Tuesday, November 24, 2009

wide awake in america

Seeing as I seem to be writing more about the present and future, I feel I need to recap on my first post and take a walk back in time. All the way back to March 9th, 1987. Exactly three years before my birth, my dad went out to the local music store to pick up the most anticipated album of the decade. 10 years since they formed, U2 released the album that would send them straight to the paramount of music on a global scale.

13 years to the day after the release of the album, my dad once again would step into a local music store in Saratoga Springs, NY, to make the very same purchase. I remember watching eagerly from the third story window of the Holiday Inn as my dad made his way back to the hotel. My family and I were on our way to Vermont for a ski trip over the March break, and I was celebrating my birthday with room service Kraft Dinner with shrimp (AMAZING, b-t-dubs).

"Happy Birthday Sash!"

I remember tearing the CD out of the small white bag and glancing carefully over the black, white and gold album cover with incredible attention to detail. This was, after all, my tenth birthday. Life, chapter #2, and the world of double-digit age. It was an important moment in my life. Anyone else on their tenth birthday would agree.

After glancing over the CD sleeve and finishing my KD ala shrimp (mmmmmm.....), I popped the CD into my little Sony Walkman and clicked play. I didn't move from that spot on my bed for the next fifty minutes and eleven seconds.

I will now take you one track at a time through the journey that turned me into the person I am today.

1. Where The Streets Have No Name

The album opens with a swell of organ and synth, creating a looming spectrum of tone. From within the swell comes the very guitar riff that turned me into the music freak that I am today. Add the thumping bass line, and the military-esque rolling drums, and you have a solid foundation for catching someone's attention. What's amazing is how it seems that nobody seems to stop playing for the entire course of the song, however their use of trails and space create this constant cavern of modulated sounds that constantly fold over one another like waves on the west coast. When the choruses hit, it's like the wave hitting rocks. The swell of the storm continues to grow throughout the entire tune without hesitation as layer after layer of colour are added to the song. Finally, after the climactic final chorus, the waves hit the shore line and the seemingly infinite final note is struck with much authority. End it with the same guitar riff from the beginning, and you have a recipe that Beethoven himself would have killed for.

2. I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For

Beginning with a blend of percussion, drums, and percussive guitar, the toe tapping begins instantly. When the bass line kicks in, an immediate happy-go-lucky feeling takes you, no matter how bad you might be. The sporadic flutter of the guitar once again creates a sonic landscape never heard before. As if that wasn't enough to get you going in the first place, the gospel line of the vocal melody will get you dancing in no time (extra thanks to Daniel Lanois for his continuously impressive input when it comes to melody). One may begin to recognize that the real secret weapon of this band is their ability to create songs which would normally be to long for radio play by creating such long climactic passages, but keeping it so alive, you never get bored. Fade out. Never forget it. At least until the next song comes on.

3. With Or Without You

Brian Eno's magic comes to the forefront at the start of this song with the creating of infinite guitar, processed to create pitch elevated, heavily modulated sounds that literally did not exist before this song was recorded. 1:51, the infamous guitar lick kicks in, the drums step it up a notch, vocal harmonies commence, and the song takes the stab If you can see past the instrumentation of this song and manage to focus on lyrics, you may find yourself visualizing the words as if they were real events transpiring, and find yourself asking "what do I do now?". 3:14, the famous vocal melody that gets 100 000 people belting at the top of your lungs kicks in, and after a few more seconds of the wall of sound, we drop out to a relaxed breakdown, before, of course, kicking it up another notch that would give way to an incredible guitar solo, but as the man once said, "it's not about how fast or impressive you can play, it's about how well you serve the song".

4. Bullet The Blue Sky

And now your dream becomes a nightmare.

Move over for the most world's most recognizable rhythm section (with hats clearly tipped to John Bohnam and John Paul Jones). Once again, the men in the back seem to do more playing than the actual lead section of the band. Credit clearly goes to the band in the back for this one. At least until the man in the cowboy boots rips through a Stevie Ray Vaughan-style solo that takes the song into a very dark place. Add some seriously graphic lyrics. And the message is very clear. "Outside, It's America". What began as a love relationship between the band and the country that inspired the album, has taken a serious turn, and the political fury of the band that made them so famous is brought forward once again. This time, to a new target.

