Title: A Sort of Homecoming
Album: The Unforgettable Fire
It's hard to imagine what U2 would have become without Brian Eno. By 1983, they had truly established themselves as the next big arena rock band, creating a sound that was militant, anthemic, socially conscious. They were a great live band and they managed to capture the experience quite well on the short-but-sweet live LP Under a Blood Red Sky. To their credit (and probably to the dissatisfaction of less-adventurous fans), they chose not to release a sequel to War but intead enlisted a reluctant Brian Eno and his engineer Daniel Lanois to make The Unforgettable Fire.
There are hits on The Unforgettable Fire, most notably "Pride (In the Name of Love)" but if you were old enough to tear the shrink wrap off an LP in 1984, the first track you heard was "A Sort of Homecoming." I remember being a little confused by this track, which at times sounds like two stereos playing two different records simultaneously. There's a pop song in there somewhere, but it's buried under an impressionistic haze of lush guitars and is constantly being interrupted by Larry Mullen's I'm-testing-out-this-new-drum-kit syncopation. Each member of the band has a defined role, seemingly to find a new and interesting way to obscure the focus of the song. Adam Clayton's bass line seems to oscillate between playing the tonic as a pedal tone and avoiding it altogether. In fact, we don't really get a strong sense of the tonal center until the very end (at 5:03) when he plays a descending line that clearly delineates the key. The fact that this occurs just as Bono is singing the lines "I am coming home" makes it all the more brilliant.
Speaking of Bono, I think it's easy to forget just how versatile a singer he is, especially if your main remembrances of U2 are of their mediocre venture into Americana, Rattle and Hum. In this track, where Eno has created a sense of sonic stasis, it's Bono who powerfully and gracefully moves the tune forward. His reedy tenor shines through the cloudy mix, at times growling, shouting, whispering, chanting. He slips in and out of his full voice, head voice and falsetto with convincing ease and the result is a triumph steps beyond his previous work.
With "A Sort of Homecoming," U2 abandons the modern militant warfare of their previous record for something more tribal and organic.