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Verse Chorus Verse: U2 – “Miracle Drug”

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What is the difference between revisionist history and changing your mind?  I thought How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb was a great album when it was first released and maintained that for months after its release.  A year later, it was no longer a great album to my ears.

My wife and I wore this record out on a trip from Huntsville, AL to Leesville, LA to visit friends at Thanksgiving.  I think that will always be the memory evoked by the songs that make up Bomb — by the way, Bono, probably never a good idea to put the word "bomb" in one of your titles.  These songs were the soundtrack of that trip.  It was a fun trip, a good trip, and it pleases me that from time to time those memories will awaken.  The problem is there aren't a lot of songs I still want to listen to from this record in order for those memories to emerge from their slumber in the recesses of my mind.  "Miracle Drug" is one of them.

Let's dispense with the worst bit of this song first.  "Freedom has the scent of a top of a newborn baby's head" might be the single worst lyric in the history of humankind, and Bono will do that shit to you every time.  He did it a couple times on this record.  He did it once or twice on the nearly perfect All That You Can't Leave Behind.  He loves doing it.  He loves to say something stupid in the middle of a song (or more likely at the very end of the song) just to be stubborn and annoying.  Someone should cockpunch him for that line.

Once you get past that, you're left with an amazing song.  Bono has told the story behind the song and if you want to go look it up, it's out there.  I'm less interested in that and more interested in some of the great lines sprinkled throughout.  Prior to the offending line, he describes wanting to know another person so well you can see the way thoughts form in their head and knowing the things they say only to themselves. 

The music of "Miracle Drug" is vintage U2 and it would be a paint-by-numbers U2 song except for two things.  The Edge plays a "guitar solo" that builds a tension that reaches his peak and is released when he sings a brief lead vocal in the bridge.  The Edge is the principle backing vocalist on U2 songs but rarely steps out front.  Everything is perfectly pleasant and solid until he breaks in, and then we have liftoff:

Beneath the noise
Below the din
I hear your voice
it's whispering
in science and in medicine
I was a stranger
you took me in

"Miracle Drug" isn't their best song and Bomb is far from their best album, but that moment ranks among my favorite in the band's history.

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About Josh Hathaway

  • http://pwinn.tumblr.com/ Phillip Winn

    You know I can’t let a U2 conversation go by without comment, right?

    We’ve already talked about how Bono is often talking about spiritual issues, unnoticed be those not looking or recognizing key phrases, so I won’t belabor the point here, except to say that I think this is *mostly* a song to Ali, but some parts, including the part you quote as “liftoff,” aren’t.

    Anyway, I happen to like the “freedom has a scent” line, but I know what you mean about clunkers. I wouldn’t call *that* line a clunker, but there’ve been some doozies lately.

    For me, this song epitomizes what I see as a maturing process in Bono’s lyrics. We’ve gone from wild horses to declarations of marital intimacy, and it’s… interesting.

  • http://www.confessionsofafanboy.com Josh Hathaway

    Actually, the song is literally about miracle medicine and someone Bono knew when they were kids called Christopher Nolan, not about Ali. Now we both know — and you are far deeper in the U2-niverse than I am. You and 11 should talk — Bono writes songs that have more than one meaning, so maybe it’s dual purpose here.

    Bono throws in a bad line in so many great songs, like he can’t help himself. The “freedom” line is one of his biggest clunkers. Kills me.