Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Top 5 U2 songs (1991-2009)

Tim's Top 5:

So I'm seeing U2 at Giants Stadium later this year (along with opening act Muse). I have little doubt it will be awesome, I've noticed that I'm really a sucker for open-air stadium shows (no tinnitus issues and the only acts I've really seen in such venues are Springsteen (twice) and The Police. But I'm finally going back and getting all the albums pre-Joshua Tree that I've still never heard much of...hence this bifurcated list. I don't have Zooropa, but have the other post-1991 albums in one form or another, though my IPod got full before I bought No Line on the Horizon, so I've not listened to it much. Aside from the atrocious "Get On Your Boots", it's a strong album.

1. City of Blinding Lights from How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb - The other reason to bifurcate this list is because it's on an album that can't possibly have spawned the best U2 song of all time...right? I'm not so sure. The intro carries a lot of weight on its own, the key progression on the keyboard is a real unifying force that matches the more orchestral progressions from The Joshua Tree (like the intro to Where the Streets Have No Name). Like that song, it takes more than a minute to reach the vocals and nearly 2 1/2 minutes before we hit the chorus to the song. The lyrics open with a hat tip to Bob Dylan and "My Back Pages" and swell into one of U2's most romantic songs. It gets bonus points for being the best used song at a political rally in my lifetime -- when Obama came out to this song at the Democratic National Convention, I dropped the CD in my alarm clock and wouldn't wake to anything but City of Blinding Lights until after the election. Unlike many U2 songs that build in one continuous crescendo (see One), it builds up, peaks, and drops, but each verse is still at a stronger level than the one preceding it. It strikes me as a profoundly mathematical arrangement, but it's so intuitive that it really works for me. I'm not sure what it is, but it's a magnificent song, one that it took U2 almost 30 years to create. I'm just grateful that it showed up on an episode of Entourage that ultimately persuaded me to buy the album.

2. Zoo Station from Achtung Baby- Every U2 album has an opening track that kind of signals the direction that their album is going. "Where The Streets Have No Name" is silent for nearly 30 seconds, signaling the quiet desperation of The Joshua Tree, "A Sort of Homecoming" shows a kind of mixed bag, a band uncertain what it's doing with its own growing fame, but a noticeable withdrawal from the political ethos of War while relying on an ever-increasing size to their sound, "Beautiful Day" was the first real sign that U2 was officially old, with Bono mostly talking through the track and the other vocals sounding heavily produced or augmented. Well, "Zoo Station" may be the best of all of them, announcing U2's desire to break from The Joshua Tree and indulge in a more German sound, capturing industrial music, John Cage percussion, and a whirlwind of music in the place of silence. It also makes an odd cameo in a movie I'll always love (About A Boy), which was what first made me listen to the song in its own right and not just as a track on U2's seminal album.

3. One from Achtung Baby - That's right, although "One" has been named as the best song in history in several polls that the BBC had done, I would put it third. It's a phenomenal song, laden with raw emotion and confusion (which explains why people play this profoundly depressing song about divided souls at weddings), but it lacks the revolutionary force of Zoo Station. It's a more developed sound than we got on The Joshua Tree, but it's more remarkable as a well-written song than as an eye-opening performance or change to music. It's a continuous crescendo from start to finish, with the music swelling and Bono's pleading growing stronger and yet wearier simultaneously.

4. Walk On from All That You Can't Leave Behind - Although All That You Can't Leave Behind won a fair amount of critical acclaim (seriously, Rolling Stone, the #139 album of all f***ing time? Better than Darkness on the Edge of Town? #1 Record? Radio City? Not even close, the second half of it is all but unlistenable), following on the hells of Pop, it's a profoundly uneven album and loses its way about halfway through. But this is one of their best and most uplifting songs about triumphing over the mundane with a solid spoken narrative intro that sets the song up beautifully. They milk the beauty of poetic repetition at the end and close out the song with force, it leads into "Kite", another song worthy of consideration...and then the album goes off the tracks after "In a Little While".

5. Original of the Species from How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb- It's remarkable primarily because it's a very quiet song that really has a broad spectrum of sounds. At first it's the string section that's really the driving force, then there's a piano bridging the next gap, and then the vocals get more depth and force as the song continues to its conclusion. It's one of the few songs on the last three albums where you really have no doubt that Bono's voice actually sounded that way -- the weakness and age show up, but they're completely indispensable.

Honorable Mention: Magnificent, No Line on the Horizon, Even Better Than The Real Thing, Discotheque - Sorry, but if you removed the lyrics, it's a phenomenal Propellerheads track, as it is, it's just a strong point on a middling album.

Dan's Top 5:

Man, U2 really sucks these days.

1. Mysterious Ways from Achtung Baby - OK, I really like this one, but I've heard it far to many times over the past year to say many good things about it at the moment.

2. Beautiful Day from All That You Can't Leave Behind - loses point for being associated with a campus christian organization I was very loosely associated with.

3. Vertigo from How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb - To be fair, it sounds far better if you're in Ireland getting drunk and listening to a local band cover it.

4. Elevation from All That You Can't Leave Behind - Bonus points for vocoder use and Bono's Joshua Tree-era high notes.

5. All Because Of You from How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb - Hey, it's kinda catchy.

I don't particularly love any of these songs, but these are the ones I don't skip when they come up on my iPod. I have much love for anything before Achtung Baby, which really marked the downfall of this band in my eyes. Come to think of it, exactly half of the band's 12 albums came out before 1990, and the remaining 6 have all left something to be desired.

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