Axver (axver) wrote,

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The overlooked items in the U2 collection.

The Joshua Tree, Achtung Baby, the Best Of 1980-1990 and 1990-2000 ... they're the high profile U2 releases with the widely praised tracks. However, for this entry, I'd like to give some attention to some of U2's more overlooked numbers, the hidden gems found deep in their rich 25-year history. This, of course, is not an exhaustive list. Enjoy the trip through some of the less-explored portions of the vivid tapestry that makes up U2's music.

1. Rejoice - one of the finest early examples of Larry's drumming, with some furious work in the middle complimenting Edge's guitar. How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb could have most certainly benefitted from the production that showcases Larry's drumming and brings it to the fore in this quality early rocker.

2. Scarlet - this has to be one of U2's most beautiful numbers, a soft and simple song with few vocals but soothing music. While the Boy debut was quite consistent musically, U2 began to expand musically on the October album, bringing out their anthemic ability in earliest form on Gloria while the more subtle side of U2 saw its birth in songs such as Scarlet.

3. Like A Song - one of U2's most rocking songs, where Bono vehemently vents his anger and fury at pointless feuds and rebellions. Larry's pounding drums, Adam's complementary bass, and Edge's powerful guitar create an intense song that really should have been played live more than just once. "A generation without name, ripped and torn ..."

4. Drowning Man - continues the beauty where Scarlet left off, crafting a gem of a song with both beautiful lyrics and instrumentation, rounded out by Steven Wickham on, I believe, the electric violin. There's a London War Tour gig where the band bring Wickham onstage to play Sunday Bloody Sunday with them and it's awesome. But that's beside the point. The beauty of Drowning Man is a spiritual kind of majesty that should not be so overlooked.

5. The Refugee - WOH WOAH! I do not understand why so many in the U2 fandom hate this song. Powerful drumming, aggressive singing and guitar - it's an intense number with a lyric that makes a really good point about many people today: "He go to fight but he don't know what for". Also, Bono's poor grammar ("I'd believe if I was able" - Crumbs From Your Table, 2004) is quite clearly not a recent phenomenon. However, it doesn't detract from the song - indeed, in the aggressive perspective from which it is told, it somehow seems to fit.

6. 4th Of July - atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere. This song is the most atmospheric track U2 have made outside of the Passengers project, and is rich in its ethereal, minimal texture. Recorded by Brian Eno while Edge and Adam messed around in the studio, it sounds a whole lot more deliberate than it actually is, and by what must have been sheer luck, it creates a perfect link between the sensual beauty of Promenade and the haunting perfection of minimalism that is Bad.

7. Indian Summer Sky - with its building intro and dark, bleak atmosphere, this song feels like a very early mix of the sweeping Where The Streets Have No Name and forbidding Bullet The Blue Sky. It is the birthplace of classics and comes complete with vivid lyrical imagery. "So wind blow through my soul ..."

8. Elvis Presley And America - this highly under-rated and ignored song is a fascinating insight into U2's and especially Bono's recording process. It was recorded in one single take, with Bono improvising over the top in his traditional Bongoliese - rambling lyrics that are yet to take full form that are used to flesh out a song before the words are finalised and recorded. It shows the organic recording process that has created U2's albums, and also serves to demonstrate Bono's brilliance with the impromptu lyric.

9. Luminous Times (Hold On To Love) - there is simply no reason to justify why this song was not included on The Joshua Tree. It is a grand song that builds like any U2 song to an epic conclusion and should never have been relegated to b-side status, appearing with Walk To The Water on the With Or Without You single. If it had been tightened up only a little bit more and the climax made even greater and more dramatic, it would have turned The Joshua Tree's holy trinity into a holy ... four-thingy, placed perfectly between I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For and With Or Without You.

10. Heartland - this is absolutely one of the best songs ever made. In fact, the only song made since Heartland that is better than it would be City Of Blinding Lights. From the lyrics that paint crystal clear mental images to Bono's strong and sometimes intense singing and the lovely music, this song is perfection in five minutes. If anything makes Rattle And Hum a stellar album, it is this piece of absolute musical genius. There is no praise high enough for this absolute masterpiece, this work of brilliance, this god amongst songs. Just beautiful.

11. Hawkmoon 269 (live on Lovetown) - the live performances of this song took all the good attributes of the studio version and created one of U2's best concert openers. Edge's haunting slide solo led straight into a song that featured the emotion and lyrics of the original compressed into a shorter space of time, thus adding to the intensity of the song and the desperation of Bono's cries of "I need your love!" On the list of U2's best opening songs, this one falls third, right behind Where The Streets Have No Name and 11 O'clock Tick Tock.

12. Lemon - it's like U2 took a piece of visual art and turned it into music. Edge, Adam, and Larry sound completely unlike any U2 we know while Bono sings in his wonderful falsetto. Edge joins in, singing lower than he normally does, and the two share lyrics that cover much topical ground, from Bono's mother, who died in Bono's teenage years, to society, consumerism, and technology. At almost seven minutes, it is U2's longest studio song. Though as anyone familiar with U2's live work will attest, it is by no means as long as they can go - after all, the 2:36 long 40 was played for 16:45 on 31 January 1985.

13. Bottoms (Watashitachi No Oookina Yume) [Zoo Station Remix] - what happens when you take the instrumental track of Zoo Station and do some really fun things to it? This. I'm not really sure what to say about this number. Just play it. It's fun, it really is fun, but it's also Passengers, so it's not quite normal.

14. When I Look At The World - subtle but cutting lyrics are what really make this song notable, attacking self-righteousness in others while doing personal soul-searching at the same time. Bono's questioning, accusations, and honesty create one of All That You Can't Leave Behind's lyrical gems, and Edge's small solo is a joy to find on an album that otherwise does not feature him nearly as prominently as I would like. "I'm in the waiting room, I can't see through the smoke; I think of you and your holy book when the rest of us choke."

15. Grace - this may just be the most criminally under-rated song that U2 has ever made. It is a soothing, gentle, and subtle song musically, and with just one or two dud lines, it is superb lyrically. This quality comes from the fact that it is direct and earnest, and about one of the most wonderful subjects there is, grace. You don't often catch rock bands dedicating entire songs to a commodity that is all too absent much of the time. Bono most certainly does grace justice: "What once was hurt, what once was friction, what left a mark no longer stings". It's just a shame most people seem to have a continuous loop of "grace, it's a name for a girl, it's also a thought that changed the world" - if only they would get over that one poor line and appreciate the song for its subtle beauty and lyrical truth, it might finally receive the appreciation it deserves.

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