[Ed. note: This is the 50th in a "U2 Lists" series, where @U2 staffers pick a topic and share their personal rankings on something U2-related.]
Listening to music is such a personal experience, whether you're alone in your room with your headphones on or in a stadium full of thousands of like-minded fans. We all listen for different reasons: to get inspiration or to appease any number of moods; to dance, cry or pass the time while doing mundane things. We listen to hear a bit of ourselves or to get a better understanding of others.
The great thing about U2's music is that you can get every one of those things, sometimes all in the same song! I look forward to their new albums because I can't wait to hear how they'll choose to suck us in with each new song. Although there are elements that define U2's sound, there is enough variation that each album is different from the last, with new revelations to surprise and engage the listener.
In no particular order, these are the things I anticipate the most when a new U2 album is on the horizon.
1. Take me higher!
Not every U2 song has it, but lots of them do. It's what I call the "heartbreak crescendo," that moment we're waiting for, when the song has been building, building, and just when you need it the most, aaahhhh! Sweet release! A good example is the low, slow burn of "Kite," until Bono howls, "I'm a man, I'm not a child. A man who sees the shadow behind your eyes," and continues into the chorus. Or in "Breathe," after being pummeled by the rat-a-tat-of the verses, the last "Walk out, into the sunburst street. Sing your heart out! Sing my heart out! I found grace inside a sound, I found grace it’s all I found." Luciano Pavarotti gets to do the honors (and so beautifully!) with his part in "Miss Sarajevo." Maybe it's a patented formula, maybe it's magic, but whatever it is, I want more of it!
2. Shake it shake it shake it!
Am I the only one who misses the U2 of the '90s? Not only did they rock, they rolled! I've always enjoyed a bit of groove mixed into my rock stew, and U2's recipe was just the right blend of tangy guitars, smooth bass lines and zesty drumming. With a liberal sprinkling of Bono's newfound swagger and use of the word "baby," thrown in for good measure, it made for the perfect combo platter of industrial funk rock. New-to-U2 producer Danger Mouse has a vast knowledge of all types of music but seems to have a particular fondness for classic R & B, so more than anything else, I'm looking forward to hearing what he brings to the mix.
3. Sing your heart out!
Great melodies and great hooks make U2 concerts some of the loudest, liveliest karaoke parties in the world. Part of Bono's great skill as a songwriter is how he's able to build a song not just with the meaning of his words but with the sound of those words when they're sung out loud. The choruses are full of vowel sounds that are conducive to belting out, whether you sound like Bono or not. How many times have you heard "Pride (In The Name Of Love)" and been able to resist shouting, "In the naaaaame of love!" You can't. It’s physically impossible. No Line On The Horizon didn't have a song that was as soul-satisfying to sing as "Pride," "All Because Of You," or most of the songs on The Joshua Tree. I'd like to have some new songs to wail along with.
4. Like a firework, explode!
Some studio versions of U2's songs are naturally explosive (like "Gone"), but some don't show their true colors until they're set alight to detonate over an adoring crowd. What's going to be the next "Until The End of the World" or "Elevation"? "I Know I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight" was totally reconfigured for the concerts and it's that version I'd choose for NLOTH, complete with Larry's bongo playing. For years I've wanted U2 to tour their new songs before they release an album so that the more spirited live versions are recorded rather than the studio versions, which can sound flat in comparison. Can you imagine what that album would sound like?
5. Can you hear me when I sing?
Bono has said that he can't stand hearing himself on some of U2's earlier songs because he "sounds like a girl." I happen to like boys who sing like girls! He's in good company with the likes of Sting, Prince, Chris Martin and a myriad of other manly men who don't mind hanging out in the upper registers of their vocal range. I can understand his point -- you can hear how he struggled to reign in his "big" voice on songs like "October" and "40." With each new album release, there's been more control and a better understanding of pace, tone and delivery. He started as a teenage screamer but now has enough range to croon, seduce and break your heart, as well as get you on your feet to join his crusade. Like everyone else, I love Bono's stadium-filling voice, but I also love the softer, more vulnerable moments, like the way his voice cracks just a little in this part of "Ultraviolet (Light My Way)":
I remember when we could sleep on stones
Now we lie together in whispers and moans
When I was all messed up and I heard opera in my head
Your love was a light bulb hanging over my bed
It's been such a treat to hear Bono's voice change over the years that I can't wait to hear how he stretches himself this time around. Bono, embrace your inner girl!
© @U2/Maione, 2013.