Tag Archive: U2


05. Jenny Lewis – The Voyager

Jenny_Lewis_The_Voyager

With her first release in six year, the return of Jenny Lewis is like running into an old friend you haven’t seen in years. From the first watery piano chord of Head Underwater to the climactic peak of the title track, The Voyager catches us up on her life and all the ups and downs she has gone through. But even in the darker moments, she sings with a wink, a light touch that suggests that everything will be alright in the end. The music is just as warm and inviting, with sun-soaked chords and strings permeating the record. There may be better albums that came out this year, but there are none that feel as comforting as The Voyager.

Highlights: Late Bloomer, You Can’t Outrun ‘Em, The Voyager

04. TV On The Radio – Seeds

Seeds

How do you deal with loss? If you’re TV On The Radio, you write a funky, celebratory record about life. The band’s first album since the death of bassist Gerard Smith finds them abandoning their apocalyptic vibes for an introspective journey of love, no matter what form that love takes. It’s easily their most accessible release, with the Beatles-esque guitar work popping up on Could You, the R&B jam of Test Pilot and the propulsive punk of Lazerray. Livelier than Nine Types of Light, Seeds takes the best of TV On The Radio’s past work and shines it through a hopeful prism. The message is clear: love transcends all.

Highlights: Could You, Lazerray, Trouble

03. St. Vincent – St. Vincent

St_Vincent

All hail our new queen, St. Vincent. 2014 was her year from beginning to end. And it all came out of her fourth, self-titled album, where she sits perched in a throne with a shock of grey hair. The music on the record is just as confident, off-kilter and challenging as her stare and smirk on the cover. While she has always melded harshness and beauty, the lines have blurred to become indistinguishable from each other. Every gentle lyric is delivered with a hint of danger and every nasty, warped guitar riff is as catchy and memorable as anything else she’s done. St. Vincent is the sound of an alien taking human music, writing her own version and sending it back to us. Who knew we could sound so lovely, threatening, accessible and weird at the same time?

Highlights: Rattlesnake, Huey Newton, Every Tear Disappears

02. EMA – The Future’s Void

EMA

On her second album, EMA has done the impossible: written an album about the Internet and the digital age that doesn’t cause eyerolls. Instead, The Future’s Void grabs you by neck and forces you to pay attention. EMA’s lyrics don’t come off as a lecture, but rather a warning about what the Information Superhighway could be doing to our brains. Recalling William Gibson’s concerns on the same subject, the words are carried by music that’s abrasive, but also melodic. Satellites moves from static to an industrial banger, So Blonde is a smash hit from 1994 and Solace builds off a jerky riff that feels like an electric current. It is one of the darker albums of the year, but just like debut, one that’s impossible to resist.

Highlights: Satellites, Neuromancer, Solace

01. U2 – Songs of Innocence

Songs_of_Innocence

What’s the best way for a band that’s seen and done it all to move forward? Look back. That’s exactly what U2 did for Songs of Innocence. After the last couple of disappointing records, the Irish four-piece dug into their history, exploring life in Dublin in the 1970s. No rock is left unturned here. Both the good and bad of that formative time is laid out for all to see.

The highs create ecstatic songs like California (There Is No End to Love) and This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now, the latter combining sharp, subtle guitar riffs with one of the best rhythm segments from the band in years. Every Breaking Wave is an absolutely gorgeous ballad and instant U2 classic.

Some of the best songs though come from the lows in the band’s past. Raised By Wolves is a tense retelling of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974. Sleep Like A Baby Tonight uses pulpy synths and a stuttering guitar line to tell the story of a pedophile priest. The Troubles, about an abusive relationship, features a perfect melding of vocals by Bono and guest singer Lykke Li. It’s another number that deserves high placement in the U2 lexicon.

Forget about the Apple nonsense and focus on the songs. Similarly to how this album reminded Bono, Edge, Adam and Larry of why they became a band, it will remind you of what makes U2 one of the greatest rock bands of all time.

