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April 2009

Whether Left or Right, It's Wrong!

“I don’t care whether it’s left or right, it’s wrong!” Kris Kristofferson’s line is an important proverb for these political correct or incorrect days. We need to stop thinking in bulk. We need to start breaking out of our collective political allegiances and think through whether issues are right or wrong and not just loyal or betrayal. The controversy over the Miss USA fiasco (those words go naturally together anyway!) has a crisis discussion outside of the one about whether we agree with gay marriages or not. Can we tell the truth? Do we need to be so called politically correct and have other people think for us? Miss California was asked whether she agreed with Gay Marriage. Now was that a question in an America that allows people the freedom of speech and thus the right to think for themselves, as opposed to being told what to think or persecuted when we don’t answer in accordance with the totalitarian rulers. Was it a question asked in a democracy? Well, it is America so you might have thought so. When Miss California told the audience she was brought up to believe that marriage was between a man and a woman so she didn’t think gay marriage was right in a very non judgemental way, the questioner was appalled and declared her answer had polarised half of America. Yes... so let me think for a moment... does that not mean that if she’d answered the other way she would have polarised half of America! So she didn’t win not because she polarised half of America but because she polarised the wrong half! And the bottom line must surely be that the answer was not what polarised America. It was the question. Is it right in the so called land of the free to ask a question in a public situation where you will be damned if you answer it the wrong way. It sounds like Stalinist Russia has come to America!


On an album of experimental, here is experimental, Brian Eno not only getting in on his atmospheric sound-scapes on this one but also joining Bono for the lyrics. It is a bizarre lyric that Edge explained to Rolling Stone, "the narrator is in an altered state, and his phone starts talking to him." The fact that 3:33 are the numbers on the clock do suggest the 33:3 that appeared on the cover of All That You Can’t Leave Behind and Bono later spoke of as God’s phone number as it is a nod to Jeremiah 33 v 3 where God says, “Call to me and I will answer you...” So, is this a parable with the phone being God? Well it would not be the first time that U2 have used phone calls as prayer analogy; on IF God Will Send His Angels Bono sings, “God has got his phone off the hook babe, would he even pick it up if he could.”

That it could be a prayer/answer song leads me into that fascinating relationship of U2 and Brian Eno. I used to wonder how the Irish Celtic passionate Christian faith of Bono and U2 could be soul mates with the English rational atheism of Brian Eno. I mean it must be hard to be around the “Church” that U2 is and not belong in your soul to that spiritual commune – “let me in the sound” indeed! Then on Daniel Lanois’ movie/album project Here Is What Is Eno makes his philosophical musing about what Lanois was trying to do in the movie - “What would be really interesting for people to see is that beautiful things grow out of shit (laughter)...  because nobody ever believes that. ... a lesson for people to learn is that things come out of nothing, things evolve out of nothing.” For Eno this art-think has implications for everyday life, “It gives people confidence in their own lives to know that this is how things work... I am an unpromising beginning and I could start something...” As soon as I heard Eno I was off in my mind to U2’s Grace from All That You Can’t Leave Behind -“Grace makes beauty out of ugly things...” Bono and Eno may not have God in common but their belief that the good comes from bad, beauty from ugly is for artists of music and life a strong common bond.

The idea and hope of re-birth, restoration, redemption runs through Unknown Caller. Here is a song about the unpromising reality of some prodigal on a runner and the possibility of getting a new start. It is the first song on Anton Corbijn’s companion movie to the album which kick starts a 45 minute journey as our AWOL unknown caller rides his motorbike and walks through the other songs. He is a wandering soul, searching for another chance to start again. The song seems to be in those two parts with the Caller declaring his condition and the phone (!!!!!), giving some advice to new starts or reboots!

