May 15

U2 – “Beautiful Day”

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#877, 21st October 2000

u2beautiful A theological detour. The rise of New Atheism – Dawkins et al. – seems to have made it somewhat infra dig for lifelong unbelievers like me to admit there are things we respect and admire about religions and the religious. But of course there are. For instance, one of the things I find most admirable – perhaps I just mean enviable – when I meet it in Christians is the sense of faith as a reserve of redemptive strength. The feeling that, no matter how bad things are, no matter how bad you are, Jesus loves you. The fact I don’t believe in him doesn’t invalidate the testimony of millions who have found this kind of grace when they needed it – any more than their belief invalidates the experience of those who reached for it and could not find it. I believe what they’re taking is a placebo; they believe it’s the real thing. Whoever’s right, they get a chance at the benefit, and I don’t.

Or don’t I? That kind of feeling saturates “Beautiful Day” – one of U2’s most obviously Christian singles, full of grace and floods and doves and no-room-at-the-inn. And I feel this song well enough. I think it’s the most honest and moving record Bono and the crew have landed at Number One – the one where the reliquaries of rock’n’roll and the baggage of experiment are jettisoned, and Bono sings a big, slick modern rock song about faith. Sings it well and cleverly, too – the quiet, beaten-down tone of the opening verse, that halting gap on “lend – a hand”, the breakdown into gutterals on some of the closing chorus lines; these things dramatise the idea of a man on his last chance. “Reach me – I know I’m not a hopeless case”, he pleads: there’s a need I can relate to sometimes. You don’t need to feel God is your judge to understand the urge for redemption. Irony abounds, of course – Bono’s performance here rests on him selling the idea of himself as a man of great humility. But sell it he does.

U2 are Christians, not Christian Rockers (though, like indie, that’s a genre defined by distribution and audience more than content). They are careful to make sure “Beautiful Day” is also about a lover, or a shitty week, or anything a worldwide audience wants to make it about. But I hear religion in the song’s bones. And in any case, religiosity is rarely far from the surface of stadium rock. I once wrote a piece for Pitchfork about rock music as “secular gospel” – something that harnessed the sense of yearning, awe, and the numinous in religion and translated it into a folk idiom, like soul music slyly borrowed the tactics and techniques of Church music to sing about earthly desire.

But these strategies come with a price. You don’t have to believe in God to believe in ghosts – that when you borrow from the spiritual, other inevitable associations might make the journey and haunt the music. So soul music drew on gospel to describe love and lust, and often became, at its strongest, a music about sin and the terror of judgement. Rock music harnessed the scale and awe of religion, and brought upon itself the imp of reformation – the itch to purify, refocus, be born again. In the 80s, on a song like “Bad”, U2 took a track’s length to build up a questing, burning fervor. On “Beautiful Day”, that big, stadium sized music is out of reach at the start of the song – it flares for the chorus, but dies: they have to earn it back.

Perhaps, after the exhausting – and exhausted – mess of Pop and its tour, humility came easier. U2 needed that purification themselves – though you could argue they’ve never moved significantly on since. Bono apparently objected to The Edge’s guitar tone – too retro, too close to the band’s new wave roots. But “Beautiful Day” isn’t, and isn’t trying to be, the kind of spontaneous small-band performance The Edge’s move might indicate. From its glimmering keyboards to its slightly arid drum sounds, this is as meticulously crafted and fretted over as anything on their 90s records, it’s just ended up somewhere more straightforward. It takes smaller bets than Zooropa or Pop, and they pay off: the sudden cut-ins of backing vocals on the chorus (and bits of the verses) are a good, effective example, giving a sense of the singer shored painfully up as he contemplates his life. “Beautiful Day” is a success, but U2 have become what – for better and for worse – they never used to be: a band that knows what they’re good at.

