If I am to be perfectly honest, today’s song, “When I Look at the World,” is one of my least-favorite that U2 has ever recorded. If I am listening to All That You Can’t Leave Behind all the way through, I don’t skip it, but I rarely, if ever, choose to listen to the song on its own. I don’t exactly hate the song, it’s just kind of …meh, which is so far below U2’s standard of excellence that the song really stands out. I heard in an interview with Edge that the song in its original arrangement was much rockier. I’d really love to hear that earlier incarnation of the song to see if it strikes my fancy any more than the album version, but I doubt that it will ever see any sort of a release.
If I break down the individual elements of “When I Look at the World,” it is hard to say why the song leaves me cold as much as it does. There’s a lilting rhythm guitar part that I find kind of pretty, a strong effort from Larry and Adam, and some truly inspirational sections of singing from Bono. Sounds like another U2 hit when I describe it like that, doesn’t it? Somehow, though, the parts fail to come together into a cohesive whole for me…they never gel properly. That’s OK, really…not every song has to be a home run. Honestly, if I LOVED every song that U2 had ever put out, it would mean that I wasn’t being objective about the band, but that I was merely following blindly, and no one wants that, not even the band members.
I read once that the lyrics of the song were about Bono comparing his world-view to that of the Pope, who seemed to think that the world was all hunky-dory as it was. Bono, on the other hand, thanks to his debt cancellation work around the turn of the century (when this song was written and recorded) saw the greed and apathy of his fellow man and it turned his stomach. I identify with that…while the church leaders sit in their ivory towers looking down at the world, “the rest of us choke.” I can actually get behind the message of the song, even though it isn’t my favorite piece of music.
Perhaps the members of U2 feel as ambivalent about “When I Look at the World” as I do, since it has never received a proper live performance. It was snippetted once, during a performance of “Bad” near the end of the Elevation Tour in 2001, and that’s the only time it has appeared during a U2 concert at all. Obviously, I’m not real broken up over the fact that it hasn’t been played live since it isn’t my favorite song, but what if the band decided to play the song in its earlier rock style? A performance of a real rarity like that might just make me like the song a little more than I do now.
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