(On September 25th 2016 we will celebrate 40 years to the day that U2 met in Larry Mullen’s kitchen for the very first time. In the 40 days leading up to U2@40 I will blog one of their spiritual songs...)
One of the things that stands out on this new U2 record is the personal raw emotion of the songs. The heart of the record is where the hurt is, to paraphrase an old Bono line.
From Iris (Hold Me Close) to Cedarwood Road we are on a four song sequence that is a painful journey from tragic personal loss to the door that finally opened towards redemption. I believe that section to be the heart of the album.
To record an album of songs about youth is nothing new to U2. Boy was exactly that but it was actually written in their youth as they left the exit door from adolescence. These songs have been thirty five years in the bubbling, brooding and making sense of.
Where the other songs on Songs Of Innocence are all in different ways crucial building blocks that made Bono a man, the section from Iris to Cedarwood Road are the trauma, the deepest fault lines of Bono’s shaping.
Iris (Hold Me Close) shifts the entire mood of Songs Of Innocence. There is a bright and bouncy start to the record; The Ramones, the ocean and Beach Boys’ Santa Barbara. Iris leads us into a heavier sound and Bono’s lingering grief of losing his mother at 14. Larry lost his mother at a similar stage.
Since War back in 1983 my first listen to a new U2 record has been a near sacred experience. I listen right through, usually letting out little gasps as a line strikes a chord in my soul.
By poignant coincidence, the surprising drop of Songs Of Innocence into my iTunes account meant that my first listen was on the same day that a friend was marking the anniversary of the brutal killing of his father in the Northern Ireland Troubles. My friend was just two years of age at the time.
Listening to Iris (Hold Me Close) in such a context took its potent emotional power to even deeper levels: -
“the ache in my heart is so much a part of who I am”
“The darkness just let’s us see who we are/I’ve got your life inside of me.”
“hold me close like I’m someone you might know.”
As a pastor who believes in the cathartic power of music and often uses music to help in pastoral care Iris resonates deeply. The loss, the memories, imagining the parent holding you now. It is painful yet redemptive. Like this entire section, I call it “post blues”.
The melancholic despair of the blues is very real but it doesn’t stop in the blues, it transitions into Gospel music’s hopefulness and spiritual healing. That is very much the tradition of U2 but perhaps in this section of songs they have achieved it in ways they haven’t done before.