"I like to see Bono working under pressure, 'cause he's a great improviser."
-- Adam, on Bono
U2 Lists: Top 5 Lyrical 'Home' Runs
August 21, 2013
[Ed. note: This is the 52nd in a "U2 Lists" series, where @U2 staffers pick a topic and share their personal rankings on something U2-related.]
When a band has a catalog as large as U2's, it's easy to start identifying patterns in their lyrics. The usual suspects of love, loss and God are all present throughout their collection of songs, but one theme that also features prominently is that of the home.
Whether it's used as shelter, to symbolize a beacon of hope or to call parents out on their shortcomings, there are several references to homes in their volumes of work. Starting in U2's early days with "Twilight" right up through their most recent album, as evidenced in "Breathe," which made the cut for this list, there seems to be some sort of fixation on the concept.
My criteria for selecting the top five was simple: To mine out the most significant uses of the phrase "home" within the context of the songs, even if that theme isn't necessarily the focus of the entire work.
Here are the five that I chose:
At this time in the band's career, they were softening a bit. Coming off of the raw, rocking War album, producers Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno helped them create a more mature, ethereal sound with The Unforgettable Fire, and this track -- the first on the album -- sets the tone.
Inspired by a Paul Celan poem, this song speaks of trauma with "fields of mourning" and "the dust a smokescreen all around" in the injured city. Clearly references to a troubled Ireland, the picture is painted quite vividly, but thankfully takes a turn for the positive in the last few lines.
Oh, don't sorrow,
Ending on a hopeful note, speaking of the light that's in the distance, one gets the sense that peace is near. That light that represents the comfort of home.
In what is arguably the most touching song ever written about a hangover, our singer laces together a lullaby of apologies for his behavior, while yearning for the comfort of his girl. His voice practically cracks as he explains his dilemma.
In a little while this hurt will hurt no more
Anyone who has ever been sick like this, from alcohol or otherwise, knows that when you're wishing the pain away, sometimes the promise of falling into a loved one's arms in the serenity of home is the only thing that gets you through. These lyrics illustrate that beautifully.
"It soared, a bird, it held its flight, a swift pure cry, soar silver orb it leaped serene, speeding, sustained" -- Ulysses
Bono is nothing if not a storyteller and "Breathe" gives him the perfect pedestal from which to pontificate.
The song begins on Bloomsday with a man coming to the door, threatening murder or warning of death, telling our subject the three things he needs to know to stay alive. And our subject is having none of it.
Coming from a long line of
The home is a barrier here in which the uninvited never breaks, and our storyteller soars right past him -- having the courage to walk out into the street and sing his heart out. The music allows him the freedom to breathe. He finds grace inside the sound and all's well that ends well.
2. Walk On
By the time we reach the reference to home in this one, the song is nearly over. Bono is building to the grand finale, but he does it in a quiet, painful way. The unique thing about this entry is that the entire song has been about strength and positivity until now. Though your heart breaks, Walk On. What you got they can't steal it, etc. But then, we face a crushing reality when the bridge creeps up and punches us in the gut.
Home, hard to know what it is if you've never had one
Seriously? Has there been a more tragic play on the phrase, "home is where the heart is?" I think not.
The thread of Bono's lyrics in reference to his late father, Bob Hewson, are sometimes so personal that they read like an ongoing therapy session. It's courageous of him to allow those of us in the audience to experience such an intimate expression of his art, and we're certainly better for it.
In this song, Bono both celebrates the gifts his father gave him ("You're the reason I sing") and criticizes him for their distant relationship ("I know that we don't talk").
But just as in life, sometimes in a song, the most blood is shed after a crescendo of pain hits. Here, he reaches a beautiful note, expressing that his love for music is a credit to Bob, but at the same time he's not about to let him off the hook.
Well, hey now
Bono's reference to their house not feeling like a home takes him back to his time as a teenager after losing his mother. In various interviews over the years, he's alluded to the fact there were only men in the house, and he felt a great sense of abandonment, though his father was physically still there.
Honest and powerful, the way he emotes these lines only makes it all the more devastating.
(c) @U2/Kokkoris, 2013.