Highlights: Every Breaking Wave, Raised By Wolves, The Troubles

This article first appeared at No Ripcord on Oct. 1, 2014.

u2_unforgettable_fire

Last month, U2’s released their latest album, Songs of Innocence. The record saw the band looking back towards their early days and the experiences that shaped them. Now, just a few weeks later , we mark the30th anniversary of U2’s first push forward with The Unforgettable Fire.
After the post-punk trilogy of Boy, October and War, U2 felt that it had to move forward and explore new ideas, lest they get stuck in a rut. To help them find their way forward with innovative sounds and textures, the band hired Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois as co-producers. Arguably their most successful collaborators,Eno and Lanois brought a careful balance of experimentation and craftsmanship to the Irish four-piece. And the results definitely paid off.
It only takes a minute or two into the opening track, A Sort of Homecoming, to see how the band had stepped up its game. Larry Mullen Jr.’s intricate drum pattern gives way to The Edge’s sharp, expansive tone, the famous echo effect made widescreen. Bono’s in full command of his vocals for the first time in his career, moving from sing-speaking to a full-blown scream as the song progresses. Any worries about U2’s commercial success was also put to rest with Pride (In The Name Of Love), one of their all-time classics with an instantly memorable riff and one of Bono’s most passionate vocal performances.
The Unforgettable Fire also finds U2 learning how to slow down and give songs space to breathe. While they had a couple of successful ballads before this record (Drowning Man, Tomorrow), this is where they truly start to excel. Bad is one of, if not the, most exhilarating things the band ever recorded. Tackling the topic of drug abuse, the song slowly, subtly grows, with Bono in the driver’s seat, sounding possessed, desperate, inflamed and finally ecstatic, with the shout of someone breaking free of their own addiction. Lyrically, it’s magnificent, as Bono gets the song’s message across without beating you over the head.“True colours fly in blue and black / Blue silken sky and burning flag / Colours crash, collide in blood shot eyes,” he sings, conjuring vivid, creative imagery.
The title track is another highlight, lyrically and musically. A spacious guitar in the verses giving away to pounding piano keys, mixing The Edge’s two instrumental talents even better than in New Year’s Day. “And if the mountains should crumble / Or disappear into the sea / Not a tear, no not I,” Bono passionately sings, before belting out the chorus.
Although U2 was readily exploring new soundscapes, they were still able to write some incredible rockers, taking their early sound and enhancing it. Wire moves from guitar pinpricks to scratches, while Adam Clayton bursts forward with a funky, frantic bass line. Indian Summer Sky is similar, though more grounded than Wire, which is so chaotic that it threatens to veer off the track. It’s a lack of control that U2 has rarely allowed itself to experience in recent years.
By the time the record ends, with the synth hymn of MLK, U2 had completed its first major transformation. The post-punk days were firmly in the band’s rearview mirror and they were ready to see what was next. Of course, what came after this album was The Joshua Tree. But that masterpiece, along with other future classics, would not have been reached without this first step into the unknown. The Unforgettable Fire is exactly that; a gorgeous, invigorating record that showed, better than any before it, why U2 would become a band for the ages.

U2_Invisible

They’re back! U2 returned with a bang last Sunday, airing a commercial for their new song during the Super Bowl. And what a song it is. “Invisible” is a perfect blend of U2’s classic sound with their more experimental tendencies. With a slinky bass groove, electronic drums and Edge’s sharp, warped guitar, the song pushes the band out of its comfort zone, but the towering choruses remain and feel as strong as ever. “Invisible” also finds Bono in a reflective mood, singing about the days when he left the name Paul Hewson behind. “I finally found my real name/I won’t be me when you see me again/No, I won’t be my father’s son,” he sings, his voice smooth and soaring. It’s the band’s best lead single since “Beautiful Day.” If the rest of the album is as good as this song, we’re in for something very special.

