U2101 – Neon Lights

U2 has informed my musical tastes in many other ways than simply being my favorite band…that is to say that I listen to lots of music other than just U2 because of U2. A good example is the way I fell in love with Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking Ball album above and beyond Larry’s amazing drumming on that record, or the way the band members’ interest in The Clash made me listen to that band with fresh ears after I had already written them off. A third example, and the one that is the most germane to today’s song, is Kraftwerk. I knew who Kraftwerk was before the first time I heard Bono drop their name, but to be honest, the members of U2’s attraction to Kraftwerk made me even more interested in those German trend-setters. I mean, really, without Kraftwerk, would the industrial rock of the 90s have even been a thing? There, almost definitely, would not have been an Achtung Baby from U2 in 1991–just let that thought sit for a moment– and there positively would not have been the mild and refreshing cover of “Neon Lights” on the B-side of “Vertigo” in 2004. I always think of this cover around this time of year, as the weather starts changing and cooling down because there is something about those shimmering, luminescent neon lights that look best in the autumn. The gentle keyboards and digital effects in U2’s version of the song make me imagine my hometown of Cincinnati, with the city lights reflecting off of the Ohio River. Where Kraftwerk’s version feels very European, U2’s cover is almost provincial, it feels cozy and homey in a way that most big cities never manage to. Like Cincinnati, the song exists at the perfect balancing point between a small town and a big city. I especially love the soft tinkling bells in U2’s cover of this song.

U2’s cover of “Neon Lights” clocks in at over 4 minutes, so it is certainly long enough to get a full range of feelings and emotions across, but yet the song just repeats the same four lines over and over again. I tend to think of the song as a kind of afterthought to “City of Blinding Lights.” Now that I think of that, I think that it would be supremely cool if, the next time “City of Blinding Lights” gets performed, the band segues into “Neon Lights” at the end. There would be something really interesting if, after the rush and the excitement of “City of Blinding Lights” the band performed their ultra-chill version of “Neon Lights” for a minute or two. Just enough to get the idea of the song out there, as a bridge between “City of Blinding Lights” and something else. I think that it would be absolutely magical. “Neon Lights” was snippeted on several dates of the Pop*Mart Tour, as part of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” and that was pretty magical in and of itself., just like those titular neon lights at the fall of night.

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Ever since I realized as a kid, while poring over the liner notes of the Bob Marley - Songs of Freedom boxed set, that writing about music was a viable career choice, one of my greatest desires has been to write about U2. The band has been a major part of my life for as long as I can remember, and I'm thrilled to have this opportunity to contribute a little something to the fantastic online community that's been built around the band.

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