Friday, December 9, 2016

25 Songs About Addiction and Recovery: WIRE, U2

U2 have had a very long, storied, and accomplished career. Many of their songs have become iconic, and their body of work is so extensive that it spans two generations. But unless you were a teen or young adult in the first seven years of the 1980's, it's hard to remember that there was a time when U2 was not one of the biggest bands on the planet, but just another good band that got their start in the New Wave movement. This time of year, one sometimes sees the original Do They Know It's Christmas? video, from 1984, and although Bono is given a prominent place, he is just one of many stars contributing, not the featured attraction.
And the album that was out in 1984 is not generally remembered, even by U2 fans. Yes, Pride (In The Name of Love) was their first huge hit, but the rest of "The Unforgettable Fire" album has been more or less lost to history. Which is too bad, because it was perhaps the most adventurous album the band ever made. Brian Eno--a name that means little to contemporary music listeners, but who was a big-time producer in the 1970's and '80's, with a rather distinctive sound--produced the record, and it remains unlike anything else the band has ever done. Pride was a hit, and Bad became a staple of their live shows, but the rest of the album has faded into the mist.
Which is too bad, because Wire is one of those songs that people hear, even today, and ask, incredulously after a couple of minutes, "This is U2?" The band was always driven by its rhythm players, but this one is almost disco-like, with Bono's vocals blending in rather than leading or being separate from the music. The backing vocals are also very unique in the U2 canon, and the overall effect is somewhat trippy--something you really don't often hear about songs from this band.
The lyrics are tough to understand--an unfortunate and common complaint of Eno-produced work spanning many artists. But they are, when deciphered, a tale of a young man desperately trying to come to terms with a girlfriend's addiction, and trying almost every trick he can think of to get her to stop. And the views expressed are ones that anyone that has discovered that an addict's drugs mean more to them than human being does can identify with. And so are the agitated responses--"Throw your life away", "Watch you tear yourself apart," "In I come and out you go, "Here's the rope, now swing away."
I picked up enough through repeated listening to get a dim understanding of the song's meaning. But it wasn't until I got a copy of the lyrics, a few years after the album came out, that I fully understood it. And it's a masterpiece. It's really too bad that this song has not gained a bigger place of honor in the band's history, and hasn't been played often during any of their many tours. It deserves better.

The video:

And the lyrics:

Innocent, and in a sense I am
Guilty of the crime that's now in hand
Such a nice day
Throw your life away
Such a nice day
Let it go
Cold these eyes, I can't believe it
Cold, this heart is slow
Heart is slow
Call me
Such a cold heart
Such a cold man
Watch you tear your self apart
So lay me down
My soul to give
So lay me down
The longest sleep
Oh, the longest sleep
In I come and out you go you get
Here we are again now, place your bets
Is this the time
The time to win or lose
Is this the time
The time to choose
Cold these eyes, I can't believe it
So deep inside a cold fire
Cold, this heart is slow
Anytime you're only a kiss away
Won't you do it now
That's right, just keep me going
In some white track
You come the right track
Cartoon cutout
Cut throat bled out
I'm on your side
Be on the both side
I'm alright Jack
You get off my back
I'm no dope
I give you hope
Here's the rope
Here's the rope
Now swing away

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