This article first appeared at Consequence of Sound on November 10th, 2011.

The year is 1991. You’ve just bought the new U2 record. You sit back and relax, expecting to hear The Edge’s trademark chiming guitar and Bono’s soulful vocals. Within the opening 10 seconds of “Zoo Station”, you think your speakers must be broken. The sound coming out is distorted and abrasive. A heavily electronic voice comes in, slyly saying, “I’m ready. I’m ready for the laughing gas. I’m ready for what’s next.” You just took your first steps into Achtung Baby.

The Irish rockers’ seventh studio album was a miraculous release. In the late ’80s, the band had reached the end of their rope, looking pretentious on 1988′s Rattle and Hum. They retreated to Berlin’s Hansa Studios to reinvent their style. However, the band couldn’t find a way to merge song structures with the experimental noises that Bono and Edge were listening to. The group came close to breaking up until a pieced-together guitar progression led to the motivated writing of “One”, effectively saving U2. Given how important Achtung Baby was to the band, it’s not a surprise that its 20th anniversary warranted such a huge box set release.

While not remastered, the sound of the original album is polished to fit with modern systems. For one thing, it’s louder, a change that was desperately needed given how weak the original mix sounds compared to other records. U2 didn’t enter the sound war, though. You can hear all the layers better than ever. Adam Clayton’s grooving bass and Brian Eno’s background synth textures are much easier to distinguish in “Even Better Than the Real Thing”. Edge’s guitar in “Until the End of the World” is pushed much higher, matching with Bono’s vocals.

Musically and lyrically, Achtung Baby sounds as fresh and relevant as it did 20 years ago. There hasn’t been another guitar effect that’s as funky as Edge’s on “Mysterious Ways”. “The Fly” is industrial grunge, featuring hip-hop beats, whispered vocals, and a blistering guitar solo. As for “One”, there’s nothing to say that hasn’t been mentioned already. Its place in the pantheon of rock classics is assured, its message about perseverance through pain universal. Unlike the political lyrics of the ’80s, Bono here is more personal, dealing with love and relationships. (“When I was all messed up and I heard opera in my head / Your love was a light bulb hanging over my bed.”) This is U2 at their most inspired and their most vulnerable, something they haven’t been able to match since.

While crisscrossing Europe on their subsequent Zoo TV tour, U2 had a bout of insanity and wrote an entire album in between concerts. The result is the highly experimental Zooropa, included in the Super Deluxe Edition. If Achtung Baby is the sound of four men chopping down The Joshua Tree, its sister album finds them setting the tree on fire while listening to Sgt. Pepper and European disco. The title track is almost the anti-“Where the Streets Have No Name”, filled with radio noises, soft piano, and warped guitar. “Lemon” answers the question of what Prince plus the Talking Heads would yield. Johnny Cash takes the lead vocals on closing track “The Wanderer” for a surreal finale. It’s weird, wonderful, and worth checking out.

Of course, with any box set, the unreleased tracks are what fans look forward to the most. “Blow Your House Down” has a new vocal take from Bono over a dirty, raw guitar riff, culminating in a belting chorus. “Near the Island” is a gorgeous piano-laden instrumental. “Down All the Days” contains the stuttering, distorted guitar of “Numb” but is vocally based in The Joshua Tree period. Bono sounds like he’s singing a psalm in an electronic store, trying to break through the media overload to connect with anyone out there.

The curious final piece to this puzzle is the “Kindergarten” version of Achtung Baby. The early recordings of the album are really fascinating to listen to when compared to the finished release. “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” is a definite highlight, featuring far fewer effects and an almost completely restructured guitar melody. On the flip side, “So Cruel” has many more layers than the stripped-back final product. If you’re a huge U2 fan, a music producer, or someone who loves to see the creative process at work, this disc is for you.

