This week, I’m continuing my series on U2’s Songs of Experience. I’m going to write articles on each of the songs from that album, but for the first few articles following the release of the album, I’m focusing on the songs that most impressed me on my first listen of U2’s newest release. I’ve covered “The Lights of Home” and “Love is Bigger Than Anything in its Way,” so today I’m writing about “The Showman (Little More Better).” This song is quite different from those other two songs that I mentioned above — where those songs are emotional and a little heavier than your standard pop radio fare, “The Showman (Little More Better)” is a fun little number that showcases the band embracing their poppier side. In fact, parts of the song remind me of a classic pop song, like something from the 1950’s, and I love that U2 aren’t afraid to follow the muse wherever it takes them, be it the slow and contemplative “13 (There is a Light),” something ultra-modern sounding like the Kygo remix of “You’re the Best Thing About Me,” or something that sounds like it could have come from an era long past like “The Showman (Little More Better).” Equally amazing to me is that U2 can write songs that obviously hearken back to pop’s hey-day, while still sounding up-to-date and contemporary.
The first thing that grabbed me in “The Showman (Little More Better)” was that chorus. What a hook! That thing could keep me singing along for days, and, in fact, “The Showman (Little More Better)” is the song from Songs of Experience that I most frequently find stuck in my head. The music on this song simply sparkles with pop appeal, from the acoustic guitar that starts the song out to the horns that form the bulk of the song’s instrumental middle eight. I kind of have a feeling that the song might not be very popular with the average member of U2’s fan base, who seems to prefer the songs with a lot of depth while they eschew songs like “Miami” and “Trip Through Your Wires.” Personally, I love a well-crafted pop song, even if it doesn’t attempt to change the world. Bono has been talking a lot lately about defiant joy, and I think that that concept is what “The Showman (Little More Better)” is all about. It sure never fails to make me smile, even while the world is going to hell around me.
I find the lyrics to “The Showman (Little More Better)” to be interesting, in that I’m not sure what to make of them. I know that the song is a letter directed at anyone who let’s themselves be caught in a singer’s spell, but when Bono sings “I lie for a living,” there’s a part of me that doesn’t know what to think. As a long time fan, I feel that I actually know Bono a little bit precisely because he is so honest in his lyrics. Maybe this song is a little bit of a smokescreen for the critics, in much the same way that ZooTV and The Fly character were attempts by the Bono and the rest of the band to distance themselves from their reputation of heart-on-their-sleeves earnestness of the 1980’s. I do like the idea that the fans “make it true when (they) sing along,” and I get what Bono is trying to say here — I just don’t like that he calls himself a liar, when I really don’t believe that he is one at all. Maybe I’m just naive.
I believe that “The Showman (Little More Better)” will be absolutely fantastic live on the upcoming tour. It would fit perfectly into an acoustic mini-set from the far end of the “E” stage, as Bono brings a fan up on stage to dance. The simplicity of the song that means it would lend itself well to an acoustic performance is precisely what makes it so special, to my ears. The four primary colors of rock ‘n’ roll — drums, bass, guitar, and voice — and a perfect hook. It just doesn’t get much better than that.