The biggest risk “Beautiful Day” takes is its sudden expansion of scale in the middle eight – “see China right in front of you”, and so on, accompanied by a ripple of William Orbit style keyboard. It shows its protagonist all the kingdoms of the earth – OK, the song isn’t all humble – not as temptation, but as a reach towards a more redemptive view, one that acknowledges the problems and error of the world but wants to love it anyway. Whether this planetary point of view is global or simply globalised – the airy take of a jet-setter with the ear of the mighty – it’s the emotional crux of the song, the turning point at which the singer shrugs off his own narrow troubles and gets that shot at redemption. If it works, the rest of “Beautiful Day” falls into place. And, for all my grudges about the man and his band, it does work. It earns the urgency of the coda – “if you don’t know you can feel it somehow”, a singer willing himself back to stardom. I am no closer, I think, to believing in God. But for a few minutes here, I can manage something quite as unlikely: I can believe in Bono.



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  1. 1
    Tom on 26 May 2015 #

    BONUS REVIEW PARAGRAPH. At one point this was in there too, but it’s too derailing.

    “(Our fallen world intrudes in unexpected ways, mind you: “Beautiful Day” came closer than almost any song I’ve covered to terminally wearing out its welcome. It was adopted – surely at great expense – by ITV when they snatched Premier League football rights from the BBC, for the first and only time. Their show used “Beautiful Day” incessantly, particularly those wistful, trailing licks at the beginning and end, locked in my mind in Pavlovian death grip with Des Lynam and the Tactics Truck. “The Premiership” was flashy, hubristic, and barely competent – “Discotheque” would have been a better choice.)”

  2. 2
    Chelovek na lune on 26 May 2015 #

    Gosh…. I couldn’t agree less… I am going to have to see if I can explain exactly why, though. Tomorrow, maybe, hopefully….

  3. 3
    lonepilgrim on 26 May 2015 #

    did (do) U2 consider themselves Christian by this point? the lyrics I’ve read online suggest (to me) that this is a nostalgic meditation on the consolations and contradictions of (a lost) faith. The echoes of U2s earlier music serve to underline this nostalgic mood and the title is reminiscent of ‘Perfect Day’, another example of equivocal memories.
    ‘And see the bird with a leaf in her mouth/After the flood all the colors came out’ describes a world made ‘beautiful’ by divine destruction contrasted with the manmade mess that Bono sees from his plane window. Neither viewpoint is satisfactory or comforting and by the end of the song ‘the beautiful day’ becomes a thing of the past.
    Similar sentiments of bittersweet nostalgia for the certainties of faith can be found in Bob Dylan’s later lyrics (I went to church on Sunday and she passed by /My love for her is taking such a long time to die) and in the poem ‘Piano’ by D. H. Lawrence:

    Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
    Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
    A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
    And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.
    In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
    Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
    To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
    And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.

    So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour
    With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
    Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
    Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.

    as my online name may suggest these are themes that exercise me from time to time so I may well be projecting my own viewpoint on to the song – but then what are these songs for if not (in part) that.
    Anyhow, there’s no way I’d give this 8 but it’s fairly tolerable for U2 (even if the video makes me want to slap Bono repeatedly) so a 6 for me

  4. 4
    Ed on 27 May 2015 #

    Time is a flat circle.

    U2 have been all over, and they end up back where they started. No more irony, no more camp, no more “there’s always been a dance element to our music”. Back to the wide-eyed surge of the first five albums, back to the Keith Levene-meets-John Martyn guitar sound, back – as Tom says – to God.

    Except you can never really get back home again, because home has changed, and so have you. And although all the elements are in place, this feels overwhelmingly like a retread of past glories rather than a renewal.

    ‘I Will Follow’ and ‘Out of Control’ sound like the thrill of discovering for the first time the richness and strangeness of the world with all its infinite possibilities. ‘Beautiful Day’ sounds like the thrill of gunning a BMW 3 series down an unexpectedly empty stretch of the M4 on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

    Tom’s bonus paragraph is for me the key to it: the song is a perfect fit for the well-regulated thrills of the Premiership, an ideal soundtrack for a montage of goals scored by Alan Shearer and Michael Owen.