Achtung Baby is the story of a band at a crossroads in their career. U2 dismantled their entire sound to create a brilliant, timeless record. Now, 20 years later, the band is once again at a crossroads. The run of anthem-ready albums from the 2000s has reached its saturation point. Only time will tell if the group is “ready to let go of the steering wheel” and see where the music takes them once again.

Essential Tracks: “The Fly”, “One”, “Zooropa”, and “Down All the Days”

4.5/5

This article first appeared at Consequence of Sound on July 21st, 2011.


It’s crazy to think that U2 has been on the road with their giant 360° tour for more than two years now. As some of the stats that popped up onscreen before the show told us, 17 babies were born to the crew members during the trek. That’s a long tour. Despite the fact that there are only a few cities left to go and exhaustion must be setting in, those four Irish boys still put on one of the most massively stunning and incredibly energetic shows around this year.

Before the Irish rockers achieved liftoff in their giant claw spaceship, Interpol arrived to entertain us during the countdown (I apologize for all the space jokes). While their music is well-suited to theaters, it works far less in New Meadowlands Stadium. The massive size of the stage overwhelmed the band, whose members appeared nervous in front of such a large crowd. Still, they tried their best, knocking out songs from all four albums. Most of the band appeared lively, but singer Paul Banks was a black hole of dullness, sucking out any energy that could have been there. Another mistake was playing very little from 2002′s Turn on the Bright Lights, especially the lack of “NYC” for the New York crowd.

Soon enough, “Space Oddity” ringed in over the PA, announcing the imminent appearance of the main attraction. The sounds of the song mixed with Edge’s guitar, ripping into the riff of “Even Better Than the Real Thing”. The slightly remixed version was a shot of adrenaline to an already frenzied crowd. How do you follow such an excellent opener? You play three more songs from Achtung Baby. “The Fly”, “Mysterious Ways”, and “Until the End of the World” made for the musical equivalent of a big bang. On it continued with many of the band’s singles, both recent and ancient. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “One” were gospel sing-alongs. “Beautiful Day” featured an appearance from Commander Mark Kelly on the International Space Station. “Vertigo” and “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” were explosive. “Where the Streets Have No Name” was transcendent.

Among technological feats like the expanding beehive video screen, the moving ramps, and the neon steering wheel microphone Bono swung on, the best moments were the unscripted ones. Bono read off the band’s setlist from the first time they played New Jersey, 30 years earlier, which included three songs from the main set repeated in the encore. Edge told the story behind “Stay (Faraway, So Close)”, before accidentally starting “Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” instead. A laugh and a joke later, the song eventually surfaced and included a Frank Sinatra snippet. Towards the end of the concert, Bono had a fan pass up a sign to him that read “For Clarence.” The band dedicated “Moment of Surrender” to the late E Street Band saxophonist. By this point, it looked like everything was wrapped up, but Bono yelled out “One more!” to the audience as U2 slammed into “Out of Control”.

At 26 songs, the gig equaled the record for the longest U2 show. Even with that length, every single song worked. Nearly every album in U2’s long catalogue was represented. The combination of their massive hits collection, the jaw-dropping stage, and the band’s colorful personalities made for an unforgettable evening. With a concert like this, two years still doesn’t seem like enough.

Photography by Ayaz Asif.

Setlist
Even Better Than The Real Thing
The Fly
Mysterious Ways
Until The End Of The World
I Will Follow
Get On Your Boots
Magnificent
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
Stay (Faraway, So Close)
Beautiful Day
Elevation
Pride (In The Name Of Love)
Miss Sarajevo
Zooropa
City of Blinding Lights
Vertigo
I Know I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight (Remixed Version)
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Scarlet
Walk On
Encore:

One
Where the Streets Have No Name
2nd Encore:

Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me
With or Without You
Moment of Surrender
Out of Control

This article first appeared at Consequence of Sound on June 20th, 2011.

