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U2's return to roots includes spirituality

Posted on Saturday, December 04 @ 11:11:49 CET by Macphisto

(Lexington Herald-Leader) -- U2 fans of faith always have a big question about a new album from the Irish quartet: What will the spiritual content of the album be like?

The answer seemed to be there before the shrink-wrap was peeled off How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, which hit stores last week.

Track No. 11: Yahweh.

And indeed, the Atomic Bomb finale turned out to be the band's biggest statement of faith since 40, a reading of Psalm 40 that closed out the band's third release, War (1983).

Take this city

A city should be shining on a hill

Take this city

If it be your will

What no man can own,

no man can take

Take this heart

And make it break

Somewhere between a modern praise and worship song and a reading from the Presbyterian Church's Book of Confessions, Yahweh takes faith and puts a modern twist on it as only U2 frontman Bono can.

Take this shirt

Polyester white trash made in nowhere

Take this shirt

And make it clean

It's a familiar plea from Christians across the generations: God, take my sorry, sinful, selfish self and show me how I can serve your kingdom.

Serving the kingdom is as much about how you lead your life when God's name is not rolling off your lips, and in that thought, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb is filled with songs addressing life and how to live it.

Vertigo, the band's most ripping, infectious track since Desire in 1988, is basically a song about temptation, about being faced with things "I wish I didn't know," and being pulled back by "something I can feel."

Your love is teaching me how,

how to kneel

That's Atomic Bomb's first single, and for listeners of faith, it's easy to understandwho Bono is talking about as we slash at our air guitars.

Maybe we're reading some things into it. Songwriting is an abstract art form open to interpretation. But Bomb is loaded with equally affirming songs such as the commitment ballad A Man and a Woman, the threadbare soul of One Step Closer and the empathetic Sometimes You Can't Make it On Your Own, which was written for Bono's late father and is the band's most moving track since Achtung Baby's One in 1991.

Notice that's the third song compared to a U2 classic, which should give you an idea where this disc ranks in the grand scheme of the band's catalogue: right up there with War, The Joshua Tree (1987) and Achtung Baby (1991).

Of course, one thing that's often put U2, and specifically Bono, at odds with Christians and Americans is his criticism of the mainstream church and the U.S. government.

That's here, quite brilliantly, in Crumbs From Your Table, a song about the global disparity of wealth and misguided relief efforts.

You speak of signs and wonders

But I need something other

I would believe

if I was able

But I'm waiting on the crumbs from your table

Some call it anti-church, anti-state. Over here, we like "tough love" for a sure-to-be-discussed track.

To put it in perspective, Bono has expressed admiration for American churches' response to his call for support in combating the African AIDS crisis, including contemporary Christian artists such as Michael W. Smith and Jars of Clay. And once an outspoken Reagan-basher, he was on Fox News' O'Reilly Factor during the Republican convention saying he was no longer into partisan politics. He did lament that AIDS in Africa was not an issue for either party during the presidential election, and he would clearly like even more support from the church.

The lyrics of Atomic Bomb offer that challenge.

It's no surprise, because while U2 has been giving us some of the greatest rock 'n' roll of the past quarter century, it's also been challenging its fans in words and deeds to examine their lives, even their faith, to see how they can make the world a better place.

Recently, U2 has seemed more willing to put that squarely in the context of faith.

Early U2 efforts such as October (1981) and War are loaded with blatant Christian lyrics -- the praise of Gloria, the quotation of Isaiah in Drowning Man -- but then the spiritual content became a bit more oblique as the band's star rose and it sometimes wrestled with being identified as a Christian band, being yoked with a church it often felt at odds with.

Then, the big comeback in 2000, All That You Can't Leave Behind, came out with lyrics like:

Jesus, could you take the time

To throw a drowning man a line

Peace on Earth

Tell the ones who hear no sound

Whose sons are living in the ground

Peace on Earth

As U2 ages, the band seems more confident that people will understand what it's talking about, and Bono's lyrical voice has never been clearer.

Many people have joined U2's efforts to combat poverty and hunger around the world. But they've been drawn to that through the band's music, and in this new album the music and the message are woven together beautifully.

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