Sunday, February 15, 2009

Under Lincoln’s Unblinking Eyes”: U2 Welcome the Obama Era

U2 rocked the nation’s capitol as part of a pre-inauguration parade of pop stars called “We Are One.” Held under Lincoln’s statuesque presence, the daytime concert entertained thousands wrapped in winter wear and thousands more listening on the radio or watching on television. Rips of the various songs were soon available on YouTube for those of us who missed the various live broadcasts.

Away from the computer most of the weekend, I only learned of the festivities at a dinner engagement Sunday night. My friends were excited to tell me that U2 had performed, but I had to wait until Monday morning to watch the footage.

When U2’s anthem “Pride” first brought tears to my idealistic teenage eyes in 1984, I never imagined I’d watch the band perform the song on a January day on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial just hours before the inauguration of America’s first black president. While I believed then and now in dreaming the impossible, I never imagined this day would be possible in my lifetime.
The same chills and thrills that this song instilled in me some twenty-five years ago were writ larger than life on an epic backdrop as Bono introduced the song, first with the words “Let Freedom Ring,” and then, with the invocation: “On this spot, 46 years ago, Dr. King had a dream. On Tuesday, that dream comes to pass.”

Decked out in his standard spectacles, black boots, blue jeans, black sweater, black military overcoat, black scarf etched with text, and fingerless black gloves, Bono worked the crowd and the epic stage with his usual splendor.

During the always spine-tingling “whoa-oh” section of “Pride,” Bono inserted a speech we’d heard before about it being a universal and international dream, an African and Irish dream, with a stunningly current political addition about an Israeli and Palestinian dream.

While “Pride” was an obvious choice to honor this important occasion, the last song of the two-song set made infinite sense as well. After more reciting more snippets from the “I Have a Dream” speech to close “Pride,” Bono spoke over the familiar opening strains of “City of Blinding Lights,” addressing Obama directly:

“What a thrill for four Irish boys from the north side of Dublin to honor you sir, the next President of the United States, Barack Obama, for choosing this song to be part of the soundtrack of your campaign.”

Continuing to entrance the enormous crowd and take a promenade along the perimeters of the profound setting, Bono brought new lyrics to “Lights” early in the song. As reported by U2 fan Axver, “Its lyrics featured modifications for the occasion; in the first verse, instead of singing the ‘day-glo eyes’ line, Bono instead sang ‘America, let your road rise/Under Lincoln’s unblinking eyes/They’re advertising in the skies/For people like you.’ He also altered ‘I’m getting ready to leave the ground’ to ‘America is getting ready to leave the ground.’”

With the new U2 single “Get On Your Boots” out today, with the new tour later this year rumoring outdoor shows, the band welcomed the new world promised by this symbolic moment with a great show for the masses, with majesty, with magic.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Bono’s Search for a “Spiritual Mecca”: Daniel Lanois on U2’s “No Line on the Horizon”

Shirley Halperin

For the new U2 record, No Line On The Horizon (due March 3rd), Bono had a spiritual quest, says producer Daniel Lanois.

“He thought that our job was to create contemporary gospel music,” Lanois, who shares production credit on the album with Brian Eno, told Rock Daily at a Grammy Foundation event honoring music photographers Danny Clinch, Robert Knight and Herman Leonard. “Bono wanted to be at a spiritual Mecca.”

Which, for the band, meant an extended stay in Fez, Morocco (their second visit to the country — U2’s 1991 video for “Mysterious Ways” was also filmed there). So did he find what he was looking for?

New single “Get On Your Boots” offers some clues, but Lanois filled us in on the bigger picture: “We worked in France, New York and London, but Bono felt that [Morocco] was the spiritual crossroads of the world right now, so we rented out an old Riad hotel and brought in all of our own equipment.”

The result, he said, is “incredibly innovative — a lovely blend of technology and hand-played instruments. It embraces the future, but still pays respect to tradition.”

And while the album, which was four years in the making (and recorded digitally throughout), has evolved since the band’s initial north African sojourn, it stayed true to their creative mission: “That we are essentially soul musicians that look for soul in what we do,” said Lanois.

“The expectations and dreams are still intact… and the president of the record company is singing like a bird!”

U2 Until The End Of The World Live from Miami Elevation Tour

U2 performs at We Are One show 2009

Let Me In The Sound

In what's sure to be an electric refrain thundering through U2 concert venues this summer, Bono implores us (or someone) to let him in the sound and meet him in the sound. As usual, we're left asking, "What the hell do you mean?"

Rising from the vocal cords of any other performer, we'd be content to believe that the musician seeks to be transported inside and be enveloped by a set of musical notes and drum beats and guitar riffs. It would seem that he'd be asking to drown in the music figuratively, to seek baptism in a jumble of clatter. But this is Bono, and obviously, he is not. And we are U2 fans, so literal-minded, we are not.

From the early days of "I Will Follow" to the latter days of "Window in the Skies," Bono has turned our attention and our souls to something wholly other, yet something wholly familiar. As Bruce Springsteen said when he inducted U2 into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005, "In their music you hear the spirituality as home and as quest." It's the same spirit that caused C.S. Lewis to ponder that when we finally stand face-to-face with our Creator, we'll think that He is no stranger; that it's been Him all along.

With that set of creeds in tow, we slide and glide into the world of "Get on Your Boots." And what do we find? Besides the music, the lyrics are seemingly flippant at first: all this talk about "sexy boots" and "laughter" and "candy floss, ice cream." You wouldn't be penalized for thinking this is another fun song to help get you through another long commute.