So, it’s finally here. Dating back to 2002, Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark has been subject to a near countless string of mishaps, mistakes, and missed opening nights. There have been injuries, budget woes, lawsuits, rewrites, director drops, and cast swaps. At the center of all of this have been Bono and The Edge. Originally just on board to write the score, they’ve moved up to the title of producers and are now considered the public face of the show. Now that it has opened – they finallystuck to a date (June 14th) – the timing is right for a cast recording soundtrack.

Despite the years spent on it, the Original Cast Recording of Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark is a mixed bag. It would seem that Bono and Edge went into this score thinking it would be quick, easy, and painless. The truth is that Broadway musicals are none of those things, and their lack of knowledge washes over these 14 songs. On the other hand, though, Bono and The Edge can still write a great rock song and they prove it several times on the album – with the help of some powerful vocals, too.

The most impacting songs on this album lean one of two ways. They’re either very close to the duo’s usual work (“Boy Falls From the Sky”) or they fit into more traditional musical arrangements, where the singers save the day (“If the World Should End”). Take Jennifer Damiano, for example. As Mary Jane Watson, Damiano works with a voice made for the stage, and, as a result, she hits that sweet spot between passion and pitch that dizzyingly excites the bones. The same can’t be said for the show’s main star, Reeve Carney, however. While commendable and undeniably raw, Carney’s also rather limited. When coupled with Bono’s vocals and harmonies, as they are on “Rise Above 1″, it’s hard not to pine for the Irish songwriter.

But if we’re to weigh the production as a whole, most of the work alternates between forgettable and atrocious. The forgettable includes songs like the “Vertigo”-knock off “Bouncing Off the Walls” and The Edge-fronting “Sinistereo”, which oddly enough buries the illustrious axeman’s vocals in a sea of overproduced distortion. On the other end, misses like “Pull the Trigger” see Bono and Edge attempting to write a rap song. (Take your time to let that sink in. It’s pretty much as bad as you’d expect.) Rest assured, their attempts end an aural disaster, leaving us with a PSA-like number that could possibly be the worst thing the two musicians have ever released, whether with U2 or as part of any collaboration.

So, why did this fall so flat? You could blame the subject matter. Lyrically, Bono and The Edge are miles and miles outside their comfort zone. Bono’s strength lies in his gift for imagery and big topics such as love, war, religion, etc. These talents have always served him well in U2 and help make him an excellent lyricist. He’s never really been story-driven, though. This mentality puts a massive constraint on the songs, resulting in an assortment of cliché messages about love and humanity with occasional references to Spider-man squeezed in. Out of all the tracks, the only time he comes close to succeeding is on “No More”, in which Peter Parker’s struggles with school bullying and Mary Jane’s conflicts with an abusive stepfather are entwined in an emotionally impacting number. The rest? Nah.

Well, not so fast. The would-be finale of the recording (the actual closing title track is pretty boring) is “Rise Above 2”. Musically similar, “2” is actually a little superior. The lyrics are less cliché, instead featuring a chorus of all the characters supporting Spider-man as he goes to save the day. Edge’s high-pitched guitar work towards the end of the song gives a little push that will remind you of how uplifting U2 can be. It feels like the triumphant end of a long, hard journey. They may be talking about the character, but after all that Turn Off the Dark has gone through, it fits as the story of the musical. Time will tell if the production succeeds, but the verdict is in for the soundtrack. It’s nowhere near the quality of anything Bono and Edge have done with the band, but it’s far better than it could have been. Next time, guys, just keep your ideas for a new U2 record.

2.5/5

This article first appeared at Consequence of Sound on June 16th, 2010.

Ah, New York. The Big Apple. The City That Never Sleeps. While these are phrases you’ll almost never hear a native New Yorker say, it’s clear to anyone that NYC’s impact on the global community can’t be overlooked. It’s been the undisputed financial, political, and cultural center of the world for the last century and shows no signs of giving up the title. Just try and look for an apartment there.