"Into the arms, of America"

5. Running To Stand Still

Southern reflections kick start this song with some impressive slide guitar that introduces a locomotive beat from piano and guitar that would certainly make Jonny Cash spin in his grave. The song's indirect reference to America's heroin problem in the late 80's is presented
\with Dublin-drawn comparisons that create (in a rather appropriate way) a false sense of happiness. "She will suffer the needle chill, she's running to stand still". And just as quickly as the ecstasy of the song has taken you, it's already gone, leaving you wanting another dose. Coincidence?

6. Red Hill Mining Town

The song starts in a place that would seem like the build at the end of the song, which of course, builds, but fizzes out to a mellow beat with half-time guitars and bass over some steady drums (once again, carrying the song). This time though, it's time for the vocals to take the spotlight with some impressive scale melodies and control of power while the rest of the band take the back seat. This song was probably the strangest to me for that reason. At this point, I had become so used to what seemed to be the crutch holding up the band. Going 100% raw in tone and flavour has proved that to be utterly false. The brief key change toward in the middle of the song is also something very unlike the previously heard songs. The inspiration for this song still escapes me. And yet, I enjoy keeping it a mystery.

7. In God's Country

Once again we are shot back to the sound heard on the earlier tracks on the album with some heavy drum and bass lines complimented by colourful and percussive guitar lines. In fact, the bass is probably the most technical thing in the song. Although less prominent, reflections of Paul McCartney's ability to play very technical passages without notice, is a great touch. The mini-solo towards the end of the song sums up what could have been a minute-long fury of notes is the perfect touch.

8. Trip Through Your Wires

The vibe is still alive with this next song. The harmonica which has cast a few cameos throughout the album is probably the most prominent lead instrument of the tune. the chorus itself, realistically speaking, is the harmonica part. This is a song definitely fit for a road trip through the south. Oh, and who doesn't love a guitar solo that's just one note? Tim Reynolds would certainly agree. The song really only has three parts. Big, bigger, and biggest (who ever thought a tambourine would turn a song up to 11?). At 3:32, this track is the shortest on the album.

9. One Tree Hill

No, not the show. In fact, if this album is America, One Tree Hill is a vacation to the tropics. The native style dance rhythms are a nice surprise. The song keeps a relatively relaxed feel throughout, however once again the bass manages to sneak in an unnoticed, impressive passage. Towards the middle of the song, one can also hear some deep aboriginal woodwinds that will remind you of the tripods from War of the Worlds. As silly a combination of all of these themes may sound when put together, when actually heard, you will definitely nod with satisfaction. The song also jumps back to the earlier songs by adding layers of colour and shimmer to the latter half of the song. A fuzzed-out Hendrix solo pops out of nowhere, and then, it's done. Or so we think? Organ and vocals come back in a very drowned out, angelic way, with what sounds like a choir to compliment.

10. Exit

Just when you thought the album had been to it's darkest place and back, we once again return to an uglier place (far more than that already heard). The sound of crickets and a looming bass line creep up on you, followed by sneaky sounding vocals, and of course, the percussive guitar. In come the drums. Building...building...building..."the pistol weighed heavy"...building...


Louder, faster, faster, louder. A few more seconds and you think you've reached the end. We then jump back to that dark place, only this time, when the drums come in, they come in with guns blazing. A second guitar can be heard at this time, with some furious snarl. An accelerated tempo kicks in, crash cymbals all over the place, snarling guitars, and then, the drop out. Once again, the crickets and the bass, fading away back from where the once came.

11. Mother's Of The Disappeared

The sound of mechanical devices is a new twist. Add some white noise, some malfunctioning guitars, and you've practically got the score from Terminator. That is, until the guitar comes in. Acoustic, in fact. Suddenly this mechanized beast has turned into something rather peaceful. Sounds not heard in nature take the lead spot on this song, with synthesized guitars poking out here and there, unnaturally deep bass pulsing constantly. Everything about the song is unnatural, which is appropriate, given the inspiration of the song came from a systematic extermination of young boys in South America ordered to be carried out by their political leaders. The whereabouts of the children is still unknown. Rain-sticks are added to the spectrum, and once again a clever fading out leaves you wondering.

Almost ten years since I first heard these songs, I still try and pick them apart piece by piece. However, something so incredibly constructed and brought to life, is not often torn apart with ease. It seems that the only thing capable of causing the destruction of the album is the album itself. And the album is America.

Crafty work, gentlemen.

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