But right along with the beautiful kisses under a brilliant moon, we find "Satan" and "bomb scare" and "rockets" dropping into a "fun fair" and "dark dreams" and "kids ... screamin'" and "ghosts" and "blowing up" and "wars between nations" And, finally, tucked between the waves of "let me in the sound" we hear an urgent plea: "God, I'm going down/I don't want to drown now."

We were wrong for thinking Bono wanted to be immersed in the "sound." This is one baptism he shuns; he doesn't want to drown. He cries out to God to throw him a life vest and save him from his ordeal.

So that brings us back to our original question/quest: What is this "sound"? The lines are confusing if we think of a "sound" as something you hear with your ears. But before figuring out a possible meaning, let's look at some of the hints we can glean from other "drowning" imagery in their earlier work.

The first obvious song is "Drowning Man," on U2's third studio album, War. It's a lyric about an unnamed someone crossing the sky for "your love." Bono sings about someone who promises to be there and save us from the "winds and tides/this change of times."

It's a few years before Bono resurrects that drowning theme. This time he does it with a song he wrote for B.B. King, "When Love Come to Town." It begins: "I was a sailor/I was lost at sea/I was under the waves before love rescued me." Off that same album, we're left with a promise, "You say you'll give me . . . a harbor in the tempest," from "All I Want is You."

That image of drowning resurfaces in "Lemon," off Zooropa: "I feel like I'm slowly, slowly, slowly slippin' under. I feel like I'm holding on to nothing." Later in the same song: "And I feel like I'm drifting, drifting, drifting from the shore."

This recurrent image of drowning and rescue from the waves is once again at play in "Get On Your Boots." The "going down" and "drown" references are clear enough. But where does the "sound" come from. If Bono is drowning and needs rescue and wants to be let into the sound, what sound is he singing about? We can guess that maybe "sound" doesn't mean noise—the opposite of silence—in this instance. "Sound" has many meanings, but one seems to fit a little better and works within the drowning imagery. A sound is "a long broad inlet of the ocean generally parallel to the coastline." A synonym for "sound" is "harbor."

So, when Bono begs to be let into the sound, he wants to be let in from the horrors of the storms out at sea. He wants to come into the harbor, the harbor that we learned from "All I Want is You," promises to protect us from the dark ocean's tempests and save us from drowning (just look at the cover of the album: oceans are at once pacific and treacherous -- you can splish-splash AND you can drown). The world isn't fun fairs or rockets; it's rockets falling into fun fairs; the sound that protects us from all the clamors of the world and its explosions, bombs, and screams. The sound, this harbor, protects us from the violent blasts of the rockets, the nightmares, the ghosts, the wars, Satan. By God, let him in the sound! I mean, who wouldn't drown wading around in those knee-high sexy boots, anyway?

Friday, February 6, 2009

U2 Exclusive Lowdown On New Album

U2 finally unveiled their new album No Line on the Horizon behind closed doors and under the strictest security.

But first again with the big music exclusives...Email were there to hear it.

We were invited by Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. to get a sneak preview of their eagerly awaited 12th studio album -- not released until March 2.

And it's a cracker, up there with U2 classics such as Achtung Baby, The Joshua Tree and All That You Can't Leave Behind.

The Irish supergroup took the wraps off No Line on the Horizon in the chic Saatchi art gallery at the famous Chelsea Barracks in London.

It features hot new single "Get On Your Boots," which is being played to death by radio stations across the U.K.

Before hearing the killer tracks, the select guests had to give up all belongings -- including mobile phones and any recording devices. They were only returned when the playthrough was over.

But it was worth it to get the first listen to amazing songs such as "Magnificent," "Moment of Surrender" and "Cedars of Lebanon."

On first hearing, it sounds like U2's most complete album -- to be listened to from first track to last. It's also full of brilliant lyrics and Bono's vocals have never sounded stronger.

Here is my pick of the key cuts on No Line on the Horizon.


This opens with a loud sonic drone before Bono sings: "I knew a girl who's like the sea/I watch her changing every day for me."

Then Larry's drums kick in and the song lifts off. It could be their best live stadium opener since "Zoo Station."


A future single choice which more than lives up to its bold title. The Edge's driving guitar gives the song a "New Year's Day"-style mood.

Bono is in great form when he sings: "I was born to sing for you/I didn't have a choice but to lift you up."

He's dead right because, just two numbers in, the album already has a classic feel.


Bono reckons this is one of the best songs U2 have written -- and with their back catalogue, that's saying something.

It opens with a guitar sound reminiscent of "Where the Streets Have No Name" and features a great Edge solo.

In one of his most personal lyrics, Bono says: "I've been in every black hole/At the altar of the dark star/My body's now a begging bowl/That's begging to get back."

A stunning song Springsteen or Dylan would be proud of.


An epic with double-tracked vocals, wailing Edge guitar and pounding Adam bass.

It's a musical feast with so much going on it's initially tough to take it all in. In the chant-style chorus Bono sings: "Hear me/Cease to speak/That I may speak/Shush now."

If nothing else, that's got to be another first for U2 -- a pop song with "Shush" in the lyric.


Thumping drums, pulsing bass and piano get this potential single off the launch pad.

Musically, it has all the trademarks of a U2 classic with another soaring Bono vocal and great "woo-oo" hook on the chorus.


This proves the group are huge Led Zeppelin fans because Edge's guitar riff has a real Jimmy Page feel.

In terms of being musically adventurous, it's not for the faint-hearted and definitely up there with "Exit" from The Joshua Tree in 1987.


Bono almost speaks his vocal over a more hymnal, hypnotic backing which leads to a beautiful, almost choral, hook.

Some atmospheric Edge guitar creeps in and builds the mood. This song is so good you don't want it to end.

A fitting finale to a classic U2 album.

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