Author Topic: NLOTH themes  (Read 220 times)

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Offline laoghaire

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NLOTH themes
« on: September 30, 2018, 10:20:24 PM »
I wanted to create a new thread to discuss the overall themes of the album No Line on the Horizon. I'm nearly a decade late in listening to it but it has intrigued me so much I wanted to think it through in writing and get other thoughts.

I've identified quite a few themes throughout the album and I can't possibly deal with all in one post, so I'll just start with one. Note: I haven't dug into GOYB or SUC so my analysis is sorely lacking there.

GRACE IN A SOUND / A JOYFUL NOISE
None of the themes I've noticed are limited to NLOTH but they certainly seem strongly associated with it. That Bono has found grace inside a sound is hardly surprising; the band saved him and gave him an outlet and a purpose. And he has used his voice to give thanks to God.

"Make a joyful noise unto the Lord"
"O Lord, loosen my lips that I may shew forth thy praise"
These Psalms and others have been referenced before, notably in October (Gloria and With a Shout, for example). But in NLOTH, the theme permeates the whole album.

I've noticed some themes exist not merely in the lyrics but in the melodies themselves, or in the structure of songs, the chronology of the album, and even in the layers of vocals. This theme is the most fundamental in the sense that the album as a whole is a joyful noise unto the Lord, giving thanks to the grace inside a sound.

In the title track, the importance of sound is established right away, as "you can hear the universe  in her sea shells." A sound leads to the infinite here.

In Magnificent (which seems to be sung as Bono and not a character), Bono dedicates his very voice to the Creator:

I was born
I was born to sing for you
I didn't have a choice
But to lift you up
And sing whatever song you wanted me to
I give you back my voice
From the womb, my first cry
It was a joyful noise!

And then he sings that joyful noise. The ohs in this album become more meaningful in this context, including the ohs in the title track, in Fez, at the end of Moment of Surrender, and more.

In Unknown Caller, God instructs the character to "shout it out," and later reiterates an invitation to "shout for joy if you get the chance." Ironically he also instructs him to "hear me, cease to speak that I might speak, shush now." This is followed, amusingly, by the character's overwhelmed "ohs."

In I'll Go Crazy if I Don't Go Crazy Tonight, we're told that "the sweetest melody is the one we haven't heard," a reminder to listen to our youth as they bring new ideas.

Now, this song I haven't figured out yet. The title lyric and other parts made me initially assume this was another addiction song. But listen to the song. It's a joy song. So I don't know what going crazy means if it's not a drug bender.  All I know is that I'm hearing a joyful noise.

Bono or his character (and this part at least seems like Bono) sings joyfully, "it's not a hill, it's a mountain as you start out the climb." If I get stuck on the lyric I will think it's a struggle (maybe to free himself from addiction, maybe more generally to life's struggles) and maybe it is, but our man is strong and he will help us to the top. (This very particular thing, right here, is what I heard when I listened to Found and Streets all those years ago - we're beaten and blown by the wind, but he will go there with us. If he could, you know he would. Hold on tightly and don't let go of his love.) Anyway, we climb this mountain, but "listen for me, I'll be shouting - we're gonna make it all the way to the light." This is a shout not of defeat or despair, but joy and hope and strength.

In GOYB and again in Fez (Being Born) we have the very important "Let me in the sound." If grace is inside a sound, we want in it.

This theme is most clearly expressed in Breathe:

I've found grace inside a sound
I've found grace, it's all that I found
And I can breathe

Well as usual I wrote too damn much and I have about ten other themes left. SIGH. Feel free to blab incessently, or perhaps more succinctly than I can, whatever moves you, about this theme or any other you've noticed.



Offline laoghaire

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Re: NLOTH themes
« Reply #1 on: October 01, 2018, 04:24:36 PM »
REBIRTH

Another significant theme is rebirth. Spiritual rebirth seems to be the thrust of it, but it's paired with other new beginnings, such as forgiveness, recovery from addiction, starting over.

A lot of the themes are so interconnected that they are difficult to discuss one by one. This one ties with:

- Nonlinearity: To begin again creates a circle, not a line. "No line" throws out traditional senses of chronology, as does rebirth.

