Saturday, September 27, 2014

Track of the Week: U2 "Bad"

Recently U2 engaged in a blunder of colossal proportions, giving away its album to millions of iPhone users who didn't want it.  One wag compared their new record to the CDs of free internet minutes that America Online used to bombard us with a decade ago.  This hubris and marketing behind this decision, as well as the not bad but not good music on Songs of Innocence, are indicative of a band that has been in a holding pattern since the start of the new century.  Once a great band, they've now been reduced to a punchline.

However, we should not led U2's current irrelevance overshadow the accomplishments of its glory days.  When they put everything together, their songs had a kind of magic to them, capable of hitting on deep emotions in ways other pop music artists could only dream of.  That ability became much sharper on The Unforgettable Fire, when Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois became the band's house producers and de facto silent members.  Their added sense of atmosphere and ambience gave U2's songs a new, deeper resonance.

That impact is best heard on "Bad," which starts with a minimalist figure, just Edge's ringing guitar and a starkly postpunk tamborine before Bono's voice comes in.  He's never been a traditionally great singer, but on this song he shows off his unique emotional belting, which just keeps building and building to the scream of "I'm wide awake!"  After this spookily spare beginning, the rhythm section comes in with the signature pounding thrum of Mullen and Clayton.  My God it is a beautiful thing to hear, slowly building in intensity before the dam breaks and Bono throws all he's got into the mic before dropping to the low "I'm not dreaming" after the unhinged shout of "I'm wide awake!"

I dare you to listen to this song and not be affected. "Bad" hits a kind of frequency in my soul where I MUST listen to it.  It can never be musical wallpaper, the emotional intensity simply can't be ignored.  It's a far cry from a band that now literally can't give away its newest album.  

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