In his recent New York Times article about Easter Bono speaks a lot about this rebirth and his own testimony of confession and hope. “Then comes the dying and the living that is Easter. It’s a transcendent moment for me — a rebirth I always seem to need. Never more so than a few years ago, when my father died. I recall the embarrassment and relief of hot tears as I knelt in a chapel in a village in France and repented my prodigal nature — repented for fighting my father for so many years and wasting so many opportunities to know him better. I remember the feeling of “a peace that passes understanding” as a load lifted. Of all the Christian festivals, it is the Easter parade that demands the most faith — pushing you past reverence for creation, through bewilderment at the idea of a virgin birth, and into the far-fetched and far-reaching idea that death is not the end. The cross as crossroads. Whatever your religious or nonreligious views, the chance to begin again is a compelling idea.”

It seems to me that Unknown Caller might be about that compelling idea.


It seems to me to have been a classic shooting of oneself in the foot for the development agencies to use U2’s moving their publishing royalties to Netherlands as an opportunity to get tax dodging into the sphere of public debate. “Bono will be happy to take the hit for the greater cause” was the response I got to the papers dragging Bono’s ethical character through the press. What good copy it was to be able to find some kind of scandal against a man who has attempted to rebel against rock music by not being up for the usual hedonistic tabloid headlines. The press loved it and to be able to lambast the justice campaigner as a hypocrite caused much glee from those opinion writers who love to stir it up on a half truth. Rather than Bono taking a hit so that the big business tax dodger could be exposed, what it actually did was to allow the public, who are uneasy with Bono’s challenge “would you deny for others/what you demand for yourself,” to finally have reason to ignore his campaigning and all the work of the very development organisations who thought it a good idea to use Bono to raise the issue!

When evangelicals theologised social justice into obscurity for most of the twentieth century, - “the heresy of the century” John Stott suggests – it was perhaps not so much about theological soundness (obviously not if it was heresy!) but a lack of desire to pay the cost. The truth is if we can confine Christian behaviour to the gnats of smoking, drinking and saying the odd swear word then we can ignore the giant elephants of 2,500,000,000 people going without sanitation and 900,000,000 people being denied clean water. When the Theological Gustapo could damn Walter Rauschenbusch, coiner of the phrase “Social Gospel,” by a few dubious theological opinions they could then ignore the entirety of his prophetic challenge; the Biblical mandate that goes beyond charity collections and development projects to revolution, repentance and reformation of world systems and lifestyles. Bin him in his entirety; no need for the costly repentance he called for.

And so with Bono. It is hard to find fault with someone who wants to give education, health, water and justice to those who don’t have it. Go on try! Yet, so many have told Bono off for caring; “Forget helping poor people Bono, go and write a hit single better than Get On Your Boots.” They can’t really believe that but if they can delude themselves then they don’t have to deal with the costly repentance he asks for. Even better if Development Organisations dismiss him as a tax dodger! Brilliant! Now, how can I get back to my selfish overindulgence without that Dublin fella making me feel there might be another way to live! As a strategy to get tax evasion on the discussion list, very expensive; “Force quit, remove to trash!”


U2 Moment

Moment Of Surrender is a big song in the U2 canon and I don’t just mean long as it weighs in at seven and a half minutes. It is a hybrid of One and Your Blue Room, meandering and moody, and certain proof of Eno and Lanois’ involvement in the writing process. 

It is an epic journey song, past fires that burned, black holes and dark altars through “the stations of the cross” seems to conclude in a transcendent space where only the redeemed and the Redeemer are in focus; passersby go unnoticed.  

Surrender is a common theme threading through the entire U2 canon, even the title of song on War but from I Will Follow to Yahweh and here more explicitly here on No Line On The Horizon. You never stray far in a U2 song from some idea of surrendering to something bigger.

There are a few blinding spiritual truths on Moment of Surrender that will leap out at anyone prepared to meditate on this soul music. 

The first is “Two souls too smart to be in the realm of certainty.” On Stand Up Comedy Bono also spoke of this danger of certainty, “While I’m getting over certainty...” This is the lesson of I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For still at play; faith is assured but a journey ahead recognised. 