- Change: A rebirth is the ultimate change, a transformation of a fundamental nature.

- Aloneness: Rebirth follows a sense of aloneness, and restores the person's connection to the world. Strangers are transformed by rebirth.

Before getting into the lyrical references, I think rebirth can be heard in the melodies and structure of the album.

The biggest example is the placement of Fez (Being Born). It seems to me that they could have opened the album with this song, and it would have set the tone similar to Zooropa's position as album-opener. But they put it in the 8th slot, opening the third and final "act" of the album. Being Born is right in the title, but its very chronology suggests rebirth without even having to examine the contents of the song itself.

Unknown Caller's third act begins with horns musically describing ascension - a rebirth from addiction. There may be other melodic references as well.

In Breathe, our protagonist sings, "every day I die again, and again I'm reborn." This song centers on the concept of fear vs. love (to be detailed in another post). By the act of denying fear he faces corporal death but gains everlasting life (as a Christian concept) thus being reborn. By our corporal nature, thus cannot be achieved just once, but must be done again and again.

God tells the character in Unknown Caller to "restart and reboot yourself," Macintosh-inspired terminology for rebirth: to let it go (ahem, and not fade away). This language also touches on the act of forgiveness, by God, and forgiving yourself lest you become mired in the clay.

This concept is implied in Moment of Surrender: "my body is now a begging bowl, it's begging to get back to my heart." You could say the body was begging to get back to its spirit, back to innocence, thus rebirth.

In the title track: "I try to rewind, love, and replay." Another example of starting over. Is the "love" a term of endearment for the girl-like-the-sea? Maybe. I like to think it's a verb, though, in the vein of Breathe: to choose love over fear, and to try to rewind your mistakes in that department, add love, and replay. To die again, and again be reborn.

A lot of references are to birth, rather than rebirth. "I was born to be with (sing for) you." "From the womb, my first cry, it was a joyful noise." "We are people born of sound." Are they just births, or could they be rebirths? I don't know.

I do think Fez (Being Born) is easily argued as a rebirth. Besides its position opening Act III, it pretty clearly describes birth metaphorically, hence a rebirth. "I'm being born, a bleeding start." Besides the setting of the song, we were just told that "lights flash past like memories" - if you have memories before you are born, you are born into a circular chronology, not a linear one. No line on the horizon.

Finally, the most abstract rebirth concept here is forgiveness. This was touched upon in Unknown Caller, but more directly developed in White as Snow.  Our protagonist here is dying, but might he be on the threshold of being reborn? If forgiveness is a kind of rebirth, a starting again, and the Christian Lamb is capable of forgiveness  like no other entity, then he is musing on his hoped-for rebirth in this barren land.

Offline Tortuga

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Re: NLOTH themes
« Reply #2 on: October 01, 2018, 07:55:14 PM »
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REBIRTH

Another significant theme is rebirth. Spiritual rebirth seems to be the thrust of it, but it's paired with other new beginnings, such as forgiveness, recovery from addiction, starting over.

A lot of the themes are so interconnected that they are difficult to discuss one by one. This one ties with:

- Nonlinearity: To begin again creates a circle, not a line. "No line" throws out traditional senses of chronology, as does rebirth.

- Change: A rebirth is the ultimate change, a transformation of a fundamental nature.

- Aloneness: Rebirth follows a sense of aloneness, and restores the person's connection to the world. Strangers are transformed by rebirth.

Before getting into the lyrical references, I think rebirth can be heard in the melodies and structure of the album.

The biggest example is the placement of Fez (Being Born). It seems to me that they could have opened the album with this song, and it would have set the tone similar to Zooropa's position as album-opener. But they put it in the 8th slot, opening the third and final "act" of the album. Being Born is right in the title, but its very chronology suggests rebirth without even having to examine the contents of the song itself.

Unknown Caller's third act begins with horns musically describing ascension - a rebirth from addiction. There may be other melodic references as well.

In Breathe, our protagonist sings, "every day I die again, and again I'm reborn." This song centers on the concept of fear vs. love (to be detailed in another post). By the act of denying fear he faces corporal death but gains everlasting life (as a Christian concept) thus being reborn. By our corporal nature, thus cannot be achieved just once, but must be done again and again.

