"I want to make a record that's nonsense and makes sense, because that's the way we're all living."
How U2's 'Iris' and 'Best Thing' Are Innocence and Experience
October 07, 2017
With the gestation and sudden arrival of 2014’s Songs of Innocence, U2 began a phase of their career that I think can be best described as introspectively retrospective. They’ve planted their feet firmly in the present and metaphorically gone back to a place of innocence on the streets of Dublin to understand their past and what it meant to their future. While Songs of Experience is a few months away, the release of “You’re The Best Thing About Me” has started to make me think about how experience will connect with innocence on a thematic scale. You could probably make an argument that “Song For Someone” would be a better complement to the new single, but I think the band has made it abundantly clear that “Iris (Hold Me Close)” is the innocence to “The Best Thing’s” experience.
The star that gives us light/Has been gone a while/But it’s not an illusion
Full of shooting stars/Brighter as they’re vanishing
For as much as we’ve heard the band talk about how “The Best Thing” was a love letter to Ali, I think Bono’s still talking about Iris. His mother’s unexpected and tragic passing, like the life of a star, was a supernova in his life: a quick, apocalyptic explosion in his heart and soul. I’m no astrologist, but I do know that after stars enter supernova, they dim for a while, and eventually become neutron stars, which are smaller, incredibly more dense and significantly brighter than they used to be. After the initial shock of losing her, Bono didn’t write about Iris as much anymore. Just like a star, her luminosity dimmed over time until he was pushed to dig deep and take stock of how he got to where he is. If “Iris” is a singer in mourning, “The Best Thing” is a celebration of life.
Iris says that I will be the death of her/It was not me
You’re the best thing about me/I’m the kind of trouble that you enjoy
If you were a kid, odds are that at one point, one or both of your parents told you that you’ll be the death of them. The phrase is one of many odd colloquialisms that is much darker than it means to be. Mothers typically say it when their child is especially rowdy or energetic and causing some harmless trouble. When I first heard “Iris”, that line hit me the hardest. Bono looked at that everyday phrase and reinterpreted it in an innocent yet heartbreaking way. Coming from a place of experience in “The Best Thing”, he was more playful about it, saying that although he drove his mother up a wall (another weird phrase!), she still had fun with his silliness. That line in particular made me remember a story Bono told in U2 By U2. He described running away from his mother after getting into some sort of mischief, expecting her to discipline him, but instead he turned around to see her breaking into a fit of laughter.
Why am I walking away?
When I first heard this line, I didn’t know what to make of it. In a song where Bono croons over and over about how someone is the best thing about him, why would he be walking away from that? My first thought was he regretted leaving his family so much to traipse around the world. That would make more sense if this was a one-off single, but this is a Song of Experience, so it’s worth looking for the connective tissue. Before the band played “Iris” on the last tour, Bono said that if you don’t revisit the past you’ll get stuck there. That idea is the essence of these two songs, and possibly the two albums.
On “Iris”, he goes back to the past to acknowledge the impact she had on his life and how it fuels everything he does. “The Best Thing” is he and the band understanding that they have to walk away from their pasts, knowing they can’t stay for long. Both songs are larger-than-life declarations of eternal love. I think they’re the biggest that U2 have ever made.
(c) @U2/Merritt, 2017