In the 2000-ish timeframe, I wasn’t terribly connected to the world of music, but this record helped me to reconnect, both with a contemporary release as well as reuniting with an old musical love. U2 and I were on a bit of a break through the latter half of the 1990s, as they went down the rabbit hole of electronic music and I was equally consumed by fatherhood. I’m grateful we found our way back to each other for this album, and I fondly recall having it on repeat loop for some time in my car. I’m not the only one with a complicated relationship with U2; some find the very elements that first drew us to the band, their social consciousness and amplified persona on the big stage, to be sources of irritation or even stronger dislike. Even my friend Jim recently said, “I’m just now able to start listening to them again.” Through all of that roller-coaster ride, they came back strong with this mainstream album, reuniting with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois to produce a massively successful record, commercially and critically. Aside from several Grammy awards, it is, in my opinion, that last really great record we have from U2.
The first four songs were released as singles in the same order that they fall on the album, and while “Beautiful Day” is the most recognizable, I think I like the next three even more. Before we move, I have to note another circular loop in the lyrics that I have always enjoyed, a technique that is fairly frequent in their songs: “You’ve been all over, And it’s been all over you. It’s a beautiful day, don’t let it get away.”
“Stuck In A Moment (You Can’t Get Out Of)” is the sweet and sappy side of U2, looking to lift your spirit like most of this record, but it really is a beautiful song. “Elevation Day” takes us back to “Achtung, Baby”-era U2, and it has a classic Edge guitar riff that made this song an explosive burst on the live stage. “Walk On” is a melancholier mood-lifter, but it once again pairs a signature Edge hook with Bono’s uplifting and anthemic vocals. The guitar solo here is relatively simple and straight forward, but the notes are… just right.
As we move into the less familiar part of the album, I had forgotten how good many of these songs are. “Kite” is a soothing blend of guitar, strings and Bono’s urgency; this one is a real hidden gem I’m grateful I rediscovered. We go back further to the “Rattle and Hum” days for this simple bluesy jam that is “In A Little While”. No matter where you turn, Bono is there to offer hope and salvation, whether you need and want it or not. “Wild Honey” is U2 taking their turn on an America/Fogelberg-sounding acoustic tune that oddly works. We hear Bono’s weary state of always trying to solve the world’s problems on “Peace On Earth”, but for all of its seemingly corny polish, it is a really nicely written song.
The last three songs are the least memorable, with the album coming in for a very soft landing on the finale, “Grace”. This will be the last we hear from U2 on this experiment, but I can’t overstate how influential this band has been in my musical identity. Starting as a clueless 15-year-old who discovered “Two Hearts Beat As One” on the album “War”, their growth paralleled mine, and although I will never be the universal success story they became, for what little I accomplished or overcame during those formative years, a lot of that strength came from the joy I experienced as part of the U2 journey.