Wednesday, March 18, 2009

being human being Christian in U2’s no line on the horizon

Art is not theology. And lots of theology is certainly not art. But art is an attempt to make meaning and in that attempt at meaning making, theological echoes and insights can occur. While such insights should respect the voice of the author and the sound of text, neither should they ignore the reader/listener/viewer.

The U2 album has got me doing some serious theological pondering, particularly on what it means to be human. Who are we and how then should we live? The following is a reader/listener response that seeks to honour the sound of the text and the complexity of the author …

Historically U2 have released albums, not singles. They fought for this right in their initial record deal. Their albums chart better than their singles, with 9 of their first 11 albums making no 1. So their music deserves to be approached as an album, and NLOH reinforces that, for the first song is the last song. The beginning is the end and so it makes sense to approach the album in that way. As it says in the beginning and the end, (“In no line on the horizon”), “Time is irrelevant, it’s not linear.”

Threaded through this non-linearity which comes when beginning are endings and endings are beginnings is the theme of sound. Sound of course, is not linear, but a vibration. It emanates in waves, with frequency and energy. The more intense the energy the louder the sound. Lyrically, the “sound” vibrates through this album: “The songs in your head are now on my mind” (“No Line on the Horizon”) is followed by “And sing whatever song you wanted me to” (“Magnificent”). The “The Unknown Caller” sounds the invite to “Shout for joy if you get the chance,” while “Get on your boots” begs to “Let me in the sound.”

Musically, in “Fez – Being born” we hear a muted, discordant set of sounds, including the sample from “Get your boots on”, with the repeated cry to “Let me in the sound.” (Once again the album is looping). This opening discord succumbs into a fat, loping rhythm, over which are stretched slowly the Edges notes and Bono’s voice. “Breathe” ends triumphantly because “Sing your heart out/I’ve found grace inside the sound.” The journalist in “Cedars of Lebanon” might want to “Return the call to home” and so the album beg/ends with “No Line on the Horizon.”

In other words, listening to this album I realise that sound vibrates all around me. It seeks to resonate with my own rhythm. As I enter it, I experience grace and find our own voice. Listening theologically, this is a pretty outstanding theology of being human. Into all humans are placed the spark of the divine, an echo of God’s original sound wave. As the waves intersect, they can intensity. And so we find our voice, each one unique, yet a resonance.

“Moments of surrender” amplifies this sonic understanding of being human. The songs plays with surrender, at a wedding, in love and in the encounter with love. Each of us have a “rhythm that yearns.” And as we surrender to love:

I was punching in the numbers at the ATM machine
I could see in the reflection
A face staring back at me
At the moment of surrender
A vision of a visibility

The face we see looking back at the ATM is ours (it can’t be the passers-by, because they do not notice). Yet this face it is transformed by the surrender to love as it engages the rhythm of one’s soul. Only then does the human person become fully human, fully visible. This is God en-fleshed, for the silence of the incarnate sound finds voice, and thus visibility in us. In so doing, the two lines of the horizon are integrated, for vision has become visibility.

In other words, the task of being human is to sing (drum/bass/DJ/sample …) the song of love, love, love (“Stand up Comedy”) with exuberant joy and each with our own unique voice.

Posted by steve at 04:43 PM


  1. I think the cd is just beautiful. I take your point about non-linearity, but in a sense this album hangs together better for me than any other U2 in the 00’s and possibly since Achtung Baby.

    I like how you haven’t just done a textual analysis but have reflected musically on it together with the text- a lot of Christian commentary purely looks at the text (western late modernity?) without ‘letting in the sound’.

    I would describe the album as ‘rich’ and I’m expecting that I won’t fully ‘get it’ for a long time, in fact I will keep returning to it and ‘get’ more of it as time passes.

    Thanks for the insights.

    Comment by Graham — March 19, 2009 @ 12:11 am

  2. […] macht das aktuelle U2-Album No Line on the Horizon zur Zeit viel Freude. Steve Taylor macht sich sehr lesenwerte Gedanken zu dieser feinen […]

    Pingback by »Let me in the sound« - Steve Taylor zum aktuellen U2-Album » Der Sämann » Blog Archiv » »Let me in the sound« - Steve Taylor zum aktuellen U2-Album — March 21, 2009 @ 1:57 am

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