It’s easy to hate on U2. Even leaving aside their recent crash-landing into everyone’s iTunes library, it seems Bono and Co. have been screaming at the top of their lungs for us to deem them still relevant since the turn of the century. Because of all this, there are now more than a few haters who have taken it upon themselves to nitpick the band’s catalog and loose a wave of vitriol at its worst offenders. We’re not gonna lie: U2 have some awful songs. Some read ugly upon first listen, and then only get worse upon repeat encounters. But there are many others that still found their way into our hearts despite the fact that they’re almost universally despised, even by the group’s fan base.
To mark the band’s monumental eight-night residency at Madison Square Garden, which kicks off July 18, we’ve laid it all bare and revealed the U2 songs that are our guiltiest pleasures. From “Vertigo” to, yes, “4th of July,” check out our selections below.
One might not think it a guilty pleasure to like a song that won several Grammys and went gold in the U.S. But to many, “Vertigo” represents everything that’s wrong with modern-day U2: bloated pomposity, forced eclecticism, and a cheesy take on hard rock. Say what you will: In an era of diminishing rock returns, this song, despite soundtracking an iPod commercial, straight-up rocks. And sure, his “Uno! Dos! Tres! Catorce!” count-off is cringeworthy, but when Bono lays into “I can feeeel!” on the hook, he proves his inimitable yelp is still in fine form.
If you’ve caught U2 in concert since 2001, then you’ve seen them perform this massive, charting smash off 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind. “Beautiful Day” was a gigantic commercial success and, in many ways, helped re-energize the band’s then-waning fanbase. Still, the song has garnered its share of haters, largely because it’s nothing if not one gigantic hug from Bono to humanity. We’re more than willing to look past the schmaltz and embrace this song for its fist-to-the-heavens charms. And plus, it sounds more like early U2 material than pretty much anything they’ve released in the past fifteen years. So there’s that.
“The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)”
It cannot be overstated just how vicious the blowback was toward U2 after their latest album, Songs of Innocence, suddenly appeared in every iTunes user’s library last fall. To that end, for many, this blazing, chant-heavy lead single was the first they heard of it. We’d like to believe the track would have gained a much more amenable audience if not for the album’s botched delivery. Instead, the pervasive gloom hanging over the single had it that Mr. Ramone would have been ashamed to be associated with it. We think differently: “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)” is not only the best song on U2’s new album — it’s also a slashing and menacing gem of a track in its own right.
“No Line on the Horizon”
Depending which side of the fence you’re on, U2’s perpetual restlessness is either their biggest asset or their most grievous flaw. It’s their need for constant experimentation that’s led many naysayers to dismiss the band’s 2009 album, No Line on the Horizon, as yet another of their reaches to the back row of the stadium. Sure, as a whole, the album is manifestly too magnificent and grand. But the Edge’s seesaw guitar lines and Adam Clayton’s pulsating bass throb — most importantly in the case of the LP’s underrated title track — help guide these test-tube trials down undeniably intriguing rabbit holes.
“City of Blinding Lights”
Sometimes it feels as if U2 are trying far too hard to justify their oft-cited title of Biggest Band in the World. In many ways, the entirety of their 2004 album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, fit this mold. But perhaps no track better exemplifies this than “City of Blinding Lights,” a giddy, triumphant climax to the LP. “I’m getting ready to leave the ground,” Bono sings with childlike glee, and while the song feels tailor-made for an American Airlines commercial, its unabashed streak of sheer happiness is impossible to resist.
“4th of July”
Listening to a U2 album is often quite the emotional gut-shot. Which is why it’s somewhat baffling that popular consensus lists the ambient instrumental “4th of July,” off 1984’s The Unforgettable Fire, as one of the most reviled of U2 songs. Conceived thanks to producer Brian Eno recording both Adam Clayton’s and the Edge’s in-studio noodling, the lead-in for the epic “Bad” is a soothing, if deranged, meditation. We’ll go to bat any day for this U2 oddity.
There are more than a few things wrong with “Miami,” the Pop track that reduces South Beach to “print shirts and Southern accents/Cigars and big hair.” But take away the borderline-offensive lyrics and uncover a trip-hop-infused, Radiohead-toasting highway interchange that meanders into previously undiscovered murky territory. Plus, it can’t be stated enough how underrated Adam Clayton’s bass prowess is, and, man, does dude shine on this cut.
While there was a generally positive critical reaction to this monstrous All You Can’t Leave Behind single, U2’s fan base has taken a particular disliking to this song. Perhaps the fact that it was linked to the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider film and was given one of the most expensive music video treatments in history didn’t help sell its artistic merits. Nonetheless, there’s a surefire hip-hop inflection to the track, again largely courtesy of Clayton, again showcasing U2’s willingness to wander into uncharted territory. What’s more, the band was able to give this song a nice live changeup: It’s often played without drums and bass for the first verse and chorus before the rest of the band joins in.
“Window in the Skies”
In recent years, when a band or artist teams up with superproducer Rick Rubin, the results are typically either brilliant or downright rough. When the Zen master linked up with U2 in 2006 at Abbey Road Studios, the resulting track, “Window in the Skies,” found on their compilation LP U218 Singles, made a massive splash — though primarily with Grammy voters. Fans let out a massive “mehhh,” and much of the reaction is due to the song having no true distinguishable aesthetic to it. But just because something’s familiar doesn’t make it undesirable: “Window in the Skies” is every U2 ballad rolled into one and is all the better for it. Why mess with a good thing?
“Get On Your Boots”
Criticism came fast and furious when U2 unveiled this electro-influenced pop banger as the lead single from 2009’s No Line on the Horizon. And while it’s understandable how many could be turned off by the track’s seeming appropriation of current radio trends — nothing is worse than old dudes trying to seem cool — at its core, “Get On Your Boots” is a wonderful tongue-in-cheek take on an impatient society. “The future needs a big kiss,” Bono sings at the outset, and as U2 have long attempted to do, he and his Irish cohorts are here to help.
U2 play Madison Square Garden July 18–31.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 16, 2015