While this blog has its origins in promoting our U2 book, I'm pleased to present today part of a different one. Here's a snippet from the section on "One" in the forthcoming book Achtung Baby: Meditations on Love in the Shadow of the Fall by Stephen Catanzarite. It's delightful to see extended musical as well as lyrical analysis (and I've had to cut several paragraphs from each for length here.)
"One" begins gently. In contrast to the ballyhoo and heavily processed sounds of the previous two songs, it is austere, even raw. You can almost smell the wood and feel the steel of the instruments, nearly taste the grit of a long day—or perhaps an even longer night—in the singer’s voice. This is a love song that reaches beyond romance, a kind of postmodern blues ballad that rises swiftly and powerfully above the banal.
Melancholia is in the song’s DNA, a certain darkness that is built right in to its chord structure. It is written in the key of C, a key so familiar to Western ears that it can quickly dissolve into musical treacle. A kind of tension in the arrangement of "One" never allows that. Nothing says "bittersweet" quite like a solid A-minor chord on which the song begins and to which it frequently returns...
The verses and choruses are not as obviously repetitive or distinct from each other as is typical of a pop song. Two main chord progressions cycle into and out of each other throughout the song, and all the other elements work around them. This structure, combined with the absence of a sustained lyrical hook, prevents the song from ever turning into an anthem. At its heart "One" is an elegy.
* * *
Lyrically, "One" is a conversation. It is the kind of conversation lovers often avoid having, those that can quickly overwhelm the peace and tranquility of even the most stable of households. Though its title suggests unity, the lyrics speak of difference. One of the many consequences of the Fall is the disintegration of our natural unity. We are at enmity with God, with each other, and with ourselves. In a Fallen world, love is not cheap, it does not come easy. Consider what the Bible has to say about love, in the words of the Apostle Paul:
"Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things."
Try not to let the familiarity of those words get in the way of what they have to say. These are not the romantic couplets of a greeting card. These words, like love itself, present us with a challenge. They call on us to reach beyond ourselves, beyond our selfishness, to rise above our fears, and to overcome our weakness. Not just for our sake, but for the sake of others. "One" boldly confesses that it is practically impossible to live up to that challenge. Yes, love is patient and kind, but we are jealous, arrogant, and rude. Even in adversity love truly does endure, but we want everything to go our way—and we bitch and moan the minute that does not happen. Like all good poetry, "One" shows rather than tells us how easy it is for the bitter to overcome the sweet.
The book is out next month and is available for preorder now.