U2: LUCIFER'S HANDS - A Glam Rock Groove To Liberation

U2 3

The morning after purchasing the deluxe version of U2’s Songs Of Innocence I left my children to school and as I started the return journey pressed play on disc 2. In rumbled Lucifer’s Hands and 3 minutes and 55 seconds later I was lifted with elation. What a song! I would have had it on the main disc released free to iTunes customers, with gratitude or controversy, through Apple the month before. Whatever the reasons why it wasn’t, and that could take another blog, this was a joyous Monday morning surprise.

The first thing to hit me was the sound, the grinding clanking stutter of Zoo Station jumping into the glam rock groove of T. Rex's 20th Century Boy. That was my era, when I discovered music as an eleven year old. The same age as the members of U2, I am sure that they were taking me back through sound exactly as intended. U2 have spoken about listening to the music of their youth for this project and Bono has spoken about how those sounds opened doors in his memory to start writing about those formative days; and no matter what the title suggests they were not all innocent.

On top of this wondrous sound we find ourselves, as we do for most of the album, in the late 70s, and in this one particularly, the charismatic revival that as sweeping across north Dublin and Mount Temple School. 

The spirit’s moving through a seaside town

I’m born again to the latest sound

New wave airwaves swirling around my heart

In his life and vocation Bono’s Christian faith and his music swirl around, blending and blurring. In the next verse the NME and the Scriptures, particularly John’s book of Revelation, are interwoven. If the rebirth he found in the Spirit brought some sense to his grieving teenage life, then music brought an outlet for the anger. This shouldn’t be seen as a surprise as Christian faith has always used music as a conduit of engagement with God and in both directions of that. Worship to God, the seeking of catharsis from God. They are the heart of the Christian experience.

The main point of Lucifer’s Hands is freedom.  

You no longer got a hold on me

I’m out of Lucifer’s hands

You no longer got a hold on me

You’re no longer in control of me

I am

Note the “I am”. On the How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb record this Old Testament name for God was all over the book that came with the album and also the core of the song All Because Of You. It is another clue to where the freedom comes. 

Neither is it the first time that Lucifer’s Hands have turned up on a U2 song. On Joshua Tree’s central theological song I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking for -

I have spoke with the tongue of angels

I have held the hand of a devil

It was warm in the night

I was cold as a stone

There is yet another reference back to U2’s past in this song. Bono turns around the lyrics of Rejoice from the October album when he now claims that he can change the world but can’t change the world in himself. Thirty three years after Rejoice was written Bono has literally changed the world through his work for development, AIDS and Fair Trade. He still struggles with the foibles and quirks within himself. He understands why people don’t quite get him. He is more than aware that the world within himself, the world with its beginnings declared on Songs Of Innocence are still not sorted. It is why he still needs the music. 

What the freedoms are that he is eulogising about in this song are not clear. School? Culture? Death? Himself? Even that community where St John Divine’s Scripture is centre stage? Whatever it is this is the song of a man who knew from his teens that there were personal and universal demons that could oppress. This a song of liberation. Which is how I felt after that school run. I got out of the car set free!




"Lucifer's Hands" strikes me in exactly the same way. I was giddy when I heard it come into the set on Saturday. And it fits perfectly in the early 2nd half of the show as a joyful tribute to freedom and release. One other connection I find interesting--I think it's deeply linked to "The Troubles." As the final song on SOI, "Troubles" reminds me that "little by little they robbed and stole till someone else was in control." But LH, the 1st song on the extended CD/Album (and the very next song we hear after "Troubles"), shifts the focus in the opposite direction, declaring "you're no longer in control of me," and then adding a proclamation of the ancient name for the divine, "I AM." It's such a thrilling sound, beat and message. It's time for more punk rock like this in the suburbs!

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