Throughout the five boroughs, New York has been both a home and source of inspiration for many musicians over the years. There are few (if any) cities that have been written about as much as New York has. But which songs belong at the top? Which numbers show the style and the swagger? The class and the crass? Which can move between the skyscrapers and the subway?

You’re probably wondering: Why celebrate New York now? Shouldn’t you have posted this after the Yankees won last year? Yes, the opportunity seems a bit late, but not really if you think about it. New York thrives on “keeping it real” and trademarks itself on setting the precedent for everything. So, to answer your question, there is never a better time to write about New York City. Simply because, New York City always “is.”

Well, let’s be honest. With the Northside Festival next weekend, we’re pretty stoked about being around Brooklyn lately. Not only do we get to have our own lil’ soiree, but we get to enjoy the likes of Titus Andronicus, Wavves, Fucked Up, Liars, High Places, and a slew of other pretty hot acts. We might just have to dig out our “I Love New York” shirts for the weekend.

Just kidding. Anyways, here are your top 10 songs about the world’s cultural mecca.

10. Jay-Z and Alicia Keys – “Empire State of Mind”

While Jay-Z been a superstar for quite some time now, he took it to a new level with this ode to the city he was raised in. With a soulful piano provided by Alicia Keys, “Empire State of Mind” brilliantly has Jay-Z’s verses reflecting his rise to the top along with the different areas of New York he spends his time in. From the streets of Brooklyn to the celeb neighborhood of TriBeCa, Jay-Z essentially wrote a sequel to Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York”, showing how he made it where he is, and even having the New York attitude to suggest that he makes “the Yankee cap more famous than a Yankee can.” Keys belts out a more traditional chorus about how inspirational the streets of New York can be. Since it’s less than a year old, “Empire State of Mind” still has to withstand the test of time, but it doesn’t look like it’s going away any time soon.

9. Bob Dylan – “Talkin’ New York”

One of the two original compositions from Bob Dylan’s first album, “Talkin’ New York” is standard Dylan fare with a fairly frantic acoustic strumming and harmonica interludes. But the lyrics are spit out rapidly with Dylan only taking a break before the last line of each verse. The story of his arrival in New York takes in everything, from the city’s size to his search for a job. However, it’s the second to last verse that shows the development of Dylan’s wit, when he says “A lot of people don’t have much food on their table/But they got a lot of forks ’n’ knives/And they gotta cut somethin’.” From a stranger’s perspective, New York can appear both exhilarating and terrifying. Dylan manages to show both of these sides in just the course of three minutes.

8. Billy Joel – “New York State of Mind”

Probably one of the most famous songs about New York, Billy Joel’s ode to the city is based on his return to the East Coast after spending the last three years in L.A. The slow, jazzy piano evokes images of a smoky lounge in Greenwich Village. Joel’s delivery and lyrics all paint the city as a lost love that he’s finally returning to. While he could be partying on the West Coast, he needs “A little give and take/The New York Times, The Daily News.” The sense of normalcy that comes from the bustling streets of Manhattan offers a unique experience that Joel can’t do without. While he may travel the world, it looks like he’ll always make his way back to New York.

7. The Ramones – “53rd and 3rd”

While many of the above songs have hinted at the dark underbelly of New York, The Ramones “53rd and 3rd” really came across as gritty in every way. From the angry guitars to the shouting delivery to the lyrics, this song isn’t from the band’s point of view. Instead, it’s the story of a Green Beret who served in Vietnam who falls to prostitution as he tries to pick up customers from the street corner mentioned in the title. When Joey Ramones sings, “Don’t it make you feel sick?” he almost vomits the words out, adding to the character’s disgust at how far he’s fallen. The entire song shows that not everyone is cut out for New York and many wind up falling into an underworld of crime in an attempt to make ends meet.

