January 16, 2008

My Favorite U2 Song

What's my favorite U2 song? War's "Sunday Bloody Sunday". It's got nothing to do with Bono's out-of-control out-of-tune passionate vocals, the Irish jig guitar solo, the arching overwrought string section, or the Jesus-freak, passive resistance-promoting lyrics. I can't stand any of that shit.

I love the drums. The eight-second drum break that opens the song, that opens the album. They speak louder than any of the aforementioned extraneous nonsense. They hit with power, urgency, rawness, and necessity. They encapsulate war, War, and War. They are all the album needs. It's message is immediately clear. 8 seconds is all it takes.

11 years later those same drums returned. Only this time they took nearly a minute and a half to appear. For the first minute, the song drifts along, percussion supplied by a scratch DJ, church-like bells creating an ominous backdrop. The song's music stops and a deep, friendly voice appears and intones "You said to me I was out of my mind." A short pause and the drums return. The drums of War. Only this time the battle is a little different. It's about the fight for sanity in a world of lunacy or in a deeply depressed soul. The drums speak the same.

Maybe the battle faced on the two albums isn't different at all.

DJ Shadow's second single, "Lost and Found" appeared in 1994, its drums unmistakably "Sunday Bloody Sunday's". Just 19 years old the music papers were already hailing DJ Shadow a musical genius. In the United States more people knew his name than had ever heard his compositions. Or at least that's how it felt at the time.

His first single, 1993's "in/flux", began with the announcement "This song is about life, death, love, hate, wealth, poverty, racism", continued with a female vocal beckoning, "we call on you", a hip hop sample saying "stay strong" and another vocal enforcing with "here us now." It isn't until then that the beat kicks in. These drums aren't Larry Mullens. They constitute a slow funk sample. "in/flux" takes its cue from the great hip hop tracks of the era, sampling James Brown, Funkadelic, and Earth Wind and Fire. Nevertheless the track's endless political vocal tracks calling for a nondescript "revolution" and slow jazzy track which felt urgent in 1994 (just as Bono's call for Christian soldiers and wall of sound violins must have seemed urgent in 1983) now seem formulaic at best, dated at worst.

"Lost and Found" was different just like War's first 8 seconds was different. It was real, it was personal, and it was soul bearing. It wasn't preachy, it didn't call for pie-in-the-sky social change , and it looked inward rather than outward. These emotions and this direction weren't audible to me in "in/flux" and were audible on only 8 seconds of War.

So is my favorite U2 song actually "Lost and Found"? Given that U2 would receive most of its royalties if it were ever released (Fleetwood Mac would see some too) I would say yes.

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