Well, seeing as it’s Bono’s birthday.
U2 have copped a lot of flack over the last couple of decades, quite understandably at times. First there’s Bono, whose horse is so high he needs a ladder to get up on it. And with the exception of the death of Michael Hutchence-inspired Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of from 2000’s underrated Eno/Lanois-captained All That You Can’t Leave Behind, the abjectly fatuous juggernaut haven’t released anything particularly notable since.
Despite my admiring of the trivia fact that they’re the longest-running major band that’s survived with absolutely zero line-up changes, you can’t help but think that they are a band who probably should have thrown in the towel a long time ago.
There are lots of songs by U2 that have been killed by overplay, that I’d be quite happy to never hear again. Oh, hello Sunday Bloody Sunday, With Or Without You, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For. Actually, I have found what I’m looking for, and it isn’t them.
But One, the one that’s a lovely elegiac composition with a universal message, is I never tire of, it’s. Ultimately it’s the highlight of the Hansa-helmed Achtung Baby, which, quite honestly, is the only U2 album I’d go out of my way to play today… even if we all know it’s ironic standpoint and broader musical palette was hugely inspired not just by David Bowie’s art-rocking Berlin albums, but by the Pet Shop Boys’ hilarious disco melding of Where The Streets Have No Name with Frankie Valli’s Brill Building evergreen Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, ostensibly done to poke fun at U2’s rock posturing pomposity.
Having said that, 1993’s Zooropa is still a worthy Achtung side bar, and I’m still rather partial to two or three Bono/Edge tunes not under the U2 banner*. Like this one. Even Neil Tennant likes this one.
New Year’s Day was almost certainly the first U2 song I was aware of, though it became the second record by the earnest quartet I actually bought, somewhat belatedly after Pride (In The Name Of Love) sometime in 1984. This stirring anthem pretty much made U2 a major pop band in Britain, almost single handedly, going on to lay the foundation for the band to become one of the defining international acts of their era .
A song about soldiering forward and bridging divisions despite trouble and strife, New Year’s Day exemplifies the ways early, edgy U2 refracted the modern world in inventive ways, while still striving for a sort of timelessness. Thematically, Bono told the Los Angeles Times in 2005 that the lyrics refer to the movement for Solidarity in Poland—lead by persecuted trades union boss and future president Lech Wałęsa—helming a 1st of January worker’s strike. Seven months after the song became a hit, the Communist Polish government announced they would abolish martial law.
Musically, the song is a visceral take on new wave. The Edge pulls double duty, bashing out scorching guitars and desolate piano, Larry Mullen Jr.’s drumming is as solid as ever, while Adam Clayton, the English one, contributes a livewire bass line, which, amazingly, evolved from him working out how to play Visage’s synth-pop gem Fade To Grey, later conforming the factoid to Bass Player Magazine:
“That actually grew out of me trying to work out the chords to the Visage tune Fade To Grey. It was a kind of Euro-disco dance hit, and somehow it turned into New Year’s Day.”
Bono remarked on the twist to the “under a blood red sky” lyrical theme, “At the same time, it’s a love song. Love is always strongest when it’s set against a struggle.” Talking of which, in July 2015, I was road tripping through America and passed a stunning rock structure and amphitheatre just outside Denver. Yup, these are the famous Red Rocks where U2 taped their live album Under A Blood Red Sky. When I arrived, Neil Young was soundchecking for his gig there that night, but as Colorado was currently enduring its soggiest summer for 20 years I decided that Dorothy and her friends in neighbouring Kansas sounded more enticing.
Happy 60th you insufferable Irish munchkin.
BONUS BEATS: Though they brought their Joshua Tree at 30 tour here to Sydney just before Christmas, the only time I’ve “seen” U2 in concert was one of their hi-tech Zoo TV shebangs at Wembley Stadium in London. Such were the poor sigh lines from the pitch than when the Lou Reed duet on Satellite Of Love flashed up on the video screens, my female friend and flatmate Judi could barely even see that (she may as well have been on her knees, girl), exclaiming, slightly gobsmacked “I can’t believe Lou Reed’s up there!” I never had the heart to tell her he wasn’t, so if you’re reading this Jude, sorry! Hopefully you’ll see clearly now…