October 30, 2017

JONES | How Bad Can a Good Time Be? A Discussion of Three Versions of U2’s New Single

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Have you been keeping up with U2? I hadn’t really checked in since the PR disaster of Songs of Innocence’s 2014 release, when the band attempted to regain relevance and reach a younger audience by forcing everybody with an iPhone to own their music. What they intended as a generous gift was instead received like the act of a tyrannical surveillance-state: many iPhone owners were outraged by the band’s disregard for the normal practices of ownership and consent in the digital world.

But don’t count U2 out just yet! It turns out that in the years since Songs of Innocence’s stealth-deposit, U2 has been contemplating the naivete that led them to this colossal miscalculation. Fittingly, their upcoming album is called — you can’t make this shit up! — Songs of Experience. I’m told by Nathaniel LaCelle-Peterson ’18 that this is a reference to William Blake, which illuminates pretty much nothing about anything.

Earlier tonight, I told my friend Elie Kirshner ’18 that I wanted to write a lighter column after my last two. So here are our thoughts on the comparative merits of U2’s recent single “You’re the Best Thing About Me,” the acoustic version, and the Kygo remix.

Note: This conversation was recorded while Amir Patel ’18 watched the Dodgers/Astros game in the background, which is the subject of his remarks.


After five minutes of troubleshooting Bluetooth, followed by the discovery of a hidden aux cord:

Elie: I want this all to reflect well on me. And I want that line in the column.

Jack: Okay.

Elie: Are we ready to rumble here?


The Original Version

Jack: “Full of shooting stars, brighter as they’re vanishing.” That’s really rich, because of how little it applies to where U2 is in their career.

Elie: This is “New Year’s Day.” They always put this riff in their songs.

Jack: But this has this chunky, Southern rock riff going on too. This is not your classic U2, I will say. It’s not new frontiers, but they’re going to a different kind of old, stale rock.

Elie: They were great in the 80s.

Jack: I’m defensive about U2 in the ’80s! People dump on them. Troy Sherman is always bringing words at me about U2.

Elie: The line “how bad can a good time be?” really sums up this experience, I think.

Jack: This “post-chorus” part’s kinda funky. I mean, if by funky you mean it sounds different.

Elie: Relative to the rest of the song, this is new. I’ll give you that.


The Acoustic Version

Jack: How would you describe the incredibly strange sound of his voice in this acoustic version? It’s not classic Bono.

Elie: It’s almost like he’s trying to be sensual in a new way, in a way no one’s been before.

Jack: He’s trying to trip over his words on purpose. Each word is being given like three parts to it, with little hiccups in between.

Elie: Then the Edge comes in, and he’s being like “Listen Bono, I see where you’re at here.”

Jack: Dude, the Edge is the other guy!

Elie: Yes.


Jack: So this is actually a song about a broken relationship, and both men involved with this woman are given some time, except that the Edge is given about five seconds to remind Bono that he can see what he can’t see. Don’t know what that means.


The Kygo Remix

Elie: I think Kygo had an intern do this.

Jack: Kygo has interns?

Elie: I also don’t know what the line “the best thing that ever happened a boy” means at all.

Jack: Genius doesn’t know either. They think it might refer back to the album Boy but unfortunately the line still makes no sense even if it does. Oh, we’ve got some backwards vocals here.

Elie: This just sounds bad.

Jack: Do you think the intern got fired for that?

Elie: Doesn’t he have 18 songs where this is like the starter track and then he builds on it? I really think he either had an intern or just exported those.

Jack: I’m starting to get punished by the chorus. This is about the ninth time we’ve heard the chorus.

Elie: Chorus is getting rough.

Jack: So this song’s not a grower, it turns out.

Elie: When we played this song for about 45 seconds before we did this, that was my best experience with it and it’s gotten progressively worse since then.

Jack: It’s a better song in doses. This is a song you want to hear as you walk through and not linger.

Elie: If this was playing in a Starbucks and your coffee was ready, you probably wouldn’t be bothered by those 45 seconds you spent walking up, grabbing it, and walking out. But if you were waiting in line you’d be doomed.

Jack: It’s the kind of song that if somebody was driving about 30 miles an hour past me I could handle, but if they were going anything under 15 I’d be pretty upset.

Elie: A stoplight could kill you.


Relative Merits

Jack: Should we rate these?

Elie: I guess.

Jack: I’d give the first version a U2 out of 10. If I had to rank in order, though, acoustic by far the most interesting. Because I don’t know what they were trying to do. Kygo-wise, that was really kind of a shit-show. Which was surprising because I gotta be honest with you, the Kygo “Sexual Healing” remix I really think is legitimately better than the original.

Elie: I’m not convinced Kygo knows he’s on this song. I’m not seeing the Kygo touch here.

Jack: Okay, so I think final ranking would go: I mean, in terms of like, I would play it? I would never play any of them.

Elie: I want to show the acoustic one to people.

Jack: Okay, so the acoustic’s number one. And then original, and then Kygo. Just to close out, let’s run our eyes over the lyrics again. “When you look so good, the pain in your face doesn’t show.” Is that offensive?

Elie: I’m not comfortable with that, but I also don’t know what it means.

Jack: “When the world is ours, but the world is not your kind of thing” is upsetting.

Elie: That’s a criminally bad line.

Jack: They’re really reaching for some teen disillusionment here. I think U2 needs to realize that their crowd is people that are their age, and when they die, there’s not going to be U2 anymore.

Elie: I think there’s also a decent crowd of people who are kids of parents who are that age.

Jack: Right. But the kids who are fans of U2 because their parents are fans of U2 are not looking for teen-disillusionment U2.

Elie: That’s what I’m saying.

Jack: Those are earnest kids. Those are earnest, church-going, baseball-cheering kids.

Elie: Speaking of which, Dodgers did score. But I think “how bad can a good time be” is —

Amir: OH! LET’S GO!

Elie: Home run Astros.

Amir: Springer! Fucking redemption right there! On the train tracks! What a dog!

Elie: Get Amir’s take on this.

Jack: Amir, thoughts on both the songs you heard and then the conversation you had to just listen to?

Amir: See, that’s the thing, is that it was just all mixed together. So I can’t really tell what I got more of: Bono, Joe Buck or John Smoltz. I really am not — OH MY GOD! GO AROUND! HE’S GONNA SCORE!

Elie: 9-8!


Amir: Final take: everybody who we can hear blows, but the things that we can see are just fucking unbelievable. Just so beautiful.

Elie: José Altuve is the best thing that ever happened, a boy. That’s all I got.


Jack Jones is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected].