For twenty five years I have had my own U2 playlist called Chilled. I made it up from non album tracks, CD single b-sides, tracks from compilations, songs from Passengers and the Million Dollar Hotel soundtrack. It’s a favourite. If any of these forty Songs Of Surrender had been released on such albums I would have snapped them all up for a revisioning of Chilled.

Yet, I am still not sure about Songs Of Surrender. 

If I go back to November in the Olympia as Bono did his one man show, a mix of theatre, memoir reading and song, I was so excited at the possibility of hearing the songs Bono sang just gently accompanied by Irish musicians Kate Ellis on cello, Gemma Doherty on harp and keys and voice, all orchestrated by Jacknife Lee. 

But… Songs Of Surrender is not that album.  

Instead word broke that we were getting 40 U2 songs, cleverly starting with One and ending with 40, stripped back to what matters, as Covid taught us, and re-fashioned by Edge. I have not been sure what to make of Songs Of Surrender since it was talked about, through a few single releases and even in the days after arrival. It is a lovely packaged thing (I got 4 black vinyl). 


Don’t get me wrong. I am fascinated by it, intrigued by why they did what to what song. 

I am loving Whose Gonna Ride Your White Horses, If God Will Send His Angels and the Edge lead vocal Peace on Earth and a little bowie-like quiver in his voice. The fragile piano intro of Stories For Boys and the looking back rather than forward of Out Of Control. The operatic drama of Sometimes We Can’t Make It On Our Own makes sense.

I am not convinced by the new lyrics, even more they add theological nuance. That’s what I normally love. The newer songs seem the most successful on first listens which might be obvious as even Bono would say that they have learned to write actual songs as they have matured.

So my jury is still out. Indeed, I am not sure what the jury is deciding. 

Maybe I just wanted Songs Of Ascent that we’ve been waiting for for too long instead.

Maybe I preferred the Bono Book Tour versions.

Maybe having heard their BBC Radio 2 Piano Room version of Abba's SOS (get why that song?!?!? - clever!) I thought a Bono & Edge covers record would be more fascinating. Imagine their Life On Mars? 

Maybe 40 re-imagined songs are just too much all at once.

Maybe with months to listen here and there, to let songs marinate, let them contrast and compare, and then go back to what was originally there. Maybe this will be a treasure trove of wonder.


U2: NO LINE ON THE HORIZON - #9 Ten Albums Reviewed More Than 10 Years Ago

U2 No Line

(My series of albums that I reviewed more than 10 years ago finds its way to U2. At a 4 Corners Festival planning meeting today Jim Deeds mentioned U2's song Breathe, from this very record. Is it hard to believe that the lyrics say "Sixteen of June, Chinese stocks are going up/And I'm coming down with some new Asian virus/Ju Ju man, Ju Ju man/Doc says you're fine, or dying…" Oh my!

No Line On The Horizon didn't pass the test of time. I am not sure how fair that is. Some songs perhaps got lost in the over critical hype. Maybe its time to re-investigate...)


First listens to new albums are all about judgements. The surprising thing about this, the most eagerly anticipated eleventh studio album by U2, is that it caused my first judgement to be not about the the album itself but on U2’s previous two releases. In the light of No Line On The Horizon, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb and All That You Can’t Leave Behind must feel a little insecure, frail and vulnerable. They were good albums with many songs that will pepper U2 concerts for many years to come BUT alongside the jury made up of the songs on this new album they are found wanting; good but no longer great. The initial judgement of NLOTH is that it is indeed great. Many spoke of ATYCLB being the third great U2 album but actually it actually it might just have arrived now, though time, and hearing these songs in the live context, will tell. NLOTH is, for sure, a much more carefully crafted, mature, fulfilled work of art.

Taking that extra time between albums, the longest gap in U2 history, and feeling their way towards an album rather than chasing deadline day mixes has all been worth it. Bringing in Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, their producers and musical mentors for twenty five years, as co-creators this time has also added sonic breadth, width and depth. What the six creators have finally presented to the world is an album of various shades and atmospheric shifts, big big riffs to move the body and sparse reflectives to caress the soul. Edge, Adam and Larry have rarely played better and Bono’s lyrics and voice show another level of maturity. Lanois and Eno then add loops and left field lateral thinking that brings a treasure trove of slow burn layered melodic wonder.

Every U2 phase gets a name check... the worship of the youthfully exuberant October is back on Magnificent which finally kicks in to a Unforgettable Fire soundscape... while Fez - Being Born has a Passengers mood... Stand Up Comedy is the girder crunch chords of Achtung Baby... the lyric of Unknown Caller would sit well on Zooropa... Cedars Of Lebanon is like one of those great Joshua Tree soft spoken word poem out-takes that finally got their recognition on that album’s Twentieth Anniversary Edition. I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight would have sat nicely on the last two albums but as highlighted in the unsettling sound of the lead-off single Get On Your Boots it is all wrapped up in fresh experimental recycling. Having suggested familiarity there are many tracks and sections of tracks that if played without vocal would not reveal the band’s identity at all. Moment of Surrender is such a song; seven minutes of spiritual journey where the Edge actually plays a solo from David Gilmour’s guitar school. The mixing the U2 sound with that which isn’t gives more twists and surprises than we have heard for awhile.

A Twitter friend asked for a one word review to which I wrote Theological. We have gotten used, some of us excited, about Bono’s declarations of faith over thirty years but there is enough theology on NLOTH to set up a Seminary! As the lyrics are more thought through so is the theological undercurrent to songs where God is rarely in the headline but omnipresent in the story. Since How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb I have come to regard Bono as a theologian and here is more evidence of his contribution to helping us navigate us through the uncertainty of the post modern age with assurances that grace is all that we need because grace is all that we have. With U2 there is an absence of dogmatic arrogance but always a humble strength of belief, a constant of confession and the discernment to thus “everyday I die again and every day I’m born again” and that it’s “Not that I believe in love but that love believes in me.”

What U2 do is believe in spite of the evidence and believe that the evidence will change to almost quote, one of Bono’s social justice allies, Jim Wallis. In U2 songs we are not about hanging around waiting for some better day way down the line or denying the bad news that is strewn across the newspapers today. U2’s religion is not an opiate as Marx might have accused Bono had they both found themselves as a team fighting poverty in the same era. Instead it kisses the future while holding its arms out to the world on the street. It believes that reaching the light is certain even though it is a mountain to climb. The songs on NLOTH shimmy and shift between the reality of war and the worship of God; there are couplets of doubt alongside convictions of hope.

It could be that U2 from north Dublin are the natural successors to the negro slaves who wrote those amazing spirituals on the plantations of America’s southern states. Obviously I am not thinking of Edge’s guitar sound but the spirit of the songs and the theology that underpins. A careful look at the spirituals will reveal that the belief in what will happen in the next life directly impacts the present one. The belief is that redemption is already here and at the same time still yet to come. So if we believe that “we’re going to make it all the way to the light” then don’t just sit around waiting but fuelled by such a belief we might find ourselves at times “lost between the darkness and the dawning” but we can “shout at the darkness, squeeze out the sparks of light.” This album is a journey through that hinterland and the horizon is blurred with no demarcation line. Time is not linear and we are not to look for the visibility of the evidence around us but a vision of how it is going to be. If you are on such a spiritual pilgrimage then here are more songs of worship and catharsis.

Maybe one of the challenges to U2 about this album is that the music world has changed again since their last release. There is a credit crunch and the download has broken up the world of the LP. It could be that in years to come this might be considered one of their fullest works but not their biggest seller. So will U2 really be content with making art rather than the top of the charts? I hope so. Those with ears to hear need a whole dose more of this!

U2: CEDARS OF LEBANON - NLOTH song by song

U2 cedars

As someone who loved the spoken word out takes of the Joshua Tree and was delighted when they got a more dignified place in the 20th Anniversary Deluxe version of that album I love the mood of Cedars Of Lebanon. Another of Bono’s third person lyrics it finds a journalist in war zone thinking of home and life and death; and eventually God and enemies. Some have pointed out that the underpinning track might be a straight lift from Eno's ambient album The Pearl, a collaboration with Harold Budd back in 1984. Whatever, the history of the music, the lyric leaves us with a few questions.

The last song on a U2 album is always carefully chosen. Track listings are never carelessly thrown together. So, what was the reason for this track closing out NLOTH? Cedars Of Lebanon takes us into the Bible. There is no way that Bono’s use of the phrase is coincidental. Their time at Fez during the Sacred Musical Festival might not have seen them use sufi prayers or chants but it certainly gave them the inspiration and courage to make a seriously spiritual record. Cedars of Lebanon are used in various ways in the Scriptures. However, what does Bono mean by its use here. A quick glance across Wikipedia and you find a plethora of Biblical uses for the Cedars Of Lebanon;

Jewish priests were ordered by Moses to use the bark of the Lebanon Cedar in circumcision and treatment of leprosy. Isaiah used the Lebanon Cedar as a metaphor for the pride of the world. According to the Talmud, Jews once burned Lebanese cedar wood on the Mount Of Olives to announce the new year. Kings far and near requested the wood for religious and civil constructs, the most famous of which are King Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem in David's and Solomon's Palaces.”

Bono might be simply talking about the size of the Cedars and how God is bigger but where can he be found? The journalist might be journaling his objective feelings of the war zone and asking where God is or he might be seeking a more subjective interaction with God in his own life’s fraying threads. Or Bono might be asking if God can be found in his Church, that the Old Testament tells us Cedars were used to build? Or is it Isaiah’s use as a symbol of pride that he is highlighting? Where is God in the deluded egos that go to war or in the self indulgent personal ego of a man wrestling with home and all that that means?

NLOTH ends with another cryptic clue of spiritual wisdom. Bono goes off philosophising about the importance of who you choose as your enemies. What is he trying to say? In subsequent interviews Bono has talked about the enemies that U2 have chosen, “we chose interesting enemies. We didn't choose the obvious enemies - The Man, the establishment. We didn't buy into that. Our credo was: no them, there's only us.” In a song about war Bono then turns inside for the enemy, “"What that means is that we picked enemies that were more internal - our own hypocrisy...They are nearly always of a psychological, if not a spiritual, nature. The spectres that hold you back, they were our enemies.”

Back in the context of the third person war journalist song had the journalist mistakenly and fatally made home and God his enemies? Or is Bono remembering his old mate George W? He chose his enemies post 9/11 and his entire legacy will be based around that choice. Even now, when his friends are all gone to other arts and parts and he is on his ranch in Texas, all alone, that relationship which Bush had with his enemies defines him in the recent annals of history. If we glance back at the video For The Saints Are Coming we see the alternative enemy that Bush’s administration could have fought, the natural disaster effecting their very own people on the Gulf Coast. How different would the definition of Bush have been had he chosen the right enemy?

This brings us into the provocative question at the end of the cryptic clues. Who have we made our enemies? What are the internal battles that we need to fight in order to fulfil our human vocations to the pinnacle of their potential? And as local communities, society and for the nation what are the right wars to fight. I guess if we stop to become aware of the battles that we fight without even thinking we could then spend some spiritual wisdom prioritising what needs fought and what doesn’t. The personal or national pride that Isaiah named as humanity’s Cedars of Lebanon might be a good place to start.

U2: BREATHE - NLOTH song by song


Breathe was the first song I heard off No Line On The Horizon. It was early in the morning and it woke me up like a spiritual epiphany; it was a doorposts shaking Old Testament type jolt into the day. This was U2 as U2 only harder and then Bono’s soul grabbing urgency pulling you in to eyeball you with something he thinks you need to know. 

And it is not all clear what. Is “16th of June” Bloomsday from James Joyce’s Ulysses? Or is it South African Youth Day that marks the scarred memory of the 1976 Student Uprisings in Soweto, Guguletu and elsewhere? Or could it be a significant date in Bono’s own spiritual journey because when he moves from the great lyrical intrigue of travelling salesman, talking cockatoo, Asian viruses, Ju Ju men and hits the heart of the song we are again into a treasure trove of basic Christian theology.

The dying and rebirth of the chorus are again, as is strewn throughout No Line On The Horizon, basic Christian beliefs. Dying and being reborn is the concept of baptism, dying to the old self and being born anew. 

St. Paul would write, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5 v 17) and “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4 v 22- 24) 

It was Jesus chatting late one night/early one morning with a Pharisee called Nicodemus who coined the phrase “born again.” (John 3) It would be a label that U2 would try to avoid in America, after one of their early visits there, because they were surprised at what that term meant and how their own faith was being caricatured and stereotyped. 

Yet, Bono has strong belief in rebirth and it is a thread running right through No Line On The Horizon, “Reboot yourself” in Unknown Caller and ”the heart setting sail” in FEZ-Being Born to name but two. 

For the anoraks who followed the development of the album on the @U2.com website another song was prominent in the guessing of the albums tracklisting; Mercy, an out take from How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. Mercy finishes with the lines – “I am alive, baby/ I'm born again and again/And again, and again and again and again/Again.”

This rebirth is all very well but it has to be lived. Breathe pours it out onto the street with energy and urgency. There is a sense that this rebirth, this grace, this love that you can’t defeat is not for his own self-indulgence but needs taken to the public square with arms out in welcome that the grace he has found becomes the grace that he lives by; a serving grace as much a saving grace. 

This idea of going out into the street might well be from the Old Testament Book of Proverbs - “Wisdom calls aloud in the street, she raises her voice in the public squares; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out, in the gateways of the city she makes her speech.” (Proverbs 1 v 20). The idea is repeated again some chapters later.

Breathe in a live set comes over with a blistering power. It is the kind of song that demands commitment and when you add its potent punch to the cumulative adrenaline of a live audience of tens of thousands it fuels some serious commitment to whatever campaigns U2 are building at the time. 

Personally speaking it is a shame that the poor critical and commercial response to No Line On The Horizon has meant that Breathe has not been in the best list as often as it could or should be.









U2: WHITE AS SNOW - Song by song NLOTH


After the riffed out centre of the album and the experimentation of Fez, here is the quiet reflective shift of pace; a piano led ballad and when the guitar comes in it is a gentle strum, as far from Edge’s trademark as is imaginable. It seems very unlike U2 but then Bono begins to sing and you immediately have Hands That Built America in mind, from the Gangs In New York soundtrack. It could be an evocative, suggestive, mysterious or vague story line, giving little away in images of highways, dry ground and woods and moons.

The singer’s brother and he driving on straight highways in the first verse could actually be Springsteen in his Nebraska phase. Interviews, however, fill us in on perhaps trivial information that Bono was thinking of a soldier dying in Afghanistan. Maybe when it makes its appearance in the movie Brothers directed by their old Irish mate Jim Sheriden we will have more resources for contextualisation.

Whatever the storyline, at the core of the song, perhaps given away by the melodic steal of the Christmas Carol O Come O Come Emmanuel are again questions of faith and doubt and salvation. There are no clues in verse one that we are to be confronted with the heavy theological issues of verse 2. Immediately, the narrator declares that he once knew God’s love but there was then a time when he lost it. Whether he is still in that doubting agnostic place we don’t know but salvation is what he is looking for. Forgiveness is what the ultimate search is for. Where it can be found is the key to this particular universe, or in the knowledge that it is a dying man eternity.

It brings to mind Springsteen again and all those characters from Nebraska seeking various kinds of atonement. On White As Snow, if we are aware that it is a war zone and a dying soldier, the question is can forgiveness be found in a terrain that is so unforgiving. A more general question is how there can be forgiveness gained where forgiveness is not given, recalling Jesus' words in the prayer he taught his disciples, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

The answer, the singer feels, is “The lamb as white as snow.” This is the central belief of Judaism and Christianity. The Lamb atones for sin. A Lamb without blemish is the only thing that can bring that forgiveness from the Divine. Christianity believes that the Emmanuel who came in that Christmas Carol, whose melody underpins this theological discussion, is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” (John 1 v 29) to quote John the Baptist, Jesus cousin and fervent wilderness preacher.

This unblemished Lamb can make our hearts as white as snow is Christianity’s core belief. King David, Bono’s favourite Psalmist and blues singer, wrote his song of being made as white as snow (Psalm 51) after committing his most notorious sins, incidentally catalogued by Leonard Cohen in Hallelujah. King David ultimately hoped that God would make his heart as white as snow... and so this dying soldier. Intimate, tender, poignant, beautiful!

U2: STAND UP COMEDY - NLOTH song by song

U2 stand up comedy

Stand Up Comedy comes out all Achtung Baby strut with a Curtis Mayfield/Bob Marley spiritual/political anthemic clarion call. Around the riffs, distortion and declaration to stand up for love we get some of Bono’s sharpest lines, most accusing self critique and one couplet that holds the key to the band’s entire canon as well as nailing a critical contemporary issue. You can tell I love it!

The second verse might be my favourite U2 verse...

“Stand up, this is comedy
The DNA lottery may have left you smart
But can you stand up to beauty, dictator of the heart
I can stand up for hope, faith love
But while I´m getting over certainty
Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady”

The contemporary obsession with beauty that has already been dealt with on Get On Your Boots and the last album’s Original Of The Species gets another tossing around. Looks that dictate the heart need stood up to and another straight Biblical lift, this time from 1 Corinthians 13 suggests a guiding light that transcends the DNA lottery, the dictator of the heart and the dizzy world and lovesick eye of verse one.

After that there is this great line about how we see God. Juxtaposed next to the Scriptural lift of the previous line, it is Bono at his humble best; quoting Scripture in one breath and avoiding the potential arrogance in the next. When we have God so boxed that we tell him what he can and can’t do as many fundamentalist Christian do then we make him into a little old lady. It is like we need to guide him by the theology we have defined him by. Many of the same old lady walkers use the words “Sovereign God” but if God did a sovereign act they’d pull him back across the road and save him from danger. As if his humility is not clear enough so far Bono uses a couple of lines familiar from recent interviews about being Napoleon in high heels and warning us all by way of Josephine to watch rock stars and small men with big ideas.

From fundamentalist Christians Bono then has a go at the arrogant athiests. The Richard Dawkins syndrome that has flushed our society with arguments against the existence of God that I got over as school pupil, and not even a good one at that. Dawkins throws academic qualifications around that should make his arguments smarter. Bono? Well he takes him out in an economy of words – “God is love/And love is evolution's very best day” – and with it he equates God with love which if you look back to Rattle And Hum’s God Part 2, then since and before, you unlock the code that sees God even more omnipresent in the U2 canon than he already is.

All achieved in just 3 minutes and 50 seconds making the musical spine of the album riff heavy and not without a thought or two to chew on.

U2: GET ON YOUR BOOTS - NLOTH song by song

Get On Your Boots

As a single Get On Your Boots came out in a long line of unfamiliar first singles that started as far back as Desire from Rattle and Hum. The first sounds to hit the radio are always those that unsettle, disturb and intrigue the fan as to what might come next. 

Get On Your Boots certainly did all that. The surprise for me, and I had gotten to like it as a single, was how in the context of the album I found it reassuring and swaggeringly catchy, half an album in. The big Edge riff, the Larry gunshot drumming, Adam’s solid groove and Bono’s cascading of spoken word couplets, all make claim on your attention until the melodic transformation into “let me in the sound”brings cohesion and unified sing along.

Lyrically, the song is equally unnerving. It could be that U2 were attempting another crack at the frivolous and in the end, as they found on Achtung Baby, couldn’t demean themselves to just sing a song about sexy boots. 

Though Bono claims not to want to talk about wars between nations, for at least these three and a half minutes there are bomb scares, dark dreams, ghosts and the focus on a pair of sexy boots gives way to the future and eternity. 

There is also more admiration for Mrs Vox contained within. The idea that women are the future is again Bono’s acknowledgment of his wife in particular in women in general. She may be the one in the sexy boots. She may also be the one who is unaware of how beautiful she is, though this chorus echoes the sentiments of Original Of The Specieswhich was about the U2 female teenage offspring.

The key to the entire piece is “The sound”.  There is a desire to belong, to be let in. To what? Right from the outset it seemed to me to be a symbol of salvation:


“God, I’m going down

I don’t want to drown

Meet me in the sound.” 


In the end a song about sexy boots ends up like a clarion call to something much bigger; the future needs a lot of love.

At the U2360 concert I got even more intrigued by this sound. In the communal live singalong setting it seemed even more spiritual. I remembered that Bono had an obsession since the late nineties with the hymn Amazing Grace. Sometimes when he spoke about it he emphasised, “how sweet the SOUND.”

When I looked closer there was a clue elsewhere on No Line On The Horizon. The song Breathe spells it out:


“I've found grace inside a sound

I found grace, it's all that I found.”


This idea of the sound appeared again twice on Songs Of Innocence. On The Miracle (of Joey Ramone): -


“Everything I ever lost

Now has been returned

In the most beautiful sound I'd ever heard”


Lucifer’s Hands gives another mention.


“The spirit’s moving through a seaside town

I’m born again to the latest sound

New wave airwaves swilling around my heart.”


Get On Your Boots like much of No Line On The Horizon gets a bad rap. For the “let me in the sound” alone I think it deserves attention.


U2 Go Crazy

There is a bizarre theological/behavioural conundrum that goes on in Christendom. The most general definition of belief (and I say general) is that Catholics believe that doing good things get you to heaven whereas Protestants believe that it is not about your works but about God’s grace, he loves you no matter what! Why then is it that Protestants spend their lives worried about whether they are doing the right thing and Catholics seem to live pretty relaxed lives?! Why is it that Catholics know how to party but Protestants (at least the practicing kind!) rarely go out?!

I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight is about the committed spiritual pilgrim wanting to party. The chorus is again almost Calvinistic in its theological intent. Reformer John Calvin believed in “the perseverance of the saints.” St Paul put it well in his epistle to the Philippians when he told them he was “confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” There is assured belief that the slow pilgrim climb up what is a mountain, not just a hill, that leads to the light will be completed but that for tonight Bono needs to party!

The verses are a little more frivolous and humorous although, as always with U2, never pointless. Bono is being a magpie again, listing odds and ends of thoughts that you can see him say in a conversation or interview and then think, “I need to jot that one down.” I particularly like “Every beauty needs to go out with an idiot” because it is where me and Bono share in a lucky story! U2-ophiles will be well aware of Bono using, “The right to appear ridiculous is something I hold dear” in interviews for some years.

However, in this song that latter line follows a crucial line that takes us back to the conundrum at the top of this review. When Bono sings, “Is it true that perfect love drives out all fear” (a straight life from 1 John 4 v 18) he cuts to the heart of how relaxed or stressed out the Christian pilgrim should be. If we believe this line from the Scripture and have an overall view of the way Scripture holds the flesh and spirit together, holistic fun and spiritual discipline, our lives would be able to have a few crazy moments in our road to home.

If I can give a chunky quote from Bono’s recent New York Times article about Easter I think it takes us to the heart of this song and speaks into this song’s meaning:

Christianity, it turns out, has a rhythm — and it crescendos this time of year. The rumba of Carnival gives way to the slow march of Lent, then to the staccato hymnals of the Easter parade. From revelry to reverie. After 40 days in the desert, sort of ...

Carnival — rock stars are good at that.

“Carne” is flesh; “Carne-val,” its goodbye party. I’ve been to many. Brazilians say they’ve done it longest; they certainly do it best. You can’t help but contract the fever. You’ve got no choice but to join the ravers as they swell up the streets bursting like the banks of a river in a flood of fun set to rhythm. This is a Joy that cannot be conjured. This is life force. This is the heart full and spilling over with gratitude. The choice is yours

U2 have held in tension the Carnival and Lent aspects of the Christian tradition since the very start. There was a time when they thought the two couldn’t live together but they have discovered, and in I’ll Go Crazy... have declared, that the two can be part of the same human pilgrimage.

U2: UNKNOWN CALLER - NLOTH song by song

Unkown Caller

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." 

U2 fans will be already familiar with the “Three-thirty-three when the numbers fell off the clock face” in the lyric. 33:3 appeared on the cover of All That You Can’t Leave Behind and Bono later spoke of them as God’s phone number. He explained that it was a nod to Jeremiah 33 v 3 where God says, “Call to me and I will answer you... 

So, is Unknown Caller a parable with the phone being God? 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 between 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 say this, 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 a New York Times article about Easter, Bono spoke 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.”

For me, Unknown Caller might be about that compelling idea.