God tells the character in Unknown Caller to "restart and reboot yourself," Macintosh-inspired terminology for rebirth: to let it go (ahem, and not fade away). This language also touches on the act of forgiveness, by God, and forgiving yourself lest you become mired in the clay.

This concept is implied in Moment of Surrender: "my body is now a begging bowl, it's begging to get back to my heart." You could say the body was begging to get back to its spirit, back to innocence, thus rebirth.

In the title track: "I try to rewind, love, and replay." Another example of starting over. Is the "love" a term of endearment for the girl-like-the-sea? Maybe. I like to think it's a verb, though, in the vein of Breathe: to choose love over fear, and to try to rewind your mistakes in that department, add love, and replay. To die again, and again be reborn.

A lot of references are to birth, rather than rebirth. "I was born to be with (sing for) you." "From the womb, my first cry, it was a joyful noise." "We are people born of sound." Are they just births, or could they be rebirths? I don't know.

I do think Fez (Being Born) is easily argued as a rebirth. Besides its position opening Act III, it pretty clearly describes birth metaphorically, hence a rebirth. "I'm being born, a bleeding start." Besides the setting of the song, we were just told that "lights flash past like memories" - if you have memories before you are born, you are born into a circular chronology, not a linear one. No line on the horizon.

Finally, the most abstract rebirth concept here is forgiveness. This was touched upon in Unknown Caller, but more directly developed in White as Snow.  Our protagonist here is dying, but might he be on the threshold of being reborn? If forgiveness is a kind of rebirth, a starting again, and the Christian Lamb is capable of forgiveness  like no other entity, then he is musing on his hoped-for rebirth in this barren land.

You put too many things in one post for me to respond to anything.  If you pick one topic I can probably get focused enough to engage.


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Offline laoghaire

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Re: NLOTH themes
« Reply #3 on: October 01, 2018, 09:09:14 PM »
The amusing part is that it WAS only one topic - one topic per post! Diahhrea of the typed word is a serious condition, don't knock it!

"Brevity is the soul of wit" - somebody
"Dammit" - me

Offline laoghaire

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Re: NLOTH themes
« Reply #4 on: October 02, 2018, 08:53:57 AM »
All right, let me try it this way. Here's a list of the themes I've noticed.

- Grace inside a sound / make a joyful noise
- Rebirth / redemption
- Aloneness / strangers vs. connectedness
- Forgiveness
- Fear vs. love, dark vs. light
- Non-linearity, non-chronology, circular time
- Change
- Trinity
- Duality
- Oneness
And a few other more minor ones I'll skip.

1) Thoughts on the above list? Additions, subtractions, a better way of naming them?
2) How do the themes interact? Is there an overarching, ultimate theme here, or are they all just kind of swimming around together?
3) How does Cedars of Lebanon fit into the overall message, and why is it placed last, as the album-closer?

Offline Tortuga

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Re: NLOTH themes
« Reply #5 on: October 02, 2018, 09:10:28 AM »
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All right, let me try it this way. Here's a list of the themes I've noticed.

- Grace inside a sound / make a joyful noise
- Rebirth / redemption
- Aloneness / strangers vs. connectedness
- Forgiveness
- Fear vs. love, dark vs. light
- Non-linearity, non-chronology, circular time
- Change
- Trinity
- Duality
- Oneness
And a few other more minor ones I'll skip.

1) Thoughts on the above list? Additions, subtractions, a better way of naming them?
2) How do the themes interact? Is there an overarching, ultimate theme here, or are they all just kind of swimming around together?
3) How does Cedars of Lebanon fit into the overall message, and why is it placed last, as the album-closer?

Well...I donít pick up on any overarching theme or concept beyond the relatedness you often find among songs on an album because they all reflect what was on the authorís mind at the time.  In other words, its not some kind of tight concept album.  I think MOS and UC are a series but beyond that not really. They are all just songs.  There is no big concept in the sequencing.

Your theme list is so long it seems like youíve covered every theme ever existent in modern music.  Okay, Iím kidding a little bit.