6. Beastie Boys – “No Sleep till Brooklyn”

The most fun song here is by none other than New York natives, the Beastie Boys. Different than most other tracks on this list, the lyrics contain hardly any references to the city. Instead, it’s all about the band’s life away from home. The touring, the hotels, the partying. All of these lines on what a great time they’re having traveling around the world are the complete opposite of the “No! Sleep! Till Brooklyn!” chorus, which is a call to go home. Maybe they’re saying they love playing live in their hometown the best. Maybe they want a break from their all their adventures to spend time at home. Who knows? But the fact that the line has become part of everyday vocabulary (no sleep till insert location here), coupled together with that kickass riff, cements its place in the top New York songs.

5. Interpol – “NYC”

Interpol’s tribute to New York is a decidedly sad affair in which the protagonist only finds hope from the city itself. Despite the fact that the feeling doesn’t appear mutual (“The subway is a porno/The pavements they are a mess/I know you’ve supported me for a long time/Somehow I’m not impressed”), the city is still there for him, day in and day out. The sluggish guitar riff gives a feeling of wandering aimlessly through the city streets at night. At the end of the song, the realization comes that New York’s done its part to support those who live there. Now it’s the inhabitant’s turn to make something of it (“It is up to me now, turn on the bright lights”).

4. John Lennon – “New York City”

If there’s any song that showed the juxtaposition of the five boroughs, it’s “New York City” by John Lennon. From David Peel smoking some pot to the policeman trying to do his job to the crazed preacher, the scene is familiar to anyone who lives in New York. Seeing homeless people asking for change across the street from Lincoln Center is part of everyday reality for New Yorkers. As we’re so focused on our own packed schedules, we have trouble noticing the people around us. Lennon mentions this as well, singing “Tried to shake our image/Just a cycling through the village/But found that we had left it back in London/Well nobody came to bug us/Hustle us or shove us/So we decided to make it our home.” For those of you wondering why New York is a hot spot for celebs, this is one of the biggest reasons.

3. The Velvet Underground – “I’m Waiting For The Man”

If “53rd and 3rd” came across as a gritty look at New York’s dark underbelly, “I’m Waiting For The Man” grabs you by the throat and shoves you face-first into that grimy environment. With the instruments sounding a little dirty, the music evokes images of a heroin addict struggling to make it up Lexington Avenue to meet his dealer for his next fix. The song also goes into race relations within Harlem during the 1970s. While the user has to wait for the man, he does get his fix (“He’s got the works, gives you sweet taste/then you gotta split because you got no time to waste) and will go on until he needs his next one. Though this track has a similar theme as The Ramones’ New York song, it takes to a far deeper level of dependence by throwing drug usage into the mix. It displays some of the worst the city has to offer, highlighting the crime and none of the class.

2. U2 – “The Hands That Built America”

While U2 wrote this song for Martin Scorcese’s Gangs of New York, “The Hands That Built America” goes far beyond that time period. Each of the song’s verses represent a different era in New York’s history. The first verse has the strongest connection to the film as Bono sings about the emigration of millions of Irish to America due to the Potato Famine and the change that awaits them there. The second verse relates love to the American Dream and that hard work can lead to prosperity. The final verse brings the song to the near-present, talking about 9/11 and “Innocence dragged across a yellow line.” While it’s not the most popular U2 song about New York, it is the most powerful, dealing with some of the best and worst time periods in the city’s history.

1. Frank Sinatra – “Theme From New York, New York”

Yeah, it’s a cheesy and obvious pick. But Frank Sinatra’s version (it was originally written for Liza Minnelli) of this song is the quintessential New York track. From the opening line of “Start spreadin’ the news, I’m leaving today/I want to be a part of it: New York, New York,” you’re instantly transported to midtown Manhattan. It’s heard everywhere in the city, including after every game at Yankee Stadium, or after the ball drops in Times Square on New Year’s, or during Columbia & NYU’s commencement ceremonies. Yet there’s a good reason for this. The song perfectly illustrates New York’s classy and ballsy attitude. New Yorkers know that since they made it there, they can make it anywhere. But they’d rather stay right where they are, just like how Sinatra wants to “wake up in a city that never sleeps.” Showing all of its good sides, “Theme From New York, New York” is the best song about the city. Bar none.