There has been much damaging baggage that has arrived through the post modern spirit of the age, just as there was good and bad that arrived and needed deciphered in Modernity. One of the things we can now let go of is Modernity’s seamless and arrogantly dangerous certainty. 

That’s where faith kicks in as we become aware of our human frailty. It is with finite minds that we try and define a God that is beyond our ability to describe. U2 spoke of that as far back as their use of Latin in Gloria from 1981’s October record, when they said words failed them in their praise to God. 

For the band their exposure to intransigent arrogance of North American right-wing Fundamentalism in their first early eighties’ tours made them step back from comfortably calling themselves Christians. “Espresso shots of self righteous indignation,” as my friend David Dark describes them, can causes ungodly things to be done in the name of God.

The second lesson is a straight lift from the First Letter of John. The lyric “it’s not if I believe in love/but if love believes in me.”  Again on Stand Up Comedy Bono declares, “God is love” and we know that we were right to read “God” as “love” into all those belief songs like God Part 2 through the past thirty years. 

1 John chapter 4 and verse 10 reads, “This is love: not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his son and atoning sacrifice for our sins.” Similarly the same John writing his Gospel records Jesus telling his disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit.” (John 15 v 16). 

When you are not gifted with absolute certainty but are peering through a glass darkly then it is good to know that it is not about our certainty of belief as much as someone who believes in us, not about the merited total score of our love but of a bigger love reaching out to us. Bono prays, “Oh love believe in me.”

Finally, and most sensationally for me, is a line of just four words that I think makes up one of U2’s most powerful depth charges  - “Of vision over visibility.” The world would be a whole lot different if we took such advice. What is visible often prevents our actions of change whether personal or social. 

As Bono’s mate, writer and activist, Jim Wallis writes, “Hope is believing in spite of the evidence and watching the evidence change.” The evidence is often too visible for us to find any hope and it is in hope that we discover a vision that can change the world. 

When the Old Testament prophets spoke of God’s people dreaming dreams and seeing visions this is what they were on about. The ability to raise your perspective above the horizontal and not just see what is there but what could be there if we had the vision to imagine something different. The book of Ecclesiastes is all about this; the meaninglessness of the horizontal without God’s vertical perspective (I might have stolen this from Charles Swindoll!). 

It is what Jesus was talking about when he told the disciples to forget treasure on earth and get some down payments for forever. It was what Paul was telling he Corinthians when he said that believers don’t bother too much with what is seen because all that is visible is temporary but put their trust in the unseen because what is unseen is eternal; that takes vision! With these Biblical truths at work then a world reformative vision can come into play that will bring God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven – now that is vision over visibility!


Remember The First Time. It was a might of old memories remembered and brand new never to forget new ones. It was the great idea of my old mate Adam Turkington wonderfully followed through by the BBC. It was one of the major re-opening events for Belfast’s historic Ulster Hall, all beautifully restored and bringing reminders of the great gigs down through the years. My very first rock concert was Rory Gallagher right there almost where I was standing in January 1979, delayed for four days because the winter weather cancelled the Larne-Stranraer ferry! My very favourite gig ever was The Waterboys here in 1986 but more of that later. Tonight we celebrated fourteen Northern Ireland rock acts from the brand new to the legendary. At no other time in our history could such quality have appeared on the same stage. It was a night to be very proud. Where do I begin?

Well the beginning was pretty special. I walked in just as The Lowly Knights and their loose and brilliant twelve man and woman travelling show broke into Divine Comedy’s Something for The Weekend. I love these guys and gals off and on the stage and to see them here in this venue was a natural but wonderful thrill. It would have been enough but then I glance round and see that Neil Hannon (Divine Comedy) is standing right behind me with my good friends Peter Wilson (Duke Special) and Paul Wilkinson (tonight playing with Iain Archer and Duke Special but Phil Pilot in his right!). How will Mr. Comedy react? On the conclusion I glance round and say, “Great songwriter!” to which he agrees with a triumphant and very proud scream of delight; he left honoured!

