1991 was at the precipice of a whole new world order. East and West Berlin were now free of Communism and the Wall. Perestroika and glasnost replaced repression in the dissoving Soviet Union. Our media was beginning to become global and instantaneous. And U2 decided to put aside their homage to the music they grew up to and the music style that everyone associated with them.
The four fresh-faced lads re-invented not only themselves but their sound. Where Joshua Tree and Rattle and Hum were filled with politics, nods to Dylan and Presley, Achtung Baby gave us questions about religion and fidelity, philosophy, and an alter-ego name Machphisto. While the skeleton of The Edge's guitar could still be heard, grungy electronic pop music infiltrated the studio, super models became their friends, and we were left trying to figure out whether or not this was a phase. The band referred to the album's musical departure as the sound of four men chopping down The Joshua Tree. * Mueller, Andrew. "U2 – The Joshua Tree Re-Mastered (R1987)". Uncut. Retrieved 15 August 2015.
U2 rushed to get the last flight into East Germany, that is, while East German still existed. Now that U2 could walk back and forth from the East to the West, they realized that the send of West Berlin as illuminated was not an illusion. The lights were literally brighter. The streetlamps of the East were dull, dirty yellow. The streetlights of the West were golden and white, and of a higher wattage. The West had better generators, Bono was especially struck by the glow of ultraviolet lights in the windows of the Eastern buildings so crowded together that little sunlight got through. Bono had associated the purple glow of UV lighting with nightclubs and raves, but to East Germans it represented an attempt to grow flowers in the shadows.* U2 At the End of the World - Bill Flanagan. The band noted the U2 line at a particular station that allowed them to move between the old and the new: Zoologischer or Zoo Station.
Through disagreements, arguments, and working harder than they had because they were creating something so new, songs were beginning to take shape. Between the Berlin and the Dublin sessions of 1991 the band worked tirelessly, through potential breakups both in the band and with spouses. Their world was being pulled in a thousand directions and on top of that they had to create that promise of going away and dreaming all up again.
Lyrically, the album is a gift of art and religion, a study in carnal existential crisis, and a statement on the world both blossoming and decompressing on itself.
We all remember the gentle opening of Where the Streets Have No Name. There is a lot going on in the first 10 seconds. The song is being electronically strung along until Edge's guitar and Adam's bass string us into the first strained chords
I'm ready. I'm ready for the laughing gas.
It's the band giving us their opening statement. It's alright. There is a lot going on and there is a lot going on with us.
Ever Better Than The Real Thing
You'll see a lot of play on capitalism with this decade of U2 and it started right here. A demo of this was recorded at the same time Desire was, pointing to the fact that the band was really ready to move on for quite some time.
There is also one repeating theme that begins with this song ... forgive me ... give me one last chance. Sounds like the band was having a crisis of love and forgiveness.
Called one of the greatest songs of all time by many music critics, this song miraculously kept the band together. This song has been interpreted so many ways and any one of them doesn't lessen the impact of the song.
It's about love, the world, the band, it's about an AIDS patient on their death bed talking to his father...doesn't matter. The message is clear.
Until The End Of The World
While this song is without a doubt about the relationship between Judas and Jesus, there is still the underlying theme of sex and adultery if you look between those prison bars. The bands in depth religious knowledge lends itself to the beauty of this song.
Who's Gonna Ridge Your Wild Horses
Written by Bono for The Edge, most claim it was the most painful song to record since there were so many nuances of music technology on it and it was constantly re-mixed.
Hope, love, hate, surrender, compromise, contempt, and sadness. This song is love. This song is about a love gone horribly wrong. Unfortunately it was The Edge's love story. Haunting but so damn true.
The Fly was introduced before album and have a glimpse into the wild around ahead for the band and fans. It was in this video that we met The Fly, cross between Bono and his devil character, MacPhisto. The Fly is Bono's alter-ego, saying all those things we don't expect him to ever say.
It's no secret ambition bites the nails of success
Every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief
All kill their inspiration and sing about their grief
A funky departure from the album's sound. It's an homage to women. This is also the third time a reference to oral sex is mentioned in this album (Until the End of the World and Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses). It's
Tryin' To Throw Your Arms Around The World
Oh these songs that seem so simple but U2 throws in some amazing quotes. It's a song about stumbling home drunk...you know that moment when you do feel like you can throw your arms around the world. Or when you're drunk with love that you feel the same. The world was changing and who didn't feel like that?
And a woman needs a man
Like a fish needs a bicycle
When you're tryin' to throw your arms around the world
Ultra Violet (Light My Way)
Music trivia, Larry drops one drumstick during this song but damn it, he keeps going.
A reference to those lights that once signified party and glamour to Bono, were a means to survive and find happiness in East Berlin.
But more importantly, this crisis of love theme exists again in this song. Love, god, and women. There is an undercurrent of reference to the Book of Job and a line borrowed from Raymond Carver.
There is a silence that comes to a house
Where no-one can sleep
I guess it's the price of love, I know it's not cheap
Oh, come on, baby, baby, baby, light my way
Oh, come on, baby, baby, baby, light my way
Ultra Violet...Ultra Violet...Ultra Violet...Ultra Violet...
Baby, baby, light my way
I remember when we could sleep on stones
Now we lie together in whispers and moans
When I was all messed up and I heard opera in my head
Your love was a light bulb hanging over my bed
This song is about not giving up. This could be directed at Bono himself. He uses the oft used from Latin saying don't let the bastards grind you down. He also quotes writer Delmore Schwartz in the line in dreams begin responsibilities. Basically, Bono is telling himself that he needs to stop listening to the critics but he also has to get his head out of the clouds.
Love Is Blindness
Sorry to anyone that I have disappointed when I explain this song to them. It could be a song about love of person. But, it is love of hate and nationalism. This is a love song of a
car bomber. The opening church organ ties this to religion. And only Bono can get away with this.
In a crowded street
You see your love
Thread is ripping
The knot is slipping
Love is blindness
And cold steel
Fingers too numb to feel
Squeeze the handle
Blow out the candle
Love is blindness
The band successfully went away and dreamed it all up again. Now four men in their thirties, the world still their stage, there was no shortage of topics to sing about. Their seventh album was beyond successful and gave us many songs that are still on heavy rotation. It was fitting that U2 re-invented themselves as the world was as well. The subsequent Zoo TV tour, threw the media and information overload in our faces. They prank called the president, paraded around belly dancers, Bono's alter ego ran amuck, Trabants hand from the stage, it was grandiose on every single level.
Bill Flanagan - U2 At the End of the World
Niall Stokes - Into the Heart - the Story Behind Every U2 Song