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Review: U2 No Line On The Horizon (Part 2)

Image copyright 2009 U2

In the late 1980s, I read an interview with U2 in Musician magazine. During the interview, Bono talked about their musical influences, and about the types of songs U2 could do. He then asked, “Well, why couldn’t we do gospel songs?”

Since their first album, Boy, U2 has written songs that have had religious themes. The album October is full of religious imagery, and War has at least three song inspired from Biblical verses, including the powerful 40, which U2 used to close out many of their live shows. Other albums explore spiritual themes, but rely less on the Bible as a literal source. Bono has become more confident in his own voice and experience, even allowing doubt to creep into his lyrics.

The band has often struggled in that space between the sacred and secular. At one time, Bono, Larry and the Edge thought about leaving the band because the lifestyle conflicted with their newfound Christian beliefs. The band held together, though, and the members found a way to make it work, and it has been so much the better, because the years and experiences have deepened the band and their music.

U2 has no shortage of anthems, songs that feel like a call to arms rather than the usual pop fluff. On No Line On The Horizon we find Magnificent. Starting with a guitar and synthesizer riff, the song quickly builds into an high-energy big sounding opera. “Magnificent.” Bono sings, first to you and me, then to God:

I was born
I was born to be with you
In this space and time
After that and ever after I haven't had a clue

Only to break rhyme
This foolishness can leave a heart black and blue


I was born
I was born to sing for you
I didn't have a choice but to lift you up
And sing whatever song you wanted me to
I give you back my voice
From the womb my first cry, it was a joyful noise ...

Between the two verses, Bono declares, “Only love, only love can leave such a mark/But only love, only love can heal such a scar.”

Love--earthly and heavenly--wounds our hearts, leaves us exposed and venerable. But that same love is the thing that heals us, makes us right and gives life meaning. It is the lesson of the Passion, and that of the Fisher King, that Bono cues in on. The singer has no choice, being the servant of both God and Love, but to sing of these things. And this experience of compassion, grace and awe gives him cover:

Justified till we die, you and I will magnify
The Magnificent

Love of God, and love of Love. The two mysteries in the end become one--

But only love, only love unites our hearts.

Love unites, brings our disparate selves together to magnify the mystery. Like the Grail knight, Bono rides out shouting “AMOR,” and challenges us to take up the standard, be it a cross, or the quest for the one true thing. They are ultimately the same.

Moment of Surrender follows Magnificent. We can hear in the lyrics a need for spiritual awakening, an epiphany; there are three in this song. You don’t have to be a particularly religious person to appreciate these moments. They are common to us all. Their specialness comes when we recognize them.

The music sets the scene: a tone, monotonous and eternal; a clunky, disjointed sound looping through. Adam Clayton’s thick bass makes the song heavy, anchoring Larry Mullen’s slow rhythm. Such is our world at times--atonal, thick with responsibility and circumstance, out of step and out of time. Bono begins with a memory (maybe not his own) of youthful desire and love:

I tied myself with wire
To let the horses run free
Playing with the fire
Until the fire played with me

The stone was semi-precious
We were barely conscious
Two souls too cool to be
In the realm of certainty
Even on our wedding day

We set ourselves on fire
Oh God, do not deny her
It's not if I believe in love
But if love believes in me
Oh, believe in me

We ourselves are not enough when there are two, and the two alone are not enough without a third. That third person is the bond that is created by two souls becoming one. Their belief in love becomes a separate person, a spirit in common that is craved and desired beyond all else.

At the moment of surrender
I folded to my knees
I did not notice the passers-by
And they did not notice me

To recognize a moment of clarity, a shift in our outlook and direction, is to have the world stop, to be unconscientious of of ourselves, and see only that one thing, that truth.

Bono then moves on recounting life’s dark experiences and the longing to return:

My body's now a begging bowl
That's begging to get back, begging to get back
To my heart
To the rhythm of my soul
To the rhythm of my unconsciousness
To the rhythm that yearns
To be released from control

We get cluttered in our lives. Our time is not our own. Every demand takes up too much space. Then, something happens:

I was punching in the numbers at the ATM machine
I could see in the reflection
A face staring back at me
At the moment of surrender
Of vision over visibility
I did not notice the passers-by
And they did not notice me

The realization of his own face, of his soul gazing out, shocks him out of his life to discover the first thing, the dreams and joys, the authentic life. And how that moment changes your view, your perception of others and their suffering, and the joy to come:

I was speeding on the subway
Through the stations of the cross
Every eye looking every other way
Counting down 'til the pentecost

Suffering is common to all of us. We feel alone and scared, confused. Jesus’ disciples felt that way through their master’s death, resurrection and departure. But Jesus promised a comforter, a hope. A holy spirit. When the spirit arrived, the follows of Christ become emboldened and passionate. They change their world.

In our own lives, the breakthrough comes. We find our true way of being, the “why” we are here. We can be compassionate and thoughtful. We can love, and see the world as limitless in its wonder. Joseph Campbell called this “following your bliss.” In an interview with Bill Moyers he explained, “That if you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living.”

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References (4)

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  • Response
    Response: Frank Dellaglio
    Review: U2 No Line On The Horizon (Part 2) - Journal - Science, Art, Writing, Books and Music | Views and Analysis
  • Response
    Review: U2 No Line On The Horizon (Part 2) - Journal - Science, Art, Writing, Books and Music | Views and Analysis
  • Response
    Review: U2 No Line On The Horizon (Part 2) - Journal - Science, Art, Writing, Books and Music | Views and Analysis
  • Response
    Response: Rashmi Patel
    Review: U2 No Line On The Horizon (Part 2) - Journal - Science, Art, Writing, Books and Music | Views and Analysis

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