The deal this evening is that each act will do a song of their own and a song they heard at a gig in the Ulster Hall. I had been asked during the day which song I would have chosen and my immediate response was The Waterboys’ Fisherman Blues which I heard here in April 1986, before it was recorded, with Steve Wickham’s fiddle blowing my soul open wide. So as Hannon leaves I lean over, give Duke a hug and ask, “What’s your cover?” “Fisherman’s Blues.” Wow... but even more on that later!

After an impressive Kowalski, Cashier No 9, of whom I had heard great things, played with real authority and gave AC/DC’s Rock N Roll Damnation a sense of art! Then up came The Panama Kings whom I have more subjective interest and whom I had never seen live. World renowned journalist Stuart Baillie had waxed lyrical to me about these boys just a couple of weeks before and he introduced them with his belief that they have the style and swagger and strut to go the whole way. They delivered with an erudite authority and re-thought and re-freshed Ash’s A Life Less Ordinary which gave me another off screen moment. I spotted Ash’s drummer Rick in the balcony with his folks, with inside knowledge that an Ash cover was about to start. It took him a moment for him to catch on but then a smile of pride and recognition had him whispering to his parents that it was their song. He nodded along knowingly and like Hannon before him looked honoured!

What I hadn’t realised was how many hard rockin’ local bands we had and tonight the chest was pounding at regular intervals. La Faro and a combination of Derry’s finest Jet Plane Landing and Fighting With Wire kept the thud pumping, the latter’s cover of Rage Against The Machine’s Know Your Enemies testifying to the power of music to change lives.

On the mellower side, Foy Vance got perhaps the loudest cheer of the night and did a quirkey Crash Test Dummies’ cover before singing a brand new song that was perhaps the only time in the entire evening that the crowd was silenced to a hush. Vance has jumped over many who could have been ahead of him to be one of our brightest lights. Iain Archer is another songwriter of world class quality and his Songbird was beautiful. When he then suggested introducing some friends my students wondered if it was going to be me doing a freakish rap in a Ballymena accent (check UTube for said performance – AAAAAAAGHHH!) but to the audience’s great relief it wasn’t me but Gary Lightbody and Nathan Connolly from Snow Patrol which I guess would be like introducing Bono and Edge at a gig in Dublin. The crowd were rather pleased! Introducing a cover of The Frames whom Iain’s band for the evening, Paul and Phil Wilkinson, had supported as The Amazing Pilots with Iain on guitar was again met with appreciation though to be fair their Lay Me Down was not the slickest cover of the night but they held it together! Then Iain with his former Snow Patrol buddies played acoustic versions of Chocolate and Chasing Cars. It was the latter song that almost got me banished to the spare room when I arrived home to tell my wife that Iain and Gary had dueted on her favourite song!

Heading to a finish and Snow Patrol have already been! It is again a mark of the quality that this small little country has and is producing. Neil Hannon is a peculiar wee nodger and plays that role so wonderfully well. He struts out to his upright piano, makes a funny little quip to the crowd and sings Tonight We Fly as a transcendent celebratory hymn. A song about rising above everything to find life in all its fullness right here on earth, it blends beautifully his Bishop father’s doubt and belief with his own agnostic rock star doubt and belief. Suggesting that doing covers was like being on X factor he then defuses such a crass reading of the evening by adding that they probably wouldn’t do The Pixies on X Factor and takes those very Pixies and strains the guitar blitz out of Gigantic to give it a peculiar wee nodger like arrangement that was still pretty darn huge! He then gives a peculiar wee nodger salute to the crowd and walks off like the divine comic he is. (Thanks to my ex-Intern Julie Ann for the phrase peculiar wee nodger – that’s what she called her boss!)

