Although it is listed as two tracks on the Boy album it originated from, most U2 fans consider “An Cat Dubh / Into the Heart” to be one song. Indeed, the issue is somewhat confused by the fact that depending on which pressing of Boy you’re listening to, the two separate tracks that make up this song have different run times, although the total length is always 8:14. It seems that even those closely involved with the band itself aren’t sure where one ends and the other begins. I think it’s better for all involved if we consider “An Cat Dubh” and “Into the Heart” as one song, so I’m writing about both of them today. They even fit together thematically, but we’ll get to that in a little bit.
“An Cat Dubh / Into the Heart” stands out as being a bit different from the rest of the Boy album that it’s from. Most of that album is youthful, energetic post-punk with high BPM’s (Beats-Per-Minute). “An Cat Dubh / Into the Heart” however, takes its time. While not exactly phlegmatic, the song feels a little bit plodding, at least at first. Of course, there is a big, dynamic guitar solo climax about halfway through, but much of the rest of the song is dominated by Adam’s slow-n-steady bass rhythm. The second half of the song starts out much quieter and more thoughtful, with delicate guitar and crystalline tinkling that sounds like a xylophone. It feels at first as if the band is drawing a deep breath after the peak of activity that closes the first half of the song. After a few minutes of this more subdued tone, the drums kick back in and the song continues as a mid-paced romp until its conclusion. I believe that this pacing of the instrumentation is deliberate and that it mirrors the story being told by the lyrics.
The lyrics to the first half of the song are all about a woman. Bono has introduced the song by commenting that beautiful things can also be dangerous, and it’s clear from the lyrics that he’s referencing a hazardous sexual relationship. We all have the capacity to be attracted to trouble. Whether its a romantic relationship with someone too mature and experienced for us or a dalliance with someone who’s simply no good, I think it’s something that most of us have been through. It seems that during a break in his relationship with Ali, Bono had a relationship with someone who turned out to be bad news for our favorite singer. I’m guessing that at first the sex was exciting – maybe the woman in question taught Bono some new tricks and knocked his socks off. That parallels the musical climax that comes about halfway through the song. That’s what the first half – the “An Cat Dubh” portion of the song – is about. Eventually, though, he realized that his spirit wasn’t being fed and so it was time to end the relationship. The quieter moments that follow Edge’s vital guitar solo represent Bono’s retreating into himself in introspection. The second half is all about Bono’s attempt to get back his innocence by returning to the heart of a child. Here, he’s looking for something that, for most of us, once lost can never be recovered. I hope that Bono had some success in this endeavor, but unless he decides to write another song about, I guess we’ll never know.
“An Cat Dubh / Into the Heart” was a regular part of U2’s setlists starting with the Boy Tour and up through the early part of the Unforgettable Fire Tour. After 1984, though, the song wouldn’t be played live again until 2005, as part of the Vertigo Tour. Frankly, I’m surprised that U2 didn’t play “An Cat Dubh / Into the Heart” as part of the Innocence+Experience Tour. It would have been perfect in one of the rotating spots toward the start of the show, and it would have been a great fit as the song is all about regaining innocence, a theme of that early part of the show. Perhaps we’ll get lucky and U2 will bring the song out of retirement for the (hopefully) upcoming third leg of the tour.
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