Saturday, September 13, 2014

U2 Can Recreate

The thing about music is that you can always describe it to someone, but they can never listen to it through your ears. Sure, we have ways of comparing bands, singers, styles, genres, tones, textures, and to some extent they help a listener know what to expect. Yet it will always be possible for two people to hear the exact same song/piece and come away with two completely different reactions.

That's one of the characteristics of music I treasure most. You cannot tell me whether a song will stir something inside me or not. I won't know until I listen to it.

A few days ago, U2 released their new album, Songs of Innocence, without a buildup preceding it. The price for 11 songs and a booklet was a few minutes of my time. Yet I valued it because reviewers hadn't gotten their hands on it yet. They hadn't had time to judge whether the melodies were ready for pop radio or if the lyrics measured up to whatever standards they defined. Bono's vocals and The Edge's guitar riffs and hooks floating from my car speakers were fresh, untapped and therefore all the more pure.

That was more than enough for me to be excited about listening to a new CD from a band I've found to be more thought provoking than most other musicians I've listened to. When it comes to U2 the music takes a backseat to the lyrics. Sure, I get the fact that they've got a long history and a vocalist with a very distinctive voice and outspoken political views. But as far as I'm concerned if there isn't some profundity or beauty in the lyrics, regardless of how popular the band is, the music's hardly ever going to do it for me.

See there's something magical about the combination of music and lyric. When it's done right it just goes together. When I say the words "It's a beautiful day" to someone on the street the melody will automatically accompany the words in my head. Likely, it'll do the same to the passerby. You don't need a scientist to tell you it's easier to memorize something if it's part of a melody.

But then there's the combination of words into musical phrases you've never heard before. I'm naturally predisposed to these sort of lyrics. I want phrases that are going to challenge my thinking, cause me to ask questions, or produce a new thought in my head. That's exactly what happened when I listened to Songs of Innocence for the first time. The following lyrics grabbed my attention:
You've got a face not spoiled by beauty...
 "Wait, what? Can beauty spoil something? Let me listen to that again."

And an image came into my head. It was an image I didn't consciously put there. Once it was there though, it instantly gave deeper meaning to the song. It was like there was a conversation between the song and my consciousness, both influencing the other.

Of course there's no way Bono would know what image his lyrics would evoke in my mind. In my opinion, that fact alone points directly to a Creator more creative than the Irish singer. My guess is Bono would agree.

One of the most beautiful gifts we've been given is the ability to create. It's shown in Mozart's music, Tolstoy's masterpieces and yes, even in some rock music these days. In turn, art of all kinds allows the listener, observer and consumer to participate in creation. We get the chance to recreate through interacting with art.

U2's latest isn't the only collection of songs that has provoked me to think deeply about family, faith or culture. But it's the latest. And because I consciously interacted with at least four of the songs on Innocence, I've decided to use this space to convey how the music has affected me.

I'm not sure exactly what that's going to look like. But I'm excited to get started. Perhaps you'd like to do the same sort of thing with the same or a different album or artist. If so, mention it in the comments. Let's recreate!

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