Duke Special? Another pixie like dude with his own peculiar eccentricities and not just on his head was next! Well, as I said, he was doing my song. In April 1986 The Waterboys were blending their big music with Irish folk and brought it to The Ulster Hall before they had even captured it on record. Fisherman’s Blues was spiritually breath taking for me and watching the elfin Steve Wickham whizz across that stage in a mesmerising fiddle trance will live with me forever. That Duke would do it tonight was perfect and if perfection can then be trump carded that is what the Special one did because who was his guest musician for the evening but Steve Wickham himself. It was a slower vaudevillian arrangement in keeping with his Dukeness but it was Fisherman’s Blues and the chains were falling off my soul again in that spiritual climax to a great, great song. It was then Duke’s own Diggin’ My Own Grave which I love for its quirky audience participation juxtaposition with the serious confession of the verses. Tonight though I missed his good buddy Chip’s digging actions.

My most satisfying anorak moment of the night was during Ash’s Mrs. Robinson. You felt sure they’d do Teenage Kicks as they have even released it as a b-side and Simon And Garfunkel isn’t the most obvious for the punk pop Downpatrick noise makers. Yet, Tim Wheeler’s accessible pop melodies have always belied the band’s heavier sound. Anyhow, my mate whispered that surely Simon and Garfunkel hadn’t played the Uslter Hall and I wondered had Paul Simon as my wife had shared the Dublin train with him the day after a Belfast concert. And then it came to me, all that useless knowledge I have collected in thirty five years of pop obsession, so I whispered back I think it’ll have been The Lemonheads. Seconds later Wheeler confirmed my genius and I had a smile that might have needed a bigger venue to contain! For their own they did their own brand new single... released by Annie Lennox... Shining Light which actually in the link of Lennox and Simon confirms the high echelons of where Ash’s songwriting art really sits.

Headlining with Therapy was a surprise and a risk. People were certainly making for the exits before they arrived on stage and for sure a couple of other acts would have held onto the nominal concert goer. Yet, they were rightly announced as the band who started the succession of great bands that the wee Province had produced since they appeared on the scene from the back waters of Larne and Ballyclare back around 1988. Andy Cairns language was choice and must have had the live BBC broadcasters stressed out to high heaven but their full onslaught rocked out. Their cover of Stiff Little Fingers’ Alternative Ulster was great and reminded you that that riff, that got its worldwide showcase in the movie Hi Fidelity, is simply as good as came out the of punk rock era. All that was missing was a Teenage Kicks and right on cue there it was with all fourteen acts taking to the stage for a finale that again basked in the amazing amount of rock n roll genius that has come out of a wee country with no more than one and a half million people! That I knew personally at least half the number on stage and that the bass player from Ash was the only one of the entire cast who tried to look like a rock star made me even prouder!

All in all it was a gig to remember. The old Ulster Hall newly decked out in tastefully restored finery got an awesome new baptism and we all got to simple be astounded at the strength of our local music scene. As we left the building with everyone smiled out and gloating at having been there, only a couple of questions; why were the only women performers the backing singers for The Lowly Knights?; and why was there no ranting united rock n roll front against the killing of two soldiers just a few days earlier. Peace in Belfast may need to go deeper if it is going to take longer lasting roots but the short term benefits are obvious for all tonight; a busy music scene with art finding a profitable as well as prophet-able place. This is our alternative Ulster, let us keep it!




This is David Dark’s third book and the one that announces the arrival of a most important writer in twenty first century Christendom. More accessible than his earlier work, perhaps helped along by his wife, the singer Sarah Masen, jotting a note on his manuscript, “love thy reader,” Dark takes something that we have been told was absolutely wrong and makes it the absolutely most important thing. How many times have we heard that we cannot question God? Well, Dark suggests and suggests most persuasively, that takes away the most important tool of repentance and Reformation.  Indeed, it is a simple extension of that latter movement  which rebelled against some human Magisterium telling us what to think unquestioningly and suggested that it was the right for every man and woman to read the Bible and think for themselves before obeying what they came to think. Repentance, the argument continues, is when you perpetually question yourself as a work of the Holy Spirit bringing sanctification to your mind and heart and soul.

