Author Topic: Rush hour with Bono: 'Running down the road like loose electricity'  (Read 1326 times)

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The mellow marketers at Inner Peace Music are pushing a CD of soul-soothing music that they promise with "cure road rage" when it's playing in your car stereo. Meanwhile, Rock legend Neil Young says it's not a joke: He's releasing a hard-rocking disc of songs about electric cars.

Yep, there's a soundtrack for every rush hour. And last night, I did something I hadn't done for years: I went on a road trip with Bono and The Edge.

I pushed U2's new album, "No Line on the Horizon," into the Volvo's stereo and just went for a drive.

I wasn't just burning gas with nothing more than a heap of CD packaging in the passenger seat. I was working, making my occasional rounds of traffic hot spots in the city and suburbs, looking for stories.

I'm approaching 40. Strange that my favorite band since high school is still releasing music that millions want to buy and scoring week-long gigs on Letterman. If only everyone could stay as relevant, while being equally loved and despised, for so long, especially in these anxious times.

Humorist Robert Benchley said, "Opera is where a guy gets stabbed in the back, and instead of dying, he sings." Yeah, well, the evening commute is where a suburbanite suffers a bruising day on the job and then has to stare down a seemingly endless line of taillights separating him from home. But in his car, at least he can control the volume and sing.

As the new U2 CD's opening track came to life (a guitar's lonesome, neon-like hum suddenly drowned out by an eruption of bass, drums and sky-searching keyboards), it occurred to me that the album's title is a perfect metaphor for the evening commute.

So, let's go through U2's 11 new songs -- the band's best collection since "Achtung Baby" -- on the highway.

1. No Line on the Horizon

Road trip lyric: "The sirens are wailing but it's me that wants to get away"

A few years ago, a study out of the UK found that listening to fast music in the car may make people drive too quickly, increasing their risk of having an accident. The opening track is a 4-minute-and-12-second that signals interesting new avenues on the band's first album in nearly five years.

The music's speedy and texturally adventuresome, but there's no danger of going too fast as traffic crawls from the city onto the U.S. 26 on-ramp aimed at the Vista Ridge Tunnel. There are plenty of drivers trying to quickly find the horizon, changing lanes despite the solid white lines - in search of the fastest way home.

2. Magnificent

Road trip lyric: "This foolishness can leave a heart black and blue"

Classic U2. Soaring with some experimental sonic layers. Bono unloads with his best vocal performance of the album. At points, it's hard to distinguish between his plaintiff wails and The Edge's slide guitar. A perfect song as the tunnel opens up and the highway cuts through the urban forest. The lyric is a reminder that one bad driver or single distraction can create nightmarish gridlock within a few heartbeats.

3. Moment of Surrender

Road trip lyric: "I was speeding on the subway, through the stations of the cross"

The exits seem to float overhead. Zoo/Foresty Center. Sylvan. Canyon Road/West Slope. Cedar Hills/Barnes Road. Getting closer to somewhere. With obvious influence from album co-producer Brian Eno, this is the best song on the CD. A solemn yet beautiful spacewalk through the highway's westward bends.

4. "Unknown Caller"

Road trip lyric: "Speed dialing with no signal at all"

I spot a woman driving a Toyota in the left lane, talking on her cell phone. I figure there are plenty like her around me, obscured by windshields, distance and the glare of the setting sun. I can almost hear them dealing with the last business of the day or telling someone at home that they're running late.

Bono sings the disjointed lyrics like incoming text messages, delivering them in chant-like bursts.

Yeah, someone was also probably trying to send a text message from behind the wheel.

I still can't believe there are people who don't think cell phones are not a distraction on the roads. If you need yet more proof, the National Safety Council today introduced a "Distracted Driving Resource Kit" to help employers communicate the risks of using hand-held communication devices while driving.

Washington and California have banned driving while talking on hand-held cell phones. Despite our libertarian streak, Oregon -- I hope -- can't be too far behind.

Of course, I also wonder if Bono takes off those dorky shades when he drives. I've never liked those things.