    It’s enjoyable enough: the first line of the chorus and the A-ha-quoting middle eight kick in more effectively than anything U2 has managed since. But I was 17 when ‘War’ came out, and BD wasn’t, and could never be, the same.

  5. 5
    Phil on 27 May 2015 #

    I hated this at the time, precisely because it was so obviously a post-Zooropa reconstruction of the spontaneity and sincerity – and faith – that U2 had made their name from. As well as sounding the Fakeosity Klaxon in the here and now, it seemed to confirm any suspicions one might have had of the spontaneity and sincerity of “New Year’s Day” and the rest.

    And that’s a dangerous game. There’s a terrible, corrosive bitterness that is unleashed when a preacher (like Bono) seems to have shown his showman side – See? See? None of it was ever real, was it? Was it? I suppose the most charitable interpretation is that it was incredibly courageous for Bono (& co) to risk that reaction, when they’d previously done so much to stress the inauthenticity of the performance they were putting on. But I didn’t (and don’t) feel very charitable; I think it’s more a case of hoping that the caravan would have moved on, and a slick retread of the old Sincerity Show would do the biz again. As, indeed, it did.

    No mark tonight; I’ll re-listen to the track tomorrow. Right now I’m – with ChNL – genuinely puzzled by your rating of (what memory tells me was) an awful meretricious pile of soulless(!), opportunistic crap.

  6. 6
    Tom on 27 May 2015 #

    I’m expecting a level of disagreement – for one thing most people here think (quite rightly!) that Bono is a dick. But I’m not really sure what I can add to my explanations in the review to resolve your puzzlement – I like the performance of humility, I think the band know full well they can’t turn the clock back, and aren’t really trying to (there’s one more bunny to come that fits that idea better) – the level of producerly artifice to BD surely gives the lie to that. I don’t think they’re trying to fool anyone, basically.

    One thing that may account for my liking this is that I don’t care about very early U2 at all. I thought they were very boring when they were sincere and wide-eyed: it’s only once their music starts being a dialogue between their spiritual/didactic/rootsy impulses and their modernist production (circa 1984 or so) that they get at all interesting – though the results are terribly mixed. So going back and using that modernist production to interrogate their early sound seems a useful, interesting thing for the band to do. It doesn’t necessarily leave them anywhere to go, though.

  7. 7
    Tom on 27 May 2015 #

    (Oh, also I hated this at the time too! Liking it has been one of the bigger surprises for me doing Popular.)

  8. 8
    AMZ1981 on 27 May 2015 #

    I’ve been dreading this entry for quite some time; anticipating both a stinking review ending in a low mark (which I was wrong about obviously) and pages and pages of U2 bashing to follow. I’m a fan and for me this is by some distance the worst thing they’ve ever done. To be frank it barely belongs on a B Side and it’s fate was sealed in my eyes when Tony Blair declared it `a great song`.

    To be fair I was in the minority who quite liked Pop and as a result I wasn’t too struck on All That You Can’t Leave Behind. It has grown on me slightly since and any of the three subsequent singles in which they celebrated Michael Hutchence (Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of) and Aung Sang Suu Kyi (Walk On), the stomping Elevation splitting the two – are ten times better than this.

    In U2’s defence they’ve always had a policy of releasing strange first singles from albums and maybe Beautiful Day, in its own way, was no exception. There’s two bunnies still to come but it’s interesting how we never meet them with one of their signature songs – can this be said of any other act with as many chart toppers? Also Tom’s marks have now gone 4 (Desire), 7 (The Fly), 2 (Discotheque) and now 8. What pattern will form in 2004/5?

  9. 9
    AMZ1981 on 27 May 2015 #

    Just to avoid confusions Tom’s posts 6&7 crossed with mine.

  10. 10
    Kinitawowi on 27 May 2015 #

    This has always felt (among my circle of friends, at least) to be The U2 Song It’s Okay For U2 Haters To Like. Maybe it was the football connection, maybe it was that superficially it seemed less up-his-own-arse-y than a lot of U2 stuff (even though reading the lyrics now, it looks even more so – the sneaky “it WAS a beautiful day” after the middle eight almost hinting at an environmental theme that he’d never let up on). I dunno.