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Offline laoghaire

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Re: NLOTH themes
« Reply #6 on: October 02, 2018, 11:47:43 AM »
For sure there are universal themes that drive literally every piece of art, like "who am I?," "how do I relate to the world?," and "what is my purpose?" And this is couched in the universal concept of a journey as described by Joseph Campbell and directly reference in the e+i tour.

So given that all art touches on these universal themes in one way or another, does it mean that it's all the same? I'd say clearly not, or we wouldn't consume a variety of art.

Like all artists, U2 have addressed particular themes throughout their careers. If Bono has been trying to say one particular thing all his life, is it repetitive? It depends on who is listening. For some of us, there is something new in the way they say that thing each time - a new phrasing, a new nuance, a new perspective. For some, it's been said.

While the NLOTH themes are pretty universal, they are mixed in a particular way. Meghan Trainor's album Title asks the universal questions, but in her way: who am I? How do I relate to the world as a young woman of my particular generation? What am I looking for in a relationship? How do I grapple with my problems? Not quite the same as NLOTH.

Pink Floyd's Animals also deals with the universal themes but with their own spin: who are we? Why do we exploit each other? Is there a point to any of this, do we have any control over our destinies?

So I don't feel like NLOTH's themes are so similar to everything else to be not worth exploring.

Offline Tortuga

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Re: NLOTH themes
« Reply #7 on: October 02, 2018, 11:55:28 AM »
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For sure there are universal themes that drive literally every piece of art, like "who am I?," "how do I relate to the world?," and "what is my purpose?" And this is couched in the universal concept of a journey as described by Joseph Campbell and directly reference in the e+i tour.

So given that all art touches on these universal themes in one way or another, does it mean that it's all the same? I'd say clearly not, or we wouldn't consume a variety of art.

Like all artists, U2 have addressed particular themes throughout their careers. If Bono has been trying to say one particular thing all his life, is it repetitive? It depends on who is listening. For some of us, there is something new in the way they say that thing each time - a new phrasing, a new nuance, a new perspective. For some, it's been said.

While the NLOTH themes are pretty universal, they are mixed in a particular way. Meghan Trainor's album Title asks the universal questions, but in her way: who am I? How do I relate to the world as a young woman of my particular generation? What am I looking for in a relationship? How do I grapple with my problems? Not quite the same as NLOTH.

Pink Floyd's Animals also deals with the universal themes but with their own spin: who are we? Why do we exploit each other? Is there a point to any of this, do we have any control over our destinies?

So I don't feel like NLOTH's themes are so similar to everything else to be not worth exploring.

Right, but that list is overwhelming.  Got to winnow it down a bit.


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Offline laoghaire

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Re: NLOTH themes
« Reply #8 on: October 02, 2018, 11:56:23 AM »
(Written while you were posting)
I wholeheartedly agree that the themes were not painstaking crafted consciously and ahead of time. I've thought about that a lot with literature, for example. Sure, Shakespeare likely set out to say certain things with Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and A Midsummer Night's Dream, but are all the themes we dutifully analyze in Lit 101 stuff he set out to weave in the tales from the outset? I seriously doubt it. Yet we can analyze art outside of the artist's intentions, because that's what art is: a mirror, not only for the artist, or the world, but ourselves as well.

Offline laoghaire

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Re: NLOTH themes
« Reply #9 on: October 02, 2018, 11:58:59 AM »
I was trying to get my thumb on it (winnow it down), but the thought process took a lot of words for me. It's how I think. I did get to some personal conclusions though (not posted), so my verbal spew did that for me at least. Thanks for the discussion.

Offline shineinthesummernight

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Re: NLOTH themes
« Reply #10 on: October 02, 2018, 07:32:34 PM »
Laoghuire, you seem to hit on a lot of the themes I would point out in NLOTH.  A big one for me is surrender--subsuming one's will to a higher power or the forces of the universe that are in control rather than insisting on your own way.

Offline laoghaire

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Re: NLOTH themes
« Reply #11 on: October 02, 2018, 08:30:57 PM »
I overlooked that one! Thanks, I'll muse on it. Privately, lol.