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Asher
27-06-2006, 05:51:02
This is an A paper for the course.

U2’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb was released on November 22nd, 2004. Upon my first listening of the album, two songs immediately jumped out at me: Vertigo and City of Blinding Lights – both for very different reasons. Vertigo grabbed the listener by the collar with an infectious melody and hard-hitting beat. City of Blinding Lights was on the opposite end of the spectrum; it starts out very slow and quietly as more layers slowly build on each other. About ten seconds into the song, Edge’s guitar (with ample delay) begins chugging softly, and about ten seconds after that the clear sounds of piano begins playing a slow melody. It’s not until about forty-nine seconds into the song we hear what signature riff of the song, implemented with continuous guitar slides, and it’s accompanied by an intriguing bell-ringing sound which may be implemented with a triangle. This contrasts significantly with the earlier work on the album, as well as the songs after. The first minute of the song is devoted to setting up atmosphere in an attempt to draw the listener in, rather than rocking out from the first few seconds like Vertigo did. The sonic tapestry of City of Blinding Lights intrigues me, and in this paper I will discuss the song’s structure, texture, style, and meaning as I interpret them.
As City of Blinding Lights is a track on the latest U2 album, it is situated at the “current” end of U2’s oeuvre. This allowed U2 to draw on their experiences in their previous albums and take advantage of their more mature song-writing and technical proficiency to create new songs that are clearly influenced by successes they’ve had in the past. City of Blinding Lights seems to blend aspects of Where the Streets have No Name, Dirty Day, and Always. The song is most similar to Where the Streets Have No Name in that they’re both rather anthemic songs (especially in concerts) that start out slowly and “sparsely”, while building up to an emotional climax utilizing Edge’s signature delay-driven guitar and pianos or organs. Similarly, both are uplifting, inspirational songs written as a direct result of tragedies. In the case of Where the Streets have No Name, the song was about the suffering he witnessed in Africa as an aid worker before recording The Joshua Tree. City of Blinding Lights was written after the “9/11” terrorist attacks on New York City. During a concert in New York City after the 9/11 attacks, the house lights went up at the end of Where the Streets Have No Name and Bono saw many of the fans with tears streaming down their faces. He reportedly shouted out to the crowd, “Oh you look so beautiful tonight”, which also inspired the band to write what became The City of Blinding Lights. In this sense, City of Blinding Lights seems like it would fit right in on The Unforgettable Fire in terms of style and sensibility.
The song form is also similar to Where the Streets Have No Name. It is, in my opinion, best described as “verse-chorus compound form”. The song starts with the previously-discussed introduction, which is approximately forty-nine seconds long, before the first interlude begins with what will become the song’s signature riff. This riff was difficult to diagram because chord changes do not appear to be occurring within measures, but seem to be done much like Bono’s vocals often do where they are loosely based on the measures but are not strictly adhering to them. The first four measures appear to be a chord change, utilizing a slide, between A, E, and f#m, while the next four measures are sliding chord changes between A, E, and D. These eight measures are repeated again in the interlude. This riff “defines” a defining sound of the song that is used again during the main part of the chorus later where the phrase “Oh- you- look- so- beautiful...tonight”. The chords A, E, and D are also employed in the verse, but without the slide and in a much more subdued, somber way. Another oddity of this song is that there are three instances of verses, and all of them are of different lengths. Verse 1 is sixteen measures long, Verse 2 is twenty measures long, and Verse 3 is eight measures long. Between Verse 1 and Verse2 and the Chorus, there is an eight-measure “pre-Chorus” which serves as a transition between the somber and subdued verses and the “soaring” and inspirational Chorus. Without such a pre-chorus, the transition would be noticeably jarring.
