The first track on U2’s 14th studio album Songs Of Experience sets the scene and points the way.
Love Is All That We Have Left is a spiritually yearning ballad, sparse with an atmospheric ambience. It has Bono singing as intimate and naked as he wants to be in the rest of these songs or so he says in the poem of the liner notes: “I wanted to dive naked into these Songs of Experience. Not just skinny dipping with the ones I love. I wanted to take my skin off.” He is then being funnelled through some processor to sound like Stephen Hawking.
Though perhaps as naked of skin as Bono has ever been, recognising his mortality, wondering if he will ever hear the songs he is writing, he is also dressing himself in Scripture, laying the foundation for the rest of the record.
Beginning at the end is one of the ambitions of this collection. So what is at the end? Bono finds his answer in the writings of St Paul. In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul waxes lyrical about love. His Scriptural wisdom permeates everything on Songs Of Experience. Paul concludes that indeed love is all that we have left: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
Bono also paraphrases Jesus thoughts on life and the end of it all. Jesus said to his disciples “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” (Luke 9:25). Bono is tempted by that world. Perhaps the temptation of a golden guitar in Lights Of Home betrays this desire for things. Jesus, however, offers something more and when you look back from the end of things it is so much more satisfying:
“I wanted the world but you knew better
And that all we have is immortality”
This is a fine meditation as we take our first listens to Songs Of Experience while in the throws of Advent. The baby we are waiting for appears right here in the lead off song. The love that is all that we have left at the end is not some ethereal poetic nice thought. That love has substance.
Bono has often spoken about the poetry of Christmas:
“…love needs to find form, intimacy needs to be whispered. To me, it makes sense. It’s actually logical. It’s pure logic. Essence has to manifest itself. It’s inevitable. Love has to become an action or something concrete. It would have to happen. There must be an incarnation. Love must be made flesh.”
And here are those thoughts made lyric:
“Love and love is all we have left
A baby cries on a doorstep
Love is all we have left.”
No room in the inn, the love that God sent us, flesh on, is on the doorstep. It is almost a Christmas song! In the end for Bono it will be all he has left.
Seeing the world and all that is in it from this end place, and eureka space, Bono can then suggest to us that all our arguments whether personal or political could be avoided by this ultimate spiritual wisdom:
“You argue because you can’t accept
Love is all we have left”
Wow… and this is only the short, almost prologue… but like the prologue of the Gospel According to John, everything that follows is densely packed in the seeming political lightness of lyrical touch.