    I wasn’t a U2 hater, and somehow this didn’t grab me. Still preferred most of the rest of ATYCLB (there are times when I’d rather just have fun listening to something as proudly plain dumb as Elevation (a MOLE! digging in a HOLE! etc)).

    Decent enough though, but I can’t really go above 6.

  11. 11
    Cleofis on 27 May 2015 #

    Hey all, decent-time reader/first time commenter here.

    I think when talking about Bono (and U2 generally), it helps to make an effort in differentiating between Bono-that is the man, that is Paul Hewson-and what I’ve taken to calling the Bonobot-the shades, the jacket, the moving the song catalog to Amsterdam; or, alternatively, U2 the band and U2: The B(r)and, if you catch my meaning. The latter, in both cases, is the machine built by the former for two purposes: to become The Biggest Rock Star/Band In The World (because obviously there must be one), and to channel that success into some form of Christlike material social progress. I don’t think Bono and the band ever expected to be subsumed by the beast they created, and its alliance with neoliberal capitalist notions of “progress” and “aid,” and as a result I’ve always considered Bono more with pity than with scorn, even despite the fact that he is/can undeniably be an egotistical dick. Frankly, I have never, and still don’t, think of Bono as a huckster, or a fraud; I believe he did, and still does, believe every bit of what he sells, which is what makes him such a compellingly, even humorously tragic figure to me (and also makes him dangerous in the way all privileged rich white people Who Just Want To Help can be, and usually are). Even during their all-artifice-all-the-time, Eno/Lanois redux/Flood 90s, they still had “The Wanderer,” “Love Is Blindness,” and “Wake Up Dead Man” as punctuation–moments of grace that are some of the most moving work they’ve ever done, and far more effective invocations of Christ for coming at the end of their most overt attempts to actually engage with the culture they were in, as Christian Rockers so resolutely refuse to do. Basically, even putting side the fact I generally greatly enjoy U2’s work, I find it impossible to hate Bono, though I understand why many do, and why dismissing him is a perfectly understandable, even reasonable response (though not particularly interesting or helpful). I just hope the poor sonuvabitch receives the sort of clarity he seems to so strongly wish to give his audience here.

    Oh, right, “Beautiful Day” itself. It’s, uh…bit shit, isn’t it? I mean, no, that’s unfair, but it just doesn’t work for me the way that “Gloria” or “Ultraviolet” or “Grace” do. I can respect what it’s trying to accomplish, the state of being it’s trying to capture, but it’s rock’s answer to “I Hope You Dance.” #4 above had it nailed with “the thrill of gunning a BMW 3 series down an unexpectedly empty stretch of the M4 on a sunny Saturday afternoon;” it’s spiritual redemption for discreet corporate interiors. Now, having said all that, the one context this song ever really, truly worked in was the post-9/11 Super Bowl Halftime Show. In fact, it’s strange going back to find out this was released almost a year beforehand, I associate it so strongly with that immediate period following the attacks. It was times like that U2: The Band was constructed to tackle, and that particular performance still moves to this day, even despite the sickening knowledge of all that would come after. U2 were the biggest rock band in the world, and in “Beautiful Day” they created something that, even in its overexposure, was big enough to hold that much pain. There’s value in that, I’d say; and we all find ourselves with a stretch of empty highway now and again.

  12. 12
    Ed on 27 May 2015 #

    @6, @11, etc – Serious question: why is it so clearly self-evident that “most people here think (quite rightly!) that Bono is a dick”?

    Is it his raging ego, which has been a characteristic of every great pop performer from Sinatra (and maybe before) to Kanye West? (OK, so maybe Sinatra and West both were / are dicks, but their dickishness is not the characteristic that defines them.)

    Is it his work on poverty relief, which, tendentious though it is, at least is evidence that he has a sense of problems in the world other than his own? Or is it that he somehow engages with poverty in the wrong way, sounding self-righteous rather than being altruistic in a spirit of humility and abnegation?

