U2's new song, "Invisible," is a delightful, upbeat expression of the band's current disposition, and I believe it functions as an indirect summary of their last three albums. It's the reflection of a late-career band with much to be thankful for, as they look back over a very generative three decades of work together. The lyrics of “Invisible” represent an ongoing attitude of grace, forgiveness and right relationships. In this new song, the narrator tells the story of moving from brokenness to forgiveness, strength and hope, themes that are not uncommon on previous records.
Starting with the first kicks of Larry's bass drum, I'm reminded of the opener to "Beautiful Day" (from All That You Can’t Leave Behind), another song that transitions from pain to unbridled joy. In both songs, lyrics contrast brokenness and hopelessness with celebration of life, crescendoing in a chorus of joy accessible to all. “What you don’t have, you don’t need it now,” is a wonderful poetic parallel to “There is no them, there’s only us.” Both expressions warn us away from individualism toward a deeper participation with life itself, a journey that can only be successful with trusted friends at our side.
“City Of Blinding Lights” (from How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb) also comes to mind as I listen to “Invisible.” Edge’s influence is obvious in both songs as he chops out a punctuated guitar rhythm with plenty of delay, and sings soaring BGVs that match the guitar lead. “City,” like “Invisible,” is a song about seeing people for who they really are, beyond what the camera can record, deep into the recesses of true beauty. “Oh, you look so beautiful tonight,” sings Bono. And while he thought he once knew what beauty was, it’s only with age, experience and time that he realizes now what he didn’t know earlier. “I’m more than you know,” the narrator in “Invisible” shouts, reminding us that the soul is not always easy to see. It’s as if we are being told, “You don’t really know me now, but if you hang around long enough, you will.” Such insight comes through maturity, something that U2 exudes these days.
“Invisible” links back to U2’s most recent album, No Line On The Horizon, in several ways for me. “Get On Your Boots” is one person’s passionate attempt to convince another of the nature of real beauty: “You don’t know how beautiful you are. You don’t get it, do you?” If “Invisible” were written in the second person, the storyteller would probably say, “You’re more than you know. You’re more than you see here.” I’m also reminded of a beautiful lyric from “Moment of Surrender”: “I did not notice the passersby, and they did not notice me.” “Vision over visibility” requires a deeper experience with God, spirit and humanity.
It’s not just albums that I think of when I listen to “Invisible.” A little-known movie that Bono co-wrote in 2000 also deals with similar themes. The Million Dollar Hotel, directed by Wim Wenders, is set on skid row in downtown Los Angeles and follows a number of mentally ill people who live in a rundown hotel. (I know the area well and annually take college students into this environment.) In the movie, Tom Tom (Jeremy Davies) becomes the self-appointed protector of Eloise (Milla Jovovich), a young, vulnerable and withdrawn tenant, resistant to any friendships. The villain, Geronimo (Jimmy Smits), delights in subjugating Eloise which causes great distress for Tom Tom. At a key moment in the film, Geronimo brazenly confesses his conquest of Eloise to Tom Tom. “I fucked nothing!” he brags. "She's not NOTHING!" Tom Tom protests. At this we are confronted with one of the main points of the movie: to all but Tom Tom, (and not unlike most of the homeless and disabled in our society), Eloise is invisible; she is nothing. It’s a heartbreaking moment. Eloise could be writing the lyrics for “Invisible.” “I’m more than you know, I’m more than you see, I’m not invisible.”
(To be continued in part two.)
(Note: the song was released only for 24 hours in conjunction with the Super Bowl as a partnership with Bank of America to raise funds for (RED), which provides AIDS relief for Africa. See AtU2.com for details or the Super Bowl commercial here.)