When I was maybe ten or eleven, I got my very first U2 tape: U2 – Live “Under a Blood Red Sky.” The album has a lot of sentimental meaning to my life – as U2 has since become one of my all time favorite bands. I’ve listened to the album probably several hundred, maybe even a thousand times. I think I know every note played, every lyric sang, and every word Bono says in between or even during the eight songs. My relationship with Under a Blood Red Sky makes the album prime fodder for a Retro Album Review. It is time I looked at the album through fresh eyes. Has it aged well? Should it only be listened to people like me? Read more, and we’ll see!
Track one: Gloria
Gloria is a great example of why so many Youth groups assumed U2 was / is a Christian band, as the song certainly does seem to be about surrendering to God (or the “Lord”). The chorus, a latin liturgical phrase, certainly boosts the point even further. Of course, Gloria is so much more than the lyrics. Gloria serves as a showcase of the entire band. All throughout the song, you hear some of the best guitar work on the album by The Edge. But just as you think The Edge is about to take over the song, we hear a bass solo by Adam Clayton. Finally, the last thirty seconds of the song, we hear all four members play their hardest, but yet they don’t compete with each other. They meld together seamlessly.
Track two: 11 O’Clock, Tick Tock
11 O’Clock, Tick Tock, has always seemed like one of the weakest songs on the album. Essentially 11 O’clock, Tick Tock paints a picture of a crowd of Goth kids from the late 70s – painted faces and all. While the song is a track I’m more likely to skip than listen, I do admire the picture we get through the lyrics. I do kind of feel as though U2 mocks the Goths as the Edge sings “Sad song, Sad song.”
Track three: I Will Follow
I Will Follow was the first “big” hit for U2. It is an amazingly personal song, written by Bono, for his deceased mom. I never quite got this until I started researching the album for this article. Since then it has become an incredibly personal song to me, as I lost my own mother less than a year ago.
For being a song about a lost parent, I Will Follow is actually quite energetic. However, I read said energy as an attempt to make said parent proud – to make something of oneself that they never dreamed possible. Having said that – the song has a slow section which emulates sadness. The bridge, “Your eyes, make a circle. I see it when I go in there. But it’s your eyes….” Still – the song jumps back into the energetic chorus – as if to say Bono is feeding on that sadness to motivate himself even more.
Track four: Party Girl
(Trash, Trampoline, and the) Party Girl is one of the oddest U2 songs ever. According to Rolling Stone, the song was never meant to be more than a throw away song. The lyrics feel thrown together. Yet still – there’s a deeper meaning. Perhaps this is me throwing out my objectivity, but somehow, Party Girl speaks of an empty pursuit, knowing that Trash, Trampoline, and the Party Girl all want something else. How? Because the speaker of this song has been in their place as well. The speaker even goes to say “I think I know what she/he/they/you wants.”
Track Five: Sunday Bloody Sunday
Sunday Bloody Sunday is an angry song, and rightfully so. SBS serves as a retaliation to violence. Bono introduces the track by shouting, “this song is not a rebel song, this song is Sunday, Bloody Sunday!” And then Mullen drums as though he’s a military drummer. Going past the inspirations of the song – including a massacre in the early 70s, the song is actually a song of peace. The song is calling for nonviolence despite the want and perhaps the need to react violently to injustices. There is so much to say about this song, honestly, I feel as I am not doing it justice in this small snippet. What I can say: this is one of U2’s most emotionally charged songs, and one of their most important songs.
Track Six: The Electric Co
The Electric Co seems like a random song – what does a “stupid Boy” have to do with an electric company? Absolutely nothing, and the song is anything but random. The song title is actually an abbreviation for electric convulsion therapy. U2 wrote the song after their friend tried to kill himself and was thus treated with said therapy. With this information – one can read most of the song from the point of view of a psychiatrist – specifically one who doesn’t really have the answers – a “quack,” if you will. Perhaps musically, the song’s strongest feature is The Edge’s guitar. At the beginning, you get a sort of pacing rhythm – almost as though a search for order. Throughout the song, the rhythm still serves as a major factor, but every so often we hear a high pitched squeal – as though the guitar gets the electric convulsion therapy. That’s right. The guitar serves as a second voice in the song – the voice of the “stupid Boy.”
Track Seven: New Year’s Day
New Year’s Day serves as a Biblical allusion turned call for unity and peace. The lyrics use the Book of Revelation’s depiction of the new Heaven and, more specifically, the new Earth. The song then asks why we can’t have that now? Why can’t we have peace? The song was inspired by the Polish Solidarity Movement of the early 80s. Perhaps the most striking and memorable part of the song: the piano part drapes against Adam Clayton’s bass part. While the Piano part seems high and complex, the bass part is very low and almost banal. Yet the two parts meld together so well – as if they’re saying opposites can coexist.
Track Eight: 40
40 is a modification of Psalms 40. It is a simple song, and serves as a bookend – almost a surrender to God, peace, love, and goodness despite the strife of this world described throughout the album. Still – 40 is an impatient song. 40 begs the question,” How long will I have to sing this new Song?” 40 longs for “New Years day,” while saying it will be at peace with the “higher plan.” Musically, 40 is calming and even a little relaxing. Slow drums – mellow bass lines, and a muted, toned down, electric guitar. 40 seems chillingly beautiful at the end – after the band has left the stage and the audience is still singing the chorus. One almost feels an allusion to the “cloud of witnesses” from Hebrews 12:1.
Does “Under a Blood Red Sky” hold up?
Musically, “Under a Blood Red Sky” is so hard to view objectively. So many iconic songs. Having said that – if U2 released Under a Blood Red Sky today, I have the feeling only loyal fans of U2 would like this album. In comparison to say, Songs of Experience, the lyrics and instrumentation are quite different. U2’s style has changed, and is certainly more polished. This is not a bad thing – it’s just a natural thing to happen after 35 years.
Still, the themes of “Under a Blood Red Sky” hold up well. Cries for peace and love and harmony. Cries against injustice. We even find the themes of Party Girl and 11 O’clock, Tick Tock have not gone out of fashion; lost souls are still looking for something more than what they have. Of course, the most prophetic line of the album comes from Sunday Bloody Sunday. “When fact is fiction, and TV reality,” takes on a new meaning in the age of “fake news” and a Reality TV White House.
All things considered, U2 Live “Under a Blood Red Sky” is still worth a listen.