The Edge Turns 50 – U2’s Best Soul Song

The vitriol against U2 fascinates me. A recent article here in New Zealand about Bono being the biggest prat in music attracted pages and pages of comments, most of them agreeing. Here is arguably the most dominant band of the last 30 years, a musical outfit capable of rock, pop, soul, electronica, dance, rock ‘n’ roll, new-wave / post-punk and gospel, a band who have wowed critics and fans alike, the owners of the highest grossing concert tour of all time, one of the greatest philanthropic teams in music history and writers’ of some of the most Biblically-direct, inspiring and challenging lyrics ever set to melodies. And yet the vitriol.

Maybe it is human nature to backlash against phenomenons that are so big. I also suspect U2’s do-gooding in the world makes people subconsciously feel guilty at their own selfishness. Any whiff that the band might be arranging their finances in a clever manner customary for the extreme rich has brought passionate cries of “tax-evasion,” claims the band say are bordering on slander. But through it all, there must be plenty like me who unashamedly are fans.

I write all this today because the mad scientist of U2 is marking one of the more historic days in his life. David Evans, better known to the world as The Edge, is 50 today. One of the most unique guitarists in history, it is more his intelligence and his care for his craft rather than any Clapton-like virtuoisty that have made him achieve what he has. In interviews where he modestly explains the secrets to his sounds, it sometimes carries for me the disappointment of a magician revealing his tricks: really it was simple; there were only a few notes being played, but it sounded like a chorus; echo; distortion; playing strings rather than chords. Even if it seems simple, nobody else plays remotely like him. You know it’s The Edge, you know it’s U2.

This is a band whose songs mean something, even the ones you might think are throwaway bits of pop. Virtually all U2 songs contain Biblical references and titles like A Beautiful Day and Magnificent carry exponentially greater weight when you learn they’re not really about weather or a magnificent gal.

This week’s Song of the Week is a song some rock fans dismissed as being too pleasant on the ear as if that implies a certain effeminity. It must be a shame only identifying yourself as a rock fan and nothing else: so limiting and so ignorant. The song is infact U2’s (successful) attempt at a soul ballad, complete with a falsetto divergence from the main melody in the final stanza. This is straight out of the how-to manual for writing classic 60s / 70s soul and R&B and there is nothing wrong with that when you nail it as well as they did. A tribute to their late friend Michael Hutchence in the form of an almost angry love letter, Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of is one of my favourite songs about not giving up.

And that falsetto, well it’s not Bono, it is sung by the man who is 50 today. Happy birthday The Edge!

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