    Would it be better if gave money to charity privately, and never talked about it? Or better still if he spent his money on a garage full of Maseratis and his own Boeing 777, rather than paying the salaries of development experts and lobbyists?

    I mean, I can see why he is an unsettling and challenging figure. He inevitably provokes the question: if you had that much money and fame, what would you do with it? But is he that much more of a dick than most of the other people we come across in the Popular story? I just don’t see it.

  13. 13
    Cleofis on 27 May 2015 #

    @12: Sorry, I meant to refer to the general/lower-case-“p” popular sense of animosity towards him, not an assumption that most people here on capital-“P” Popular think of him as a dick. I’m actually more or less in agreement with you, and if my comment failed to convey that that’s on me, my bad.

  14. 14
    Izzy on 27 May 2015 #

    For what it’s worth, Bono is probably my single favourite figure in rock n roll, maybe along with McCartney. They both have that sense of being good people with boundless energy, little cynicism and no use for or fear of embarrassment. If only I were braver, a player, had stamina and could work a room, that could be me, I sometimes idly dream.

    With people like that you can still conquer the world, but in a good way.

  15. 15
    Izzy on 27 May 2015 #

    The consequence is that someone hating Bono, or perhaps more accurately someone saying so, always makes me think that bit less of them. Y’know, what are you in it for?

    Anyway, this is one of their songs that I never put on, but I’ve started my day with it and – what I never expected – I found it very moving. You’re totally right, it’s the middle eight. It *does* have that sense of the divine – at the end of the day, more than anything else, that is what I want from music.

    Oh, and ‘the thrill of gunning a BMW 3 series down an unexpectedly empty stretch of the M4 on a sunny Saturday afternoon’ made me laugh, but it *does* nail it – and maybe that’s not a bad thing. Maybe, once life gets in the way, that’s the best you can ask for. If you’ve used and kept your wonder for life – and Beautiful Day does – maybe that little thrill is all your heart should take. (9)

  16. 16
    katstevens on 27 May 2015 #

    Meanwhile in the dressing room backstage at the Astoria, Coldplay are listening to this and taking careful notes.

  17. 17
    alexcornetto on 27 May 2015 #

    “If your entire life is a performance, does that make everything you do inherently authentic? Is this guy for real, or is this guy full of shit?” Chuck Klosterman on Bono, 2004*

    U2 are one of those bands I have never been able to bring myself to like, despite a scattering of pretty wonderful songs throughout their career, purely because of how obnoxious their frontman is. I was 11 when this came out, and remember harbouring the same feelings towards the band as I do now – if not stronger, because I couldn’t quite define why at the time. He makes me ashamed to tell people that I like even their most widely-appreciated songs – save ‘One’, which has entered ‘Bunnylujah’ levels of talent show ubiquity which have left me unable to form an opinion on it anymore.

    Post-Achtung, even their moments of post-modernist self-parody (see: their appearance in The Simpsons**) seem too overly-contrived for me to find them likeable. ‘Beautiful Day’ is as calculated a lead-single as ‘The Fly’, for the exact opposite reasons – one of those return-to-our-roots, sorry-about-the-last-decade singles that a band of their stature could get away with putting out and losing no good will whatsoever.

    Mission-statement songs like this never really gel with me, but I have to begrudgingly give it to U2 – it’s a really great song. Thanks to the rapid turnover of number ones in 2000, I can remember snatches of most of them; I’d like to think it’s down to the quality of the song itself, rather than its ubiquity, that I can call practically every beat/note of this one to mind.

    It’s not one of The Greats in their catalogue – it seems just a little too calculated as a comeback single, and I’m sure I read that at least five choruses were shitcanned before the final version was hit upon. But, and it pains me to say it, it’s probably one of my favourite number ones in a year which wasn’t exactly spoiled for quantity, if not quality. Just a shame we won’t be talking about ‘Stuck in a Moment’, which is probably my favourite song of theirs – for some reason, I can’t be cynical about it, and you can’t beat a mass Eno choir on backing vocals.

