Monday, April 13, 2009

tracking the voiceprints of "God's signature melody"

I need to spend more time with U2's "No Line" on the headphones.

This is now the second time the astute abbess Beth has caught an easy to miss prophetic technique woven into the fabric of the record's arc and architecture.

Anyone familiar with U2 know lyrical phrases from former songs and albums often turn up.
But on the new album, very subtle--and once you are tuned in, very obvious--repetitions of musical themes show up.

This is not laziness, or just overworking a good riff to fill space and spice up a song.
This would be intentional (usually) tips of the producers/writers hands as to themes and shape of the narrative; the equivalent of biblical inclusios (the "with you"s in Matthew 2, 18, and 28 that thematically frame the gospel, for example), word repitition (the astounding number of references to "immediately," found only in Mark among the gospels)and chiasms ("The first shall be last, and the last first," etc...By the way, Bono loves and likely dreams in chiasm..from the vintage "the rich stay healthy/and the sick stay poor" in "God Part II" to

the new disc's Breathe: "every day I die again/and again

I'm reborn") embedded in the lyrics and the music.

The first time Beth tipped us off to this occurrence has to do with a guitar theme towards the end re-appearing only moments later towards the beginning of the next song, "I'll Go Crazy."
(see her comments under this post).

The second instance I'm referrring to in this post is Beth's insightful reflection on "White as Snow" (emphasis mine):

The character's line about "who can forgive forgiveness" captures, I think, the kind of dull, resentful alienation from God so many people seem to feel: I don't want to know him, when he let *that* happen to me. I'll never let him live it down. There's no course of action I'd even consider worth my time. Who can open a way through the impassible paradox of not forgiving forgiveness? "Only the lamb as white as snow." (It reminds me of a professor I had who said that ultimately our own conceptualizations were all too small, and that salvation meant not assenting to one of them, but "just putting the whole religious problem in Christ's hands.") Until/unless that happens, the ground is "dry," refusing "the seeds we sow," bearing "no fruit at all."

And as the character lies on that parched ground in failure, alienated from his brother, alienated from his homeland, alienated from those around them whom he "cannot know," alienated from the confidence in love he had at his baptism (nicely identified for us not just with a cleansing water metaphor and a standard-issue U2 moon metaphor, but also with he dies. And his dying thought is, "If only a heart could be as white as snow. a sonic reprise of God's signature melody a couple songs back)-link, Beth Maynard

"God's signature melody."

Yeah, that captures what that "ohhh" snippet evokes and emotes for me.
There's something about that theme. I remember the Who's "underture" in addition to an

overture in "Tommy." Perhaps the "signature melody" of "Unknown Caller" is the album's "over/underture" (speaking non-linearly, of course...the only way to make ultimate sense (and time) of the album...even though the track running order is inspired).

Is there anywhere else on the album where the signature melody resurfaces and reprises again (Beth)?

It would seem such a connecting dots and lines offers hope to the (rare this time) starker and darker moments of the record; importing God's voice/future/hope/sound into sections and seasons where . God indeed is relentless and repentless in deleting lines from the horizon.
I am just thankful he doesn't do Scripture or life, or through his persona on this the well-meaning but cheesy way we his people sometimes do; bypassing lament, and quoting Romans 8:28 too tritely and too soon.

The album may seem to end on a "Cedars of Lebanon"'s downer ("You're so high above me/Higher than everyone/But where are You in the cedars of Lebanon")...counterintuitive for U2 when considering the heritage of "40" and "Yahweh"... But do I hear the echoes of God's voice/sound in faint "sonic reprise" somewhere between the bars in this tune? Spliced in? Sampled in?

Maybe it's backmasked in (:

Or maybe the next and literal last lines, as frightening as they are:

"Choose your enemies carefully/Because they will define you..

longer than your friends."

..are a note of hope, even forming an "unobvious" inclusio lyrically with the album's opener and optimism ("infinity's a great place to start"). Beth has traced an early version of that line to the Notre Dame commencement address, which relayed a message from Bono. This references actually interprets what is left unsaid on the album, and brings it full circle:

I like the idea of Cardinal McCarrick being someone whose calls Bono takes, and I like even more the message Bono sent via him to the graduates: “He asked for me to tell you to choose your enemies carefully, because you will be defined by that choice,” McCarrick said. Over the past 5 years I have seen this happen, in spades, all around me, and battled for it not to happen in me. You will be defined by that choice.

And the next sentence is just as true: "He said oftentimes, our [real] enemies are within us." That's probably a bit too ascetical-theology for some folks, but I keep remarking the connection experientially: if I e.g. read something, and think "now see, 'they' need to read this," I'm probably the one who really needs to read it (if I go one level deeper than my superficial first reaction).

You will be defined by that choice.
-Beth Maynard, link

If Bono/the song's reporter character had said/sang flat-out "And our real enemy is within us" it wouldn't have carried the prophetic punch. But the full-orbed thought: That's the terrible...and terribly encouraging.. voice/sound/good news of surprising reprise.

As Bono said..notably with (amusement and hope, not despair) backstage (about the pressure of going onstage)at Slane in 2001:

"Its like you're a boxer, going up against yourself...and you just hope your better half wins."


See also


  1. Great blog Dave..

    I will go and listen to all this with a different perspective!

  2. This was really interesting and thought provoking. Thanks.

  3. lots to grow into with the new songs


Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!