had the opinion it was out of control.” Add to that a really great bridge, with an Edge guitar solo that sounds, well, “out of control,” but holds to a form and structure enough to make a powerful statement, rather than just dissolve into noise, and you have something special. The spacey effects in the middle haven’t dated all that well, but the primal energy of that riff? That hasn’t become dated at all.

#93 – “11 O’ Clock Tick Tock”
This non-album single gained fame as one of the eight live cuts captured on the Under a Blood Red Sky album, introduction of many to the band. It’s a great U2 song, with a ringing, rat-a-tat guitar figure at its center and a bouncing, hooky bass part. I’ll admit to nostalgia probably playing a bigger part than it should in this song’s ranking—Under a Blood Red Sky was an early influence on my U2 fandom, and I have a soft spot for this one. 

#92 – “Silver and Gold”
The story, as Bono tells it, is that he was embarrassed by his lack of blues knowledge when Keith Richards and Mick Jagger were playing some blues and talking about the form during the Sun City recordings, and that in response he went to his hotel room that night and wrote this song. I came to this song, like many I’m sure, through the powerful live version captured on Rattle & Hum. The single version has a raw quality that I like, but it doesn’t hit as hard as the live. I don’t know if it qualifies as “ironic,” but I find it interesting that it’s Adam’s bass line that carried the blues sound more than Edge’s slashing guitar. Bono’s mid-song rant during the Rattle & Hum version has been mocked and parodied enough (“Am I buggin’ ya’? I don’t mean to bug ‘ya. OK, Edge, play the blues!”), but I will say that it’s that passion and fervent belief in the possibility of making things better that makes so much of what U2 does work so well.

#91 – “Wire”
I haven’t checked the beats-per-minute, but this Unforgettable Fire track must be one of U2’s fastest songs. An impatient, thick bass and rapid guitar figure kick us off and really never let up, while Bono sings about cold hearts and cold men. I love this song, but it’s the end that does the most for me, with some proto-rapping from Bono bringing the song to a conclusion. I know, I know. It’s better than it sounds. “Here’s the rope/Here’s the rope/Now swing on it.”

Until Whenever