    Oh, and if you haven’t listened to it, there’s a fantastic podcast run by Scott Aukerman from Comedy Bang Bang and Adam Scott from Parks & Recreation called U Talkin’ U2 To Me, in which they go through an album an episode. They rarely get further than running through the names of the band members and referring to Eno as “ol’ sourpuss” before it all goes a bit tangential, but it’s a really interesting (and hilarious) bunch of conversations between two guys who want to make more sense of their collective fandom. At the very least, it added another five or six tracks of theirs to my list of “U2 songs I quite like, but shh don’t tell anyone.”


    *This quote comes from an article from around the release of BUNNY-DOS-TRES-FOURTEEN – when it seemed to me that Bono started to feel critically-reaccepted enough to mix the ingénue/apology act he was peddling with this record with a more palatably diluted version of the Zoo-era po-mo trappings. It’s well worth a read.

    *Which, to its credit, has driven the phrase “What thuuuuh bloody’ell?” into my day-to-day vocab.

  18. 18
    Idris on 27 May 2015 #

    I don’t buy the humility at all. Doesn’t Bono steal someone’s apple in the video, then lie down on an airport bench munching it smugly and revelling in the wonder of his (rather than His) creation?

  19. 19
    DanusJonus on 27 May 2015 #

    I think I actually preferred Pop to this album and by association the singles from the former. This always seemed like a renaissance return to classical U2 singles, alas I can’t confess to have ever been in thrall to classic U2.

    This did seem to re-launch them from their less unanimously received and sometimes rather subdued 90’s offerings. Although I liked pop, it always gave me the impression they were trying very hard. Two things have always struck me about this song. The first was mentioned by Tom; the over exposure from The Premiership and later ITV football offerings. The second relates to the fact that song seamlessly links into ‘The Sun Always Shines on TV’ by A-ha. The part of Beautiful Day I always remember is the ‘Touch me……’ and I have difficulty not immediately humming the Morton melody afterwards. I’m sure this was commented on at the time and that on occasion U2 even played snippets of the A-ha song at the end of performances of Beautiful Day. (I know this is also mentioned in an above post).

    I can’t confess to being moved by this on re-listening the ways some commentators have. I could never go higher than a 5/6 in rating the song. I’ve also never been quite able to put my finger on the reason why this doesn’t grab me.

  20. 20
    Phil on 27 May 2015 #

    Unlike Tom I did quite like this on first hearing, but it wore off quite quickly. That said, on re-listening to it properly, it is more interesting than I’d remembered it to be. The sound is surprisingly dance-y and beat-driven: if you watched the ‘performance’ sections of the video with the sound muted, you’d expect to hear a lot more guitar. And the video is interesting (although I could have done with less snogging) – it dramatises a sense of creative exhaustion, being stuck in a totally artificial situation and trying to find a route back to authenticity.

    My problem (contra #6) is that I don’t think the ‘authenticity’ part – embodied in the vocals, ranging from confessional mumble to soaring yelp – is undermined or undercut or reframed in any way. If anything it’s showcased, as if to say “yes, it’s us and we do this now, but we can still do THAT!” It’s an each-way bet – you get the artificiality of the band, with the motorik beat and glimpses of some genuinely interesting, abstract soundscapes; then you get the authenticity of the singer (the video also embodies this fake opposition, of course).

    And then what does authenticity mean – what emotions are being authentically expressed? A bit of numb exhaustion (which is interesting…), a bit of dazed contemplation, but mostly it’s just U2’s eternal stock-in-trade – desperate yearning alternating with moments of celebration. Yearning (can we? will we? could we possibly?), celebration (yes we can! right here right now, we can!). And repeat. Very rock’n’roll, deeply fraudulent and, once you’ve spotted it, very unengaging.

    OK, so it’s much better – or rather, to use that word again, much more interesting – than I’d remembered. I don’t think I can go beyond a 6, though.

    PS From the blog post linked above, a possible answer to the question “why do people hate Bono?”

