One of my favorite things about The Joshua Tree era of U2’s career is the quantity and quality of unique B-sides. There were six songs that were released on that album’s various singles that weren’t available at that time on any other releases. That’s more than half an album’s worth of new music, and what’s more, it’s good music, too – not just some throw-away space-fillers, like the non-album tracks from so many other bands seem to be. We’ve already discussed some of these, such as “Spanish Eyes” and “Luminous Times (Hold On to Love)”, so today I wanted to pay tribute to another of these great songs, “Walk to the Water”.
“Walk to the Water” is somewhat unique in that most of the vocals in the song consist of spoken word verses by Bono. It’s true that the two choruses and the final verse are sung, more in the style of what one usually expects from the band’s normally ardent lead singer, but the first half of the song is entirely presented in an almost conversational tone. Otherwise, the musicality of the song is exactly what you’d probably expect from U2 at this stage of their career. There’s a heavy bass riff that drives the whole thing, a bunch of melodic, echoey guitar from Edge, and Larry bringing up the rear with a simple yet slippery drum track that flits around Adam’s bass part like tiny silver fish darting in and out of an inlet by the beach.
Lyrically, this is another one of those songs that I believe is a little bit about Bono’s romantic relationship with Ali, and a little bit about his relationship with Jesus Christ. There’s also an attempt by Bono here to tell a little bit of a story with some characters that he created. There’s the girl in the first lines who wore canvas shoes and a silver necklace that was given to her by her father, there’s the billboard artist who fancies himself a comedian, and then there’s the narrator himself, who wants to come into the presence of the woman he loves. He’s begging her to let him in, to let him love her, and finally to walk beside him. The spiritual aspect to this song, I believe, is a reference to the Biblical book of John, chapter four verse fourteen, which reads, “But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.“. In short, this is saying that whoever believes in Jesus as their personal savior, and takes what he is offering, will enjoy eternal live in heaven with their lord.
LIke most B-sides, “Walk to the Water” has never been performed live, and I don’t expect that it would appeal very much to the casual fans that seem to buy so many tickets to U2 concerts. It’s a very artistic piece, without much of a vocal melody for attendees to sing along with. It was simply an experiment by the band to try something a little different, without entirely abandoning what had worked for them in the past. I think that it’s uniqueness in U2’s catalog, however, makes it a very interesting piece, and one that I wouldn’t mind seeing the band perform at all.