"I always thought passion was like a clenched fist. But when I relaxed, it flowed in a fuller way."
Column: off the record ..., vol. 16-740
September 11, 2016
Summer is coming to an end here in the northern hemisphere, and as we wait for something from U2 this autumn (despite evidence to the contrary), I want to write an appreciation for U2’s summer songs. To me, U2 is primarily an autumn and winter band. Most of their recent albums have come out in the shorter months of the year, and their music is often quite dark and their photographs gray, so I associate them with early sunsets, more layers of clothing and overcast skies. This makes their summer songs stand out on albums, sometimes as special treats and other times as sore thumbs.
There are two types of U2 summer songs. There are highly polished and very major key songs; examples are “Beautiful Day,” “California,” “Two Hearts Beat As One,” “Promenade” and “Sweetest Thing.” There are also the diet lite songs that some fans criticize for not being up to U2’s lyrical and musical standards: “Wild Honey,” “Some Days Are Better Than Others,” “A Man And A Woman,” “Miami” and “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” come to mind. Neither group of songs is about bombings or religious exploration or charitable virtue, nor are they likely to hit the heights of the U2 live experience where “the spirit” sweeps into the room (with the exception of “Beautiful Day”). They’re all songs that almost any other band would kill to have created, but are declared to be below U2’s standards.
I’ve never understood why U2 songs can’t be just straight-up fun. “Elevation” gets a lot of guff, like it broke some unspoken, holy rule against having goofy nonsense lyrics and a super-bounceable chorus. I think Adam Clayton is the only person I’ve ever seen who had kind words for the warm, breezy summer evening that is “A Man And A Woman.” “Miami” is gross, littered streets and shirts unbuttoned too low with too much chest hair sticking out. I am so all about U2 exploring the hot, sun-drenched, sweaty and sticky corners of summer. “Trip Through Your Wires” gets the benefit of being on U2’s most celebrated album ever, but I’m sure that if it was on stuck on the second half of Pop in a slightly more glittery incarnation, it would be held in low, low esteem. I couldn’t tell you why, though, because it would still be singing fun at me.
U2 have an album called October and a song called “Winter.” They have lyrics like
October, November, remember
And you know it’s time to go
It was a cold and wet December day
And the water, it was icy
Their best work cultivates dark skies, oppressive weather and minor keys. They’re not afraid of the dark; they are willing to stand in the pouring rain; they walk into the scary caves and this is one of the reasons why they’re celebrated. They are men, not boys, and they’re willing to tackle music that others would shy away from. Their universe is often beautiful but cold. But that’s not all that they’re capable of, and it bums me out when the fan community at large seems to fault them for it.
I’m sitting here as the sun sets on one of the last summer evenings in Portland, Oregon. The clouds are baby pink from the setting sun and the sky around them is still baby blue in the coming evening. I’ve got some good beer, some beautiful weather and a U2 Summer Songs playlist. What’s not to enjoy?
Any opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily represent the views of @U2 as a whole.
(c) @U2/Ryan, 2016