    There’s something deeply spectacular about [the rock band/audience relationship], in the sense of grafting a sense of active – and rebellious – participation on to a state of passive spectatorship which is never really challenged. This, I think, is the real fraudulence of presenting Bono or Chris Martin as a political figure: their entire career rests on acting out the impression that repressions are being triumphantly overcome, in a performance which by its very design challenges nothing in the outside world. To take this as a basis on which to mount some sort of rhetorical challenge to real oppression and real injustice is deeply confused, and self-deceiving on the part of everyone concerned: it’s as if Peter Falk and Telly Savalas were holding press conferences demanding better crime detection.

  21. 21
    Tom on 27 May 2015 #

    Bono-as-dick: a shallow characterisation on my part, yes. But also a generalisation to group opinion based on the three long threads we’ve had about him! From a personal perspective, I think he’s a dick because I was first aware of him during the Rattle & Hum and then Achtung Baby eras and both his earnest rootsiness and his clumsy post-modernism rubbed me right up the wrong way. He used both the past and the future in ways that felt blundering and obvious. First impressions die very hard.

    The latter-day incarnation of Bono as chum of Blair, doer of good works, etc. actually doesn’t annoy me much or at all – there are many worse ways for a rock star to spend their middle age. Every now and then some of the old clumsiness, the old addiction to the big muddled gesture, surfaces, the Apple thing for instance.

  22. 22
    Tom on 27 May 2015 #

    #20 Yeah, I am normally pretty unmoved by rock bluster and can’t deny that’s what’s happening here: but it works for me on this occasion. Maybe the difference here is in the dynamics, the numb exhaustion and the dazed contemplation: it means the shared fiction of the stadium rock song feels a bit better plotted, the climax more skilfully built up to. The difference between a rote hero’s journey style cinema blockbuster and a good one with decent character bits, maybe. In any case, it’s those quieter registers that touch me.

    The commenter upthread who said Coldplay were taking notes was right, I think – they’re an example of a stadium rock band who never seemed to have any grasp of the ‘rock’ bits, the moments of release in the yearning-release equation, or at least no skill with them. So they built a whole aesthetic around the more numbed and dazed bits, and the yearning…. put like that it sounds more interesting than it was, I think. We’ll meet them eventually but it’s a long way off.

    Final bit of catch-up: this IS one of their signature singles, surely? If anything in the 00s is? U2 singles I like more than this: “Where The Streets Have No Name”, “The Unforgettable Fire” (their only shot at a 10, or even a 9, in my book), the Batman one probably, er that’s it.

  23. 23
    AMZ1981 on 27 May 2015 #

    This is the first U2 entry since the infamous Apple giveaway late last year and probably as good a time as any to touch on it. Personally I’m not sure why people got so exercised about getting something for free although it might have been more about how it automatically appeared in their library putting the onus on them to delete it rather than simply being available for free download. That said I had to download it from the cloud and it took me ages to work out how to do that. Also given that I’ve spent time on Itunes sorting out mangled album tracklistings only for it to reset them it might be that the deleted songs keep coming back.

    My main objection to the giveaway was that it gave the message that people shouldn’t have to pay for music, the same way that the brief craze for giving away new albums with the Daily Mail did. While U2 may not need the money (and the current tour will be the cash cow anyway) up and coming bands do need the royalties in order to be able to continue making music. The more I think about it the more I’m sure it was an ill though gesture that did a lot of damage.

  24. 24
    Mark M on 27 May 2015 #

    Re23: What I bothered me, and almost everyone I know, was indeed having something unrequested turn up on your phone, which felt like the worst kind of spamming – and then being told it was a gift. It was a bit like being chased down the street by someone from a coffee chain with a free sample.

    It may not seem like a bit deal, but as you can normally see watching someone get an unwanted sales call, mobile phones (maybe laptops/PCs/tablets less so) seem to be regarded as quite personal spaces, and therefore intrusions into them quite… well, intrusive. I think that – apart from the fact it was bloody U2 – was part of why people got actively rather than mildly annoyed.