This article first appeared at Consequence of Sound on December 26th, 2009.

This is where it all began. 30 years ago this past September, four Irish teenagers — Bono Vox, The Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen, Jr. — recorded three songs in Windmill Lane Studios for their first official release. Titled Three and sold exclusively in Ireland under CBS Records, the EP represented the first step on the path of success for U2.

By this point, U2 had already been together for three years and were steadily building a reputation in Ireland. It seemed like they were set to take off when the band won a talent contest in 1978 that offered a prize of studio time to record a demo. Unfortunately, when the session began, no one in the band knew what the hell they were doing. Edge put his guitar at an incredibly low volume, Bono had adopted an awful English accent, and a young Larry Mullen, Jr. was pulled out of the studio by his father because he had exams the next day.

While it was a squandered opportunity, U2 luckily got another chance a year later. This time around, they were a little more prepared. During the interim year, the group landed Paul McGuinness as their manager, gained support from Hot Press Magazine, and opened for punk rockers The Stranglers. They caught the attention of an A & R scout from CBS London named Chas De Whalley, who came in with demo money and produced the EP despite a lack of experience. Although the band still wasn’t playing very well, the songs they wrote were strong enough to support their weaknesses.

“Out of Control” was chosen as the A-side for the EP by listeners on the Dave Fanning Rock Show on RTE station. Almost as soon as the track starts, it has “U2 anthem” written all over it. By this point, Edge had gotten his Memory Man Echo Unit and had started to develop his trademark sound. In this case, it really makes the song since the rest of the band were still finding their feet. Mullen, Jr, had trouble playing in time, Clayton’s bass was extremely simple, and Bono… well, let’s just say his singing voice wasn’t all that yet. But the song has a real kick to it and a boundless amount of energy that feels contagious. Bono’s lyrical exploration was already moving in an introspective direction. Written on his 18th birthday, he said the song was about hitting that age and “realizing… the two most important decisions in your life have nothing to do with you — being born and dying.”

“Stories for Boys” has more of a groove to it than the A-side. Containing a fully expressed sense of excitement, the song deals with escapism from the everyday. While not fully developed, it technically shows more promise than either of the other two songs. Whereas “Out of Control” feels mostly like Edge was in charge, “Stories for Boys” is the sound of the band clicking and playing as a cohesive unit. “Boy-Girl” is the least memorable track on the EP. Dealing with the relationship between (no surprise here) a boy and a girl who are maturing into adults, the song is more like a rough sketch than a fully thought out track. The lyrics don’t go anywhere and the instrumentation is just average at best. It’s not shocking that when U2 were re-recording songs for their first album, Boy, it was the only one out of the three to not make the cut.

Limited to 1,000 copies for Ireland, the EP made a surprising splash in the Irish Singles Charts, peaking at number 19. Sadly, CBS UK passed on U2, only offering a record deal if they fired Larry Mullen, Jr. The drummer was still having trouble playing in time but the rest of the band stuck by him. The EP did help them increase their fanbase in their home country even more and was followed by a tour in England. The resulting success of that tour led to a deal with Island Records. The rest is history.

Even though the music isn’t really there, the potential of U2 can be heard in all three songs. Well… okay, not “”Boy-Girl”. But “Out of Control” and “Stories for Boys” would go on to be very good album cuts for their debut in 1980. “Out of Control” has been an occasional part of the band’s set list, all the way up to this decade. The sound made on Three isn’t that of one of the world’s biggest bands. It’s the sound of a group that had endless enthusiasm for their music and knew success was within reach.