Author Topic: U2 Ring Theory  (Read 1492 times)

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Offline JonTheWyseman

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U2 Ring Theory
« on: June 24, 2019, 10:09:28 AM »

OMG, OMG, OMG ... I've only just discovered this forum (and the atU2 podcast) !!!!!!!

As my first contribution to this forum, I thought I'd share something I posted a couple of years ago ...

So, in addition to loving U2, I have a passion for Star Wars too. I stumbled upon this article (You are not allowed to view links. Register or Login) and it got me thinking whether U2's albums demonstrated any adherence to ring theory, who's rules are as follows (summary [with comments added by me]).

1. Exposition or Prologue:
- Generally an introductory section. It sets the stage, sometimes the [another] time and the [another] place.
- Usually its tone is bland and somewhat enigmatic. It tells of a dilemma that has to be faced, a command to be obeyed, or a doubt to be allayed [out of control].
- Above all, it is laid out so as to anticipate the mid-turn [twilight that happens between night and day] and the ending that will eventually respond to it.

2. Split into two halves:
- The ring composition must split into two halves at the midpoint [Acthung Baby/Zooropa].
- This draws an imaginary line between the middle and the beginning, which divides the work into two halves, the first, outgoing, the second, returning [to Cedarwood Road].

3. Parallel sections:
- The two halves of the ring must be arranged in parallel. This is done by making separate sections that are placed opposite each other across the central dividing line (one on each side of the ring) [for example The Joshua Tree and All That You Can't Leave Behind - see below].

4. Indicators to mark individual sections:
- The individual sections of the ring composition must be clearly marked so the reader knows where each section starts and stops.
[Clear punctuation points after War, Rattle And Hum, Pop/Original Soundtracks, Vertigo]

5. Central loading:
- Whereas modern stories are usually presented in a clear, linear fashion with the climax occurring near the end, ring compositions tend to place the climax or central crisis of the narrative in the middle [such as the near break up of the band in 1990].
- One clue that the middle has been reached, is that it uses some of the same keyword clusters that were found in the exposition. As the ending also accords with the exposition, the mid-turn tends to be in concordance with them both. Then the whole piece is densely interconnected.

- In addition, the most important message of the work tends to be delivered at the turn or the centre of the ring. [One is arguably this central axis !]

6. Rings within rings:
A large ring composition may, in fact, include smaller rings.
[The Electric Co's shock therapy - laughing gas of Zoo Station - Miracle Drug 7. Closure at two levels. - Finally, the ending of a ring composition must join up with the beginning and make a clear closure on both a structural and thematic level. [though I do hope Songs of Experience doesn't mark the end !]

Here's what I think is the overall pattern or rhyme scheme of the U2 album ring:
A Boy
B October
C War
D The Unforgettable Fire
E The Joshua Tree
F Rattle and Hum
G Achtung Baby
G' Zooropa
F' Pop
E' All That You Can't Leave Behind
D' Passengers
C' How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb
B' No Line On the Horizon
A' Songs of Innocence

A and A' (Boy, SOI) are the start and return to complete the circle (Dublin experiences particularly front and centre)

G and G'(Achtung Baby/Zooropa) signify the zenith and the crucial midpoint
Some of these rhymes are really obvious to me ... themes, sounds, associated imagery, lyrical content.

Here' the beginning of my observations ...

A & A' (Boy, SOI)
I Will Follow - Iris
Out Of Control - Volcano
The Ocean - Every Breaking Wave
Shadows and Tall Trees - cherry blossom trees

B & B' (October & No Line On the Horizon)
Albums full of hymns - one aiming to produce "future hymns" (You are not allowed to view links. Register or Login)
Rejoice - Magnificent
Is That All ? - Moment of Surrender

C & C' (War, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb)
War themes
Surrender - Love and Peace or Else
Drowning man - Sometimes
Red Light - City of Blinding Lights
"40" - Yahweh

D & D' (The Unforgettable Fire, Passengers)
So, a slight stretch here, as I've done one re-order ... but the Eno/experimental influence is clear
Elvis Presley and America - Elvis Ate America

E & E' (The Joshua Tree, All That You Can't Leave Behind)
The "classic U2" albums, so sonically similar
In God's Country - New York
Mothers (of the Disappeared) - (Father flying a) Kite

F & F' (Rattle and Hum & Pop)
Fascination with particular genres ... American heartland (Desire) vs techno-heavy (Discothèque)
Heartland - Miami
God Part II - If God Will Send His Angels
Needing your love (Hawkmoon 269) - asking you Do You Feel Loved
Love rescue Me - Staring At the Sun

G & G' (Achtung Baby, Zooropa)
Really an extended double album that represents the zenith of it all ...


I'm still trying to figure out where Songs of Experience fits in with all of this ;o)

Offline Argo

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Re: U2 Ring Theory
« Reply #1 on: June 24, 2019, 10:57:27 PM »
I prefer the "stuff happens" theory and don't think you can read as much into all the albums as the ring theory approach. U2 fans have also often talked of the albums being in groups of 3 and then a reinvention eg Boy, October and War are similar in styles with the new albums being more complete/evolved than the predecessor. Then a change of direction to UF, JT and R&H. Whilst UF and R&H don't seem similar, you can certainly link the style of UF to JT and JT to R&H. Then the next reinvention is most people's favourite to the more experimental phase with AB, Zooropa and Pop. Then the shift back to basics with ATYCLB, Bomb and NLOTH. NLOTH is a bit of a hybrid as it has the more traditional rock type songs but also some more experimental stuff. And then the next reinvention with SOI and SOE. whilst I don't believe Songs of Ascent will ever happen, it would fit the cycle of 3.

Offline Argo

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Re: U2 Ring Theory
« Reply #2 on: June 25, 2019, 01:29:32 AM »
I should add, welcome to the forum. It is a little quiet these days albeit with a bit of additional JT tour action livening things up a bit. Please keep contributing and sharing your thoughts, you obviously know tons about U2's music.


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Re: U2 Ring Theory
« Reply #3 on: July 30, 2019, 11:55:31 AM »
I love your theory JonTheWyseman.  I will give this some thought.  I definitely see all of the parallels.

Offline Onob_Nosweh

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Re: U2 Ring Theory
« Reply #4 on: July 30, 2019, 05:30:52 PM »
Interesting. I'd say make Zooropa an "F," as both that and R&H were created while on tour, and are both creative extensions of the prior albums. AB, with how big of a reinvention it was to their sound can stand alone as the split.

From there, that would join JT and Pop (both reinventions of their sound), TUF/ATYCLB, ditch Passengers as it really feels like a detour/one-off, then the rest is the same. And SOE represents the whole.