The bridge, at approximately 3:59, is, in my opinion, a misstep in the song. The bridge seems to be too contrasting, to the point where it feels like it does not fit in with the song in spirit nor style. It consists largely of Edge playing “B” and sliding up the frets to get what sounds like an engine revving up. It almost seems like the bridge was added out of habit, and I believe the song may’ve been more effective without the bridge (but then again, I am no musician). As the bridge comes immediately after the Chorus, looking at the diagram I would not think it would be that jarring. However, the fact that the drums and bass completely change their playing and the tempo appears to change, it is almost like the song just stopped for that period, before swinging back into an interlude to draw us back into the song. The lyrics for the bridge seem relevant, but how they were performed was simply too different from the rest of the song to sufficiently fit in. The fact that “time” is repeated five times during the bridge compounds the feeling that the bridge is simply “filler” in the song.
The meaning and emotional nature of the song is what gives City of Blinding Lights its main impact. The song, according to Bono, was originally inspired by the 9/11 terrorist attacks and its aftermath on New York City: "It's a New York song. About going there for the first time. We were the first band to play Madison Square Gardens after 9/11. During 'Where the Streets Have No Name' the house lights came up and there were 20,000 people in tears. It was beautiful." [ ] The lyrics themselves are circular in structure, which is something many people (including myself) find to be rather clever. The “circle” starts with the three-line stanza beginning with "The more you see the less you know" and ends with a three-line stanza beginning with "The more you know the less you feel." The song also seems to detail a loss of innocence, not unlike the Boy album, but also coming to terms with the concept that as we age, the more we realize that we don’t know much. Specifically, the first stanza of the first verse ends with “I knew much more then than I do now” clearly illustrates that everything becomes more complicated as you age. The accompanying guitar work by Edge with the soft, sliding guitar and the ringing also has a youthful vibe to it, especially with the “Oooo oooo oooo” in the pre-chorus. In the Chorus, the texture thickens and the song reaches a “peak” with the anthemic phrase: “Oh- you- look- so beautiful...tonight”, and the song immediately comes back down with the ringing-sound and sliding guitar, followed by “in the city...of blinding lights”. This phrase is subject to much interpretation, but in my opinion it is saying that even though the world is complicated with a maze of issues (the “blinding lights”), it’s still possible to see the incredible beauty that is to be found in our world.
This song was produced by Mark Ellis, or Flood, and he makes his mark with the atmospheric feel developed by the song, particularly in the introduction. He is known for a “cutting-edge sound” that can blend many elements, and in this case he blends Edge’s guitar with a bell-like device, likely a triangle. It’s a rather small addition but it adds some interesting texture to the sound and somewhat blends in with the guitar for a unique riff that immediately stands out. It also establishes a spiritual mood for the sound, as in my mind it stirs images of church bells ringing to draw the people – a very unique way of grabbing my attention.
The song’s spiritual feel is perhaps what is most obvious after hearing the song played repeatedly. There are many themes playing against each other throughout the song, and even in U2 and Bono’s comments about what the song is about there are several answers. The last two lines “Some pray for, others steal / Blessings are not just for those who kneel...luckily” are very clearly references to religion, which is another potential angle to look at the song. In my experience, the best songs are those that the listener can apply their own meaning to, or to “make it their own”. This song won a Grammy, and it’s easy to see why. It’s moving and uplifting without being specific.

Written in just over an hour the day before it was due. :beer:

Asher
27-06-2006, 06:01:41
Why the fuck would you read this thread, Greg? It's one of my threads with zarro replies and I'm supposedly on your ignore list.

A) Busted!
B) You have a crush on devilmunchkin
C) You were hoping I posted nudie pics of myself

JM^3
27-06-2006, 06:04:03
depending on the time, I read everything on the first page..

JM

Greg W
27-06-2006, 06:09:30
Originally posted by Asher
Why the fuck would you read this thread, Greg? It's one of my threads with zarro replies and I'm supposedly on your ignore list.

A) Busted!
B) You have a crush on devilmunchkin
C) You were hoping I posted nudie pics of myself Clicked on it before I realised it was yours - I often don't read who starts a thread first, and unfortunately it still shows you threads from people on your ignore list. And then I thought "what the hey, I'm bored".

Asher
27-06-2006, 06:10:48
And then you came back and clicked on my posts anyway. :beer:

mr_G
27-06-2006, 06:58:03
music forum!!!

Dyl Ulenspiegel
27-06-2006, 08:02:31
handbags duel forum!!!