I always find it funny when fans of U2 praise the band’s songwriting skills. Why? Well, for every cogent tune enriched by engaging metaphors in the group’s oeuvre, you’ll find a score of others filled with nigh-impenetrable verbiage, all murky and vague. Abstruseness maketh not for great songwriting. Still, the fanboys have a point: Even in its bad songs, U2 has a way with evocative language. Consider the title track off of the band’s fourth album, The Unforgettable Fire.
The song’s title allegedly comes from an art exhibit about the Hiroshima bombing that the Irish quintet saw while on a 1983 tour in Japan, although you couldn’t tell from the lyrics themselves. Dreamy synthesizer riffs, jangling guitar harmonics, and breathy background vocals buoy moody verses:
Carnival.While Bono and the boys may have some idea as to what they’re trying to communicate with these vivid lines, I’m completely clueless. Unless an author somehow explains his private symbolism, it remains exactly that—private. Still, “The Unforgettable Fire” gives my imagination a pleasing prod, its verses conjuring up images of wild revels during some debauched, desert-bound Mardi Gras, a kind of Nightmare Alley as penned by Neil Gaiman. Inspiration doesn’t necessarily require correct interpretation.
The wheels fly and the colors spin
Red wine that punctures the skin,
Face to face in a dry and waterless place.