As always Dark is prophetically astute and you get the vibe that the human relationship that we call life and the spiritual realms that that fits into is much deeper, higher and wider than the “I prayed this prayer and am going to sit now, smug in my elite Gnostic knowledge, at the door of salvation and wait for heaven to come to me.” As a pastor of University students I have come to realise that sitting at the door of the Kingdom when the Kingdom is laid out before them to explore is not so much a laziness on my students part as a deeply rooted fear. When you are frightened into the Kingdom by not so much the excitement of knowing God as the fear of what would happen if you didn’t want to know God the fear is difficult to shift. When you are given a welcome pack on arrival that suggests this all you need to know and do and never question then fear is not only deeply rooted but flourishes. Dark reveals a deeper, higher and wider experience of faith and lets us revel and laugh and cry and rage within it.

Human beings are also given a new lease of life. The “perversion” as he describes it of dehumanising to the labels of society or even the Church is ripped out by connection, engagement and listening. Those who don’t think what we think are not enemies to be excluded but can be recourses of grace and kindness to help us question our prejudiced perceptions. This is a book about how to share truth in love and grace and hone that truth in the sharing. Allow me to indulge in just one quotation, “More humility might characterise our talk of God if we believe that the whole truth can never be entirely ours and that our attempts to nail God down are always well-intentioned human constructs at best and idols at worst.”

In doing all this, as is his favourite past time, Dark leads us into critique of what is happening on Television, in cinema, literature, art and the iPod. Of particular note this time around his take on Shakespeare’s Sonnet 129 had me rushing for the Complete Works; his review of Arcade Fire enriches every new listen of their songs; and as always with David there are now a plethora of films, novels and theology I need to!

Working with students who annually seem slower to critique the faith they have been handed hook line and sinker, and who therefore struggle to form a world view that might make them world formative believers in their future vocations, I would love them all to have read this book before they arrive. Dark has come up with a work as essential a work as Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing About Grace was in the nineties.


U2 magnificent

About two weeks before the release of No Line On The Horizon local rock journalist Stuart Baillie sidled up to me at an event in his Belfast Music Hub, the Oh Yeah building, and told me he had just heard the album. As his review in Belfast’s music magazine Alternative Ulster states he was impressed and, as he was talking to me, he made emphasis of the fact that there were a couple of good Psalms on there – “as usual,” he added.

The most Psalmic of those Psalms is no doubt Magnificent which when I first heard it did not have me thinking Bach’s Magnificat canticle, that the band said influenced it, but more the new modern worship phenomena. Indeed when I played it between the songs of Delirious? and Tim Hughes at a recent Queen's University Chaplaincy event it didn’t feel out of place.

Now those who know my misgivings about that modern worship scene must wonder why I don’t question U2 when they encroach into such territory. Well, my answer is in words like authentic, vulnerable, doubting, hurt; human! One of my biggest problems, with the modern worship scene is that “God is on his throne so all is right with the world.” Much as I don’t doubt the theology of God in that statement, a look around my life, my family life, my community life, never mind the world news that beams into my home suggests that all is not right. I guess it was summed up in that by now ancient line from an eighties worship song, “In his presence my problems disappear.” The hymn writer kiddeth not me!

Yet, that has been a characteristic of most modern worship. It is uncomfortable to find yourself in worship services where everyone has arms raised, eyes closed in ecstatic bliss while your heart has been broken, you just lost your job or a loved one lies dying in hospital or has just been buried. Though we might see why the writer, worship leader, is conjuring an other-worldiness it never seems Biblical to “leave all our troubles at the door and come into worship.”

