A few years ago, when U2 was in the middle of a program of remastering and re-releasing several of their early albums, I really got a kick out of the songs that were left-over from the from the sessions of the album in question. On several such tracks, the band took an existing musical track, from the 1983 sessions for War, for instance, added new lyrics (and other small touches, I imagine) to turn the unfinished work-in-progress into a completed song. These gave us a new look at what the band was thinking at the time of the original album, but filtered through a modern-day lens. One such piece was the song “Angels Too Tied to the Ground,” which combined a 1983 musical sensibility with some of Bono’s thoughts at looking back at that time in the band’s history.
I find the lyrical theme of surrender and the accompanying white flag, which was an important symbol for U2 on the War album and the tour that supported it, especially poignant and interesting. I think that 2009 era Bono did a nice job of channeling the thoughts of his 1983 counterpart, while providing a nice perspective from twenty-six years later. This song is a perfect example of the way U2 combined the political and the personal on War for an effect that would captivate audiences for decades to come. The truth that love and relationships can be just as messy a front as a literal battlefield , and that when you’re in the middle of a just such tumultuous time it feels just as immediate and important as the headlines of the day is an important facet of U2’s music–not just on War, but throughout their career.
At first, the music to “Angels Too Tied to the Ground” seems like a somewhat standard piano based mid-tempo pop-rock song, albeit one whose seeming cheerfulness belies the weight of its lyrics. That all changes in the chorus, however, as the urgency of the notes being played on piano grabs the listeners attention and refuses to let go until its passion is spent. There isn’t a lot of building up to this climax–we just go straight from the laid-back verse to the frenetic chorus–but it isn’t any less powerful for that lack
“Angels Too Tied to the Ground” has never been performed live, which isn’t really surprising at all if one thinks about it. Firstly, there wasn’t a tour supporting the remastered album’s release. Secondly, the song fits neatly into that mid-tempo area that U2 often disdain. Thirdly, the song wasn’t anything even approaching a hit for the band, so it is a relatively obscure piece of music. All of these add up to a song that will likely never be performed from stage — U2 really has no reason to play “Angels Too Tied to the Ground,” other than to satisfy fans like myself who want to hear live versions of every single song that the band has ever recorded, and even for me, this song is somewhat low on the list.