Come this time of year, and particuarly given the Scottish weather, i guess a kind of melancholy seeps in.
And there’s all kinds of music that’s suitable for that, but the album I’ve been playing most over the last few days is U2’s October. In many ways it’s one of the forgotten gems of their catalogue -which now tsretches back thirty years. It’s not the debut, the commercial breakthrough album, the drastic change of direction album, the hello we are now the biggest band in the world album, the greatest album in their catalogue…or so on. When the first U2 best of appeared in 1998, there was only one track that appeared – ‘October’ played at the end of the best of U2 1980-1990 if you left ‘All I Want Is You’ to play.
U2 appeared at around the same time as Simple Minds and Echo and the Bunnymen. All three who produced great records (and some rubbish), often got bracketed together as bands who’d come out of the post-punk era, and both U2 and the Minds were never seen as being as experimental (or perhaps as cool) as the Bunnymen. And the Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch’s famous lips would no doubt turn into a snarl at someone still bracketing his band together with those two all these decdes later.
U2 actually made it onto Top Of the Pops with ‘Fire’ in 1981, which reached the dizzying heights of no.35 in the UK, although it reached no.4 in Ireland. Is this a classic TOTP moment? Well…perhaps in retrospect…
The band were in the midst of a spiritual crisis; all bar bassist Adam Clayton were members of a religious sect called Shalom and nearly called it a day, before deciding to leave Shalom instead. Certainly themes of Christianity and spirituality run through much of U2’s work but no more than on this album, and very much through the two singles ‘Fire’ and ‘Gloria,’ the latter must rank as one of the few singles to have brought latin into the charts (no.55 in the UK, no.10 in Ireland)
But it’s some of the other tracks that show just how U2 could and would experiment. The Uilleann pipes were played by Vincent Kilduff on ‘Tomorrow’, a song that deals with Bono’s mother’s death in 1974, which had as profound effect on him musically, spiritually and lyrically as John Lennon dealing with the sense of abandonment by his mother Julia or Madonna’s loss to her mother of cancer.
‘There’s a black car at the side of the road, don’t go to the door don’t go to the door,’ sings Bono. If you don’t believe that U2 have the ability to move you then listen to this track at least. ‘Who heals the wounds? Who heals the scars? Open the door, open the door.’
And the title track, less than two and a half minutes long, just The Edge on piano and Bono singing. Somewhere between a lullaby, a lament and a nursery rhyme: ‘October, and the streets are stripped bare of all they wear -what do I care? October and kingdoms rise and kingdoms fall -but you go on…and on…’
I can’t speak for whether this album has the same resonance for someone living in the southern hemisphere -I’m inlined to think that spring there has the same resonance of rebirth that we have in the northern hemisphere. But the terrible beauty of the autum at the other end of the Celtic fringe, of this album, resonates in the weather nearly thirty years later.
U2 -‘Tomorrow.’ mp3
U2 -‘October.’ mp3