Magnificent is unapologetic in its desire to worship God. Indeed, in almost Calvinistic theology, Bono declares that he was born to sing such songs. Personally, I am not so sure that Bono is confessing a belief in predestination so much as declaring his vocational mandate. This is what he was made to do. When those in the Shalom Fellowship, the band belonged to in the early eighties, attempted to have the band break up and go and do something more useful how wrong could they have gotten it! Imagine a world without U2 albums, their Christian input into the contemporary conversation or Bono’s advocacy for the world’s poor and marginalised. Whoever had “the picture from God” that these last thirty years should not have happened need to hear the conviction and belief in Bono’s voice.

Bono’s conviction and belief though is never without the self awareness of doubts within and the pain that impinges from outside. Bono confesses his own cluelessness that goes hand in hand with his belief that God is directing him. The chorus then talks about love leaving its painful mark and the same love being the only thing that can heal that scar. It could be surmised that this is a chorus left over from his father’s passing away or perhaps other painful family issues. Sent to me on Facebook at the time of a very serious illness in our family this chorus brought deep catharsis and hopefulness.

“Justified til I die” is another heavy theological term sneaked into a rock lyric. As Wikipedia puts it, “In Christian theology, justification is God's act of declaring or making a sinner righteous before God. It is again all about what God has done in spite of the cluelessness or our own human condition. It is a declaration of the Good News. It is good reason to magnify.

Magnificent would seem to be a word used for God. Again, this is what drew me to the possibility of the influence of modern worship songs which tend to use adjectives as words for God; Glorious being a recent favourite. U2 will be well aware of the worship industry for at least a couple of reasons. Eoghan Heaslip, son of Jack Heaslip, the band's spiritual adviser until his death in 2015, is a worship leader with a few albums under his belt. In the years leading up to Line On The Horizon, Bono had struck up a friendship with Contemporary Christian music star Michael W Smith who has dipped into the worship genre.

U2 have written hymns since their second album October was declared a worship album by no other than Christian despising Hot Press magazine but nothing as blatant as Magnificent. Could it be sung in Church? Maybe? Will it be dragged into some U2-charist (U2 Eucharist) somewhere; bet your life on it. Much more interesting for me is how this will be placed and performed on the next U2 tour this summer. That will probably be its most magnificent moment.

NO LINE ON THE HORIZON - song by song


Well, you see, I know that horizon. Most mornings and evenings between September 1991 and July 1994 I took the local Dublin train system (Dublin Area Rapid Transport – DART) along that horizon. Killiney Bay is a beautiful scene, that I marvelled at every single journey, and Bono’s house gazes out over it towards that horizon that could be the photo on the front of the album. And the song is about home in some ways though Bono’s lyrics have always been able to be cosmic in their most intimate, objective to all in their own self indulgent subjectivity. If Leonard Cohen has been obsessed with the Divine beloved as well as the lust for the disposable carnal loved, Bono has been similarly artistically occupied although the latter for him is not some physical object to be selfishly enjoyed but his wife Ali who is his friend, married lover, soul mate and navigator towards the horizon. She philosophizes and sticks her tongue in his ear in one sentence, no line between life and eternal life!

It is a song about the future too. The band are heading towards what is yet to be and on into infinity or eternity. Writer Cathleen Falsani has nailed it, better than I could, in her review of the album, “Without a line on the horizon, we may feel like there is no limit to how far we can go. But it also makes the seas difficult to navigate. That is, in many ways, where we find ourselves today. It’s as infinitely terrifying as it is exciting. Where do we go from here and how do we find our way?” When on the first single U2 launched this album with the line “The Future needs a big kiss” they were looking for that U2 optimism that by-passes passive naivety with a call to defiantly take on the bleak possibilities on the horizon and hone them into some better Kingdom Coming day. The rest of the album will help us in the navigation.