5. "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight"

Road trip lyric: "It's not a hill, it's a mountain, as you start out the climb"

The U.S. 26-Oregon 217 cloverleaf interchange: State transportation officials tell me that more people are rear-ended here than on any other piece of road in the Portland area. Too many drivers following too close around the loop. Honestly, I could do without this track. It's the album's Westside Express Service, a speeding, polished-up train that probably seemed like a good idea but ultimately seems forced, too loud and a little out of place in its environment.

6. Get On Your Boots
Road trip lyric: "I got a submarine, you got gasoline"

This one's stacked with funky yet nonsensical lyrics. Still, it's pure U2 testosterone. A guilty pleasure trapped in a tried-and-true U2 wall of sound. Trying to merge onto Oregon 8/Canyon Road exit, I warp some of the lyrics in my head. "Let me in the sound, sound/Meet me in the sound," becomes "Let me in the lane, lane/Meet me in the lane." As I've said before, I'm a late merger.

7. Stand up Comedy

Road trip lyric: "Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady"

Apparently, The Edge learned a thing or four while hanging out with Jimmy Paige and Jack White for the documentary "It Might Get Loud." This is a solid tube-amp stomper, with an unapologetic fusion of early-album U2 guitar and Zeppelin licks. As Bono belts out the lyrics, firing off his trademark falsetto in parts, a WES train sounds its horn. Near the Beaverton Transit Center, it's a chaotic dance of light rail, buses, cars and commuter rail. I wonder how anyone cross the road without good running shoes and some prayer.

8. Fez - Being Born
Road trip lyric: The whole dang song.

"Six o'clock
On the autoroute
Burning rubber, burning chrome
Bay of Cadiz and ferry home
Atlantic sea, cut glass
African sun at last

Lights ... flash ... past
Like memories
A speeding head, a speeding heart
I'm being born, a bleeding start
The engines roar, blood-curdling wail
Head first, then foot
Then heart sets sail"

The song starts with a trippy montage of keyboards, feedback, hummed vocals and street sounds from Morocco -- a perfect accompaniment to the electric fast-food and strip-mall signs buzzing to life like night lights along the highway. It quickly segues into Bono throwing out primal screams over music built for a chase scene. The stars of this album are drummer Larry Mullen Jr. and bass player Adam Clayton. For once, the rhythm section steals the show.

9. White as Snow

Road trip lyric: "The land was flat, the highway straight and wide/My brother and I would drive for hours/Like we had years instead of days." Runner-up: "Only poppies laugh under the crescent moon/The road refuses strangers."

The song flashes over the last memories of a soldier dying on Afghanistan's lonely battlefield. The first road-trip lyric recalls his boyhood home. That's far from the reality on curvy northbound Interstate 5. An army of southbound headlights greets me at the Terwilliger Curves. The traffic, like the melancholic song, is slow in both directions. The curves will always be the curves. State transportation officials say development and terrain will likely keep them jammed up. There's no room for expansion. A piano, an acoustic guitar and sampled layers take the listener's hand into a reflection about how we spend out lives.

10. Breathe

Road trip lyric: "But I'm running down the road like loose electricity"

Oh, if only the freeway would open up. Stuck in the right lane of the Marquam Bridge, I catch glimpses of the shimmering Portland skyline between semi trucks and trailers passing me in the center lane. Past the Rose Quarter, the highway teases before freezing up again. I'm on what someone recently told me was "the Devil's Highway."

11. Cedars of Lebanon

Road trip lyric: "Spent the night trying to make deadline/Squeezing complicated lives into a simple headline"

A reporter's dispatch from the war zone in Lebanon. The lyricist seems to be saying that sometimes the hard asphalt produces a rose of hope. "Return to the call of home," he speaks more than sings. Red lights blink atop the Interstate Bridge's steel girders. Earlier this week, I wrote about a new study showing that Oregon's worst traffic bottlenecks are located on I-5, just before the bridge. I wanted to experience the slog firsthand. Cars rolled and braked to no obvious beat, the flow disrupted by frazzled drivers merging and then trying to decide on a lane -- or a lost soul stuck in the center lane when they need to exit. Watching, I realized once again that I'm writing about people, not cars. Complicated lives create traffic.

-- Joseph Rose;