Thirty-five years ago this year, U2 released War, the record that turned them into stars, at least in the UK. Since we’ve finished up our series on Rattle & Hum, I thought that it would be appropriate to go over a few highlights from War, before moving on to Zooropa, which also celebrates an important anniversary in 2018.
The first thing I want to talk about with regards to “Seconds,” War’s second track, is how Larry’s drumming has changed a lot over the years. On U2’s first three or four records, his contribution to the overall sound of the band was more complex (I’m thinking of songs like “Like a Song” and “I Threw a Brick Through a Window”) but yet, even in that complexity, simpler than it is today. His drumming has become more musical, more expressive. For an example, listen to the simple opening drum beats of “Seconds.” It works, and it fits the song, which is kind of simple in its own right. I can’t imagine, though, Larry starting a song in the same way today. As I was listening to “Seconds” in preparation for this article, it struck me how much Larry has grown as a musician, and I thought that it was worth commenting on.
I said above that “Seconds” is sort of simple; there are no big complicated guitar solos, or even an inventive new sound like the ones that Edge has become known for. The song consists of some elementary acoustic strumming, a straightforward drum part and a bouncy, melodic bass part that, to my ears, is really the hook of the song…the catchy part that sticks in the listener’s head. There is also a pretty damn fine vocal melody and some unique harmonies between the verses that elevate the song above more standard fare and make it an unrecognized classic. Edge takes the first verse solo, and this song is the first time that I noticed how much like Bono the guitarist really sounds. That’s the reason their voices mesh so beautifully–they just sound a lot alike. Edge’s voice just has a bit more vibrato than Bono’s, and lacks that famous catch that made Bono one of the greatest rock vocalists ever.
“Seconds” is, thematically, all about the march of the human race toward atomic oblivion. “Push the button and pull the plug” sums it up nicely, I think, and makes the listener realize just how easy it would be for any number of world leaders to end everything that humanity has worked so hard to achieve. Honestly, it’s a fear that keeps me up at night, and “Seconds” expresses that fear perfectly.
“Seconds” was performed by U2 at about seventy percent of the shows on the War Tour, and nearly every show of the Unforgettable Fire Tour that followed, but not at all since then. I personally love Edge’s singing, so I would be thrilled if they were to bring “Seconds” back on the tour that starts next month. The theme of the song has never been more germane than it is now. I know that it’s a long shot, but I think it could be great.