In music news, U2 released a new album on December 1.
Their 14th studio album is called Songs of Experience. From what I’ve heard from the hopefuls who have already listened to it, it’s pretty average.
Surprised? You can bet your bottom dollar the Irish aren’t.
To celebrate the occasion, however, Vulture took to ranking every one of U2’s songs.
Why they would think to do such a thing? Because the band, which has been going strong for over 40 years, is the only rock band “of its stature” that still has its original lineup.
Which is either a good or bad thing.
Anyway, to select the songs, a few guidelines were put in place:
The criteria for doing so took into consideration the strength of the songwriting and the success of the final recorded result; extra credit can be given for a composition’s presence in concert and/or its live evolution over time.
*THE GROUND RULES: This list consists of officially released U2 songs only. This excludes covers, Bono–Edge or Larry Mullen Jr.–Adam Clayton outings (so no Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark and no “Mission Impossible,” which is a cover anyway). Live versions and remixes are treated as the same song and covered in that song’s entry if relevant. Passengers is excluded except for “Miss Sarajevo” and “Your Blue Room,” for obvious reasons. The list also excludes Songs of Experience, as it hasn’t had enough time to breathe yet. This leaves us with 218 songs to discuss.
Ready to get into it? Let’s go for the top five because I don’t think I could handle all 218 songs in one day:
5. “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” War
Folk song. Peace song. Protest song. The Edge started writing “Sunday Bloody Sunday” while Bono was off on his honeymoon, with lyrics that were much more direct (“It was a full-on anti-terrorism song,” Edge said in 2006) than the final result. It was the result of the news, of current events, of those trying to co-opt U2 into their movement — of being a visible symbol of “the Irish in America,” which Bono would reference onstage in 1987.
4. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” The Joshua Tree
It’s a gospel song, period. Not kind of a gospel song, or inspired by a gospel song, but an honest-to-goodness gospel song. It is inspirational and uplifting and heartbreaking and just plain gorgeous. The melody is just so deft: Larry and Adam in the pocket, Edge coasting along the top of the melody, and Bono singing with actual humility. “Gospel” should not be a dirty word to rock fans — that’s where it comes from, where the church met the field met the juke joint. Take me to church.
3. “Bad,” The Unforgettable Fire
The opening notes of “Bad” are a clarion call: They invite the listener into the song and set a tone of warning and premonition for the scene that’s about to unfold. The minimalism of the instrumentation is remarkable in how it ebbs and flows to fit in the space around Bono’s vocals, and both those vocals and the melody pulsate with intensity. You can feel the desperation of the heroin addict, of the battle between the attraction and the hatred of the disease, of the anger and frustration of the people around them, watching them fall further into the “blue and black,” not being able to pull them out — and also the voice of someone who might find the qualities of the drug to be intriguing and dangerous. It’s all there. It’s breathtaking, how the song builds, the way Bono throttles his vocals, and how the Eno–Lanois team sonically construct the emotional dynamic.
2. “I Will Follow,” Boy
There are a handful of records that sound so completely different that you will always remember the first moment you heard them. That’s “I Will Follow,” which I heard for the first time while sitting in traffic on the way home from my high-school part-time job, listening to the WNYU New Afternoon Show. The opening thrum of guitar notes, a literal siren, mystical bells in the distance, a rhythm section playing almost off-rhythm, and those opening lines, sung by a voice full of urgency and emotion: “I was on the outside / When you said you needed me …” It sounded like nothing I had ever heard before.
1. “Where the Streets Have No Name,” The Joshua Tree
“It’s the point where craft ends and spirit begins,” Bono has said about “Streets,” and if you do not like Bono or U2, it’s the kind of thing that makes you hate them. But if that’s true, you have also never stood in the middle of an arena or a stadium or an open field surrounded by jumping people caught up in the sheer elation of this song. There is no way that U2 knew what this song was going to be when they wrote it, or even when they recorded it — the story about Brian Eno being so sick of the song he almost erased the tape so they’d get on with it, is definitely a point in that opinion’s favor — but, like all the best U2 songs, it is what “Streets” became once it was performed in front of an audience that was its transfiguration and its transmogrification.
Disagree? You can take it up with these guys and check out the full list here.
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