One of the great unreleased tragedies of U2’s career is the score that Bono and Edge wrote for the 1990 stage production of A Clockwork Orange: 2004. I say that it’s a tragedy because the one small glimpse that the world at large was given into this musical adventure, a B-side from the 1991 single for “The Fly”, is absolutely mind-blowing. The song is titled “Alex Descends Into Hell For A Bottle Of Milk / Korova 1” and it is an unlikely mix of hip-hop, religious music, and industrial rock, with a grand yet dark and eerie mood. Alas, the score as a whole was disdained by the script-writer Anthony Burgess and the show was panned by critics, so it’s unlikely that we’ll ever get to hear the rest of this score as a general public release.
For those who have never read the book (or seen the popular movie by Stanley Kubrick), perhaps a small amount of explanation of the title is required. In the book, Korova is the name of a hellish bar that the main character and narrator of the book, Alex, retires to in moments of leisure. In the bar, Alex enjoys drinking milk which has been laced with drugs. It is my belief that this song was written to accompany the first scene of the book, which Alex and his gang already in the bar, hence the subtitle “Korova 1” – it is the first time we experience the bar. The lyrics to this song are all sung in Latin, and describe “that day of wrath”, referring to the violence that Alex and his gang get up to later that same night, followed by a reference to “the trumpets wondrous calls, sounding abroad”, before explicitly stating “He descends into Hell”.
The recording starts out with a droning keyboard and some backmasked noises before the listener’s attention is overtaken by some traditional (for U2), chiming guitar from Edge. A melodic keyboard riff comes in after a few moments, and then the singing starts. Instead of Bono’s voice, however, which one may be expecting as this song appeared on a U2 release, we are treated to a lovely boy soprano. A short melodic phrase is then played on a keyboard that almost sounds like a trumpet, and the listener begins to sense that something is building. After a few more lines of singing from the young man, we experience what is popularly known as a “drop”, or a point in the song where a switch in rhythm occurs. Hereafter, we hear a wicked buzzing guitar that sounds entirely unlike anything U2 had attempted up to this point in time, and a modern feeling, hip-hop inspired drum track. The track ends with some ominous sounding percussion. What precedes that ending, though, is a propulsive piece of music that takes us on a journey from U2’s past, circa the late eighties, to what at the time was their future, brought to fruition on Achtung Baby. “Alex Descends Into Hell…”‘s momentum is also meant to show the titular character going on a physical journey himself, into Korova, for his much-loved bottle of milk.