To those of you who have been following this track by track review, sorry for skipping a few days. I’ve been busy this weekend and have probably broken the #1 blog rule of following through on commitments, but such is life. Enough chit-chat, on to the review…
This is one of the tracks that grabbed me most on the album on the first listen thought. I was listening and though to myself, “wait a minute, this sounds like a hymn. In fact, it sounds like a Christmas carol… like O Come, O Come Emmanuel with a few melodic variations.” Big surprise, that’s what it is.
The whole track has a great mood to it. It’s mellow, but not acoustic which is what so many bands do when they’re looking for the interest track at about this point in an album.
Musically, there’s some cool ambient stuff with a very vintagie sounding piano for an intro. There are some sweet reverse guitar sounding things in there too, which I’m a fan of. The electric comes in with a pretty simple, clean picking pattern with a kick on 4 & and 1, which is changed to 2 & and 3 when the vocals come in. The whole thing has a fairly dark feel, but not really depressing. Second verse adds more drums with a tom pattern and some background vocals and interesting keys shots. I like it because there’s nothing soaring muscially, but enough to keep the song moving forward.
The bridge uses brass again, not bright and brassy though – very mellow. There might be a french horn in there somewhere, but it might just be trumpets and trombones playing in their lower registers. I could probably check the album notes to find out, but I’ll just speculate for now. The fast strumming stuff where the vocals come in is also very cool, again borrowing from a different style. The vocals definately sound more emotive here than they do elsewhere in the song, except maybe the last verse. The fourth verse backs off again and goes back to the guitar and kick with a few synth/keys things and then a lead lick from a chorused guitar. I’m glad that there hasn’t been an overuse of chorus on this album… not that U2 usually goes there, but I’m just glad that they didn’t. The last verse puts the tom pattern back in again with the background vocals and a more soaring melody from Bono. The whole thing just feels good – it’s interesting without trying too hard.
Lyrically, there is (again) a lot of biblical imagery. Lines like “a lamb as white as snow, bearing fruit, a divine love, the seeds we sow” are all things I would expect to hear more in church or on the Christian radio station than on a rock album, but that’s okay – it’s U2 we’re talking about here. Something about this song seems old to me, like it’s set many centuries back. The fact that it’s set to a traditional hymn melody probably helps it with that, but something in the lyrics makes it feel old to me too.
I’m still trying to read between the lines in this one… my guess is that it’ll take me a few months before I’m comfortable comitting to an interpretation of this song, but I’ll give it a shot. It seems to be a story of someone struggling with the idea of salvation. They know the basics and that there is hope, but they’re not sure if they’re deserving of it in the first and second verse. The bridge seems to point to the strength and discomfort of salvation – “and the water, it was icy / as it washed over me.” There’s some great use of parallel images in different parts of this song – the pale faces like dirty snow in the first verse and then the water washing in the bridge, then the dry ground in the third verse. That feels to me like the progression of faith, with struggling and hardship in the third verse. The poppies laughing under the crescent moon whereas the moon was shining over in the bridge implies a loss or only a sliver of hope remaining. The no-fruit thing feels like many people feel when they’ve been walking with God for a while – stuck.
The last verse seems to be a realization that we just can’t do it. It’s not about us, we can’t have the hearts as white as snow, and it’s a realization that we all need to come to. There’s a lot I’m missing in here… like the first half of the last verse, but I thinkg I’ve got some of it. I like how real this is, how this feels like a journey that’s not ever complete or even on the right track, but always moving. I think that’s what all of our lives are, and I like this musical interpretaion of it from Bono’s perspective.