The other day, I was holding my daughter and started singing “you’ve got to get yourself together…” I haven’t heard that song in at least five years and yet it had ear-wormed into my brain like a Wrath of Khan mind control slug. Bono and the boys don’t just write choruses. They write anthems. From “I Will Follow” on and up to “Beautiful Day,” their best songs big-blast off in the refrains in ways songs by other artists can’t match. The melodies effortlessly soar. It’s uplifting music in an almost achingly literal sense.
Bono is a Great Singer
It’s really weird that Bono is able to find a vocal melody over all the chiming guitars at all. The Edge’s guitar parts are usually comprised of about three or four notes at the most. Bono’s singing doesn’t follow the chords. They’re often a counterpoint or a barely connected melody that floats over the rest of band. It makes an otherwise minimalist band seem really full. And beyond musical value, he broadcasts charisma and emotion. When he waves a big stupid white flag/mullet combo on stage it’s something that’s almost earned.
“War” is Just So Good
Except for “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” which is either terrible or over-exposed, every song on that record is killer.
Cleverly Curated Cultural Appropriation
The members of U2 must have amazing record collections judging by all the stuff they’ve assimilated into their music. Siousxie and the Banshees? Kraftwerk? Johnny Cash? Lou Reed? I’d let them run the jukebox for sure. They’re not skillful mimics and they filter everything through their chimey sound, so it usually sounds like an influence rather than a rip-off. Like when U2’s early new wave records are compared to post punk bands like Magazine, there are so many obvious caveats that it seems kind of cool instead of stealing.
U2 has a really specific mood. It’s not party music, it’s not mopey music, it’s not dance music, it’s not even really rock music, exactly. If you’re in the right mindset, it’s just cheesy as hell. But if it hits you at the right moment, it’s a triumphant, ecstatic vibe that can have a lasting improvement on your mood. It’s great sunny day driving music that can make you more enthusiastic about your destination.
If I were to put together a U2 playlist, it would span 30 years. “Out of Control” and I Will Follow” are great songs. So are “Zooropa,” “Lemon,” and “Beautiful Day.” As a point of comparison, in the same amount of time, Paul McCartney went from “I Want to Hold Your Hand” to post Wings trash. The Stones went from “Satisfaction” to “Waiting on a Friend.” Jimmy Page went from “Communication Breakdown” to crippling heroin addiction or maybe the Honeydrippers. I forget.