U2’s The Unforgettable Fire: Emotional Impressions

Gateway Record, Music and Healing


There is no question that U2 has been one of the most significant influences in my life… period. In my teens, it was U2 that challenged the ultra-conservative, pro-war status quo that I experienced throughout my childhood. I was born to a white, conservative family and lived in a suburb, five minutes away from Pat Robertson’s CBN and thirty minutes away from a naval base. U2 challenged me to think beyond the prevalent thinking of those around me. They pushed my personal envelope, and I badly needed that.

Beyond their political/social/philosophical provocation, their music challenged me as well. Up until The Joshua Tree became the incredible mainstream success that it was, I didn’t know much about the band. I was 15 when that one was released, and I’m pretty sure I just thought U2 was kind of weird or “out there” to that point. I was trained to be afraid of any music in which the lyrics had a political/social feel to it, so U2 was a little bit out of bounds for me at first.

Around the time that I, along with the rest of the world, fell in love with U2 and The Joshua Tree, a friend made me a cassette with War on one side and The Unforgettable Fire on the other side. I really liked War, but didn’t give The Unforgettable Fire much of a listen for the longest time. Then, in college, I finally listened… and was taken captive.

At the time, I couldn’t have told you why I was so drawn in to this album. It was different than the albums that bookended it, War and The Joshua Tree. It was certainly different than their live recording, Under a Blood Red Sky (which I listened to repeatedly on the way to school during my junior and senior years. Later, I would come to see how The Unforgettable Fire seemed to serve as a bridge between the raw, raucous, punk-influenced early U2 albums and the more polished Joshua Tree/Rattle and Hum era.

What I have come to understand is that The Unforgettable Fire is the most abstract record from U2’s earlier years. The emphasis is not straight-forward clarity. It is more about expressing general feelings, thereby provoking emotional responses in the engaged listener. Now, looking back and understanding these things in hindsight, it would totally make sense that I was captivated by this record. It beckoned toward something that, to that point, had been laying dormant within my soul. Something that would eventually break free and lead to a deeper appreciation for music (and this blog, by the way).

I still love this album to this day. As I have been writing this, I have been taking it in one more time. I still feel like A Sort of Homecoming, the opening track, is an invitation to engage in 40 minutes of emotional brushstrokes. I am still forced to move by the raucous rambling of Wire. I still get caught up in the epic emotion of Bad and its description of the pull and pain of heroine abuse. The Unforgettable Fire still has me captivated, and I’m not really interested in being liberated.

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