    Plenty of other acts have managed to give free music to THEIR ACTUAL FANS (e.g. you sign up to a mailing list, they send you an email with ‘here’s a link if you want it’, you follow the link if you want it). As you say, there are issues with that too, but it least it’s not about junk mail.

  25. 25
    Mark M on 27 May 2015 #

    Or the U2/Apple thing was a bit like Kleeneze etc – one of those little catalogues put through your door and you have to find a place for it so you don’t chuck away but can give it back to the desperate-looking door-to-door seller and say you don’t want anything. It didn’t cost anything financially but figuring out how to clear off your iTunes was cost of time and effort.

  26. 26
    Tom on 27 May 2015 #

    For me, the Apple thing was a flashpoint because it was a gesture that really brought to life the idea that digitisation and particularly “the cloud” mean we don’t *own* stuff any more – it exists, ultimately, on the whim of whoever we rent our access to it from. We’ve all sort of known this for a while – apps we buy stop being supported, social media platforms die off, videos vanish from YouTube, blah blah. But even though removal of stuff is a worse outcome, we’ve got used to it, and it generally happens to individuals who aren’t us. So U2’s inversion of that – making people realise their lack of agency by making something appear unbidden on everyone’s device – really draws attention to it, even though the actual outcome isn’t especially onerous. It felt creepy – like the kind of stuff the villains in Russell T Davies Doctor Who episodes were always pulling. Also bear in mind this is happening in people’s record collections – which have a long social history of being spaces people curate and put effort into.

    I’m not saying this was the conscious thought process of everyone participating – but I think it’s why “U2 gives everyone an album free” got such a hostile reaction: it touched a nerve about technology and control that was waiting to be touched.

  27. 27
    lmm on 27 May 2015 #

    This was off one of the first albums I bought (or rather, had a family member buy for me). It was never spiritual for me; it was just a fun song. Agree with #15 on the M4 point.

  28. 28
    James BC on 27 May 2015 #

    “How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb”, the worst album title I can think of, sums up U2 at this point. If you start to think you might like this song, just remember it comes from an album called “How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb” and you’ll have it back in the proper context and be able to go back to comfortably hating U2 with everyone else.

    EDIT: Oh wait, that was the next album. Well, whatever. U2 suck!

  29. 29
    DanusJonus on 27 May 2015 #

    For anyone wanting to unite the Apple giveaway with the ‘Bono is a dick’ theme, I thought the quote he gave that was bandied around last year; the giveaway exercise being a ‘drop of megalomania’ ties the two points together quite nicely.

  30. 30
    Jonathan on 27 May 2015 #

    I like this band plenty, but this album cycle was the last one in which I was much engaged with what they were doing; I bought ATYCLB and played it plenty, but today I’d be lucky to string together an EP of songs from it that I’d like to revisit, and even those it’s mostly to admire how they created a vagueness so vastness as to apply as a salve to so many people. (Particularly in the context of the post-9/11 Super Bowl show mentioned upthread, but in a more general sense too.)

    This was supposed to be the return-to-the-roots record — a narrative I did buy at the time — but in retrospect it looks more like a shift into their third and final phase. It doesn’t actually sound like UF or TJT or R&H; rather it grabs a few of those albums’ production choices and shoves them into a tote made from renewable materials and purchased from the local mall’s Oxfam shop. And yet the product relaunch — a return to the brand’s core strengths? — worked, even ifs success feels rather unsatisfying. In “Beautiful Day,” the new model trundles along, gleaming the way only pre-9/11 pop could and with the easy capitalistic optimism possessed only by ’90s boom pop, and even then Bono achieves lift-off with that wonderful soaring “what you don’t have you don’t need it now” bit that does still feel like flying. I mean, gosh, when I think of this band I want to think of the darkness of “Acrobat” and “Exit” or the Reagan paranoia of “Seconds” or the Euro-utopianism of “Zooropa,” but this is part of their story too, and it’s still a good part, even if it was the moment in which all the parts were set in place for the coming crash.

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