I recently met a young man at the college I attend who knew next to nothing about U2. When one of my T-shirts sparked a conversation one night, he asked me for a good place to start with the band–a “jumping-on point.” Well, after giving it much thought, I decided that my new friend is going to get a list of the standout tracks from each album. Since I recently completed my series of articles covering War, Zooropa, and Rattle and Hum, I thought that for the next few weeks, we could talk about some of those standout tracks–the ones that i haven’t already covered, anyway. I’m starting off that new campaign today with “Wire,” from The Unforgettable Fire.
It probably won’t come as any surprise to many of those who are reading when I say that The Edge became well-known through his use of an echo effect on his guitar parts. “Wire” is a perfect example of this effect put to good use. Years ago, I watched a video on YouTube where a gentleman played the guitar riff from “Wire” without the echo, and it really opened my eyes to the genius of The Edge. (Incidentally, I searched for that video today to share it with you in this column, but I couldn’t find it.) It sounds like Edge’s fingers are flying across that guitar, but in reality, he is only playing a handful of notes and then letting them repeat. It’s a neat trick, and one that Edge used a lot in the early days, unless I’m way off base. It saves the guitarist from having to play a lot of notes super-fast, but it still requires a high degree of skill because timing is everything. If Edge slips and plays something too slow or too fast, the whole effect will be ruined.
Other than that well-known guitar riff, “Wire” also contains an explosive drum track from Larry and a propulsive bass-track from Adam. Then, of course, we’ve got Bono. The singer is almost frenzied in his vocal delivery in this song. Like most of U2’s music, it’s not any one element that truly stands out, but the combination of the four men doing what they do best that turns the effort into something truly special. In this case, what sets “Wire” apart is that sense of speed, the feeling that the whole thing is rushing forward. The listener almost feels as though they’re trapped on a runaway tractor trailer truck, careening down the highway at top speed.
Lyrically, the first part of “Wire” almost sounds as though it could be about a murder. With references to “the longest sleep,” and “let(ting) it go,” I think that Bono is definitely describing something hurtful here. Perhaps it is an emotional crime being detailed here…maybe he has hurt someone close to him. Whatever the case…if Bono is contrite at the song’s start, by the end of the song, he has gotten past those feelings of remorse. “Get off my back,” he exclaims, “here is the rope, now swing on it.” I always interpreted that closing line to mean that he was giving someone an opportunity, perhaps for escape, and that it was up to the other person to take advantage of it. What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts on this dynamic song.