Features Australia

When woke comes to town

23 November 2019

9:00 AM

23 November 2019

9:00 AM

The Australian leg of U2’s Joshua Tree tour is almost over and everyone can relax. Bono will slip his clothes and sunglasses back on and stop telling us all to ethically wash the dishes. The Edge will unplug his guitar and put the vacuum cleaner and vegan burger away.

It’s hard after 40 years and multiple hip replacements to still be the wokest rock band in the world excluding Midnight Oil, Katy Perry, Kanye West, Spice Girls and the lead singer of The Smiths. But where on the Woke-o-meter do U2 sit? In 2019, how does their music rate on our Rock ‘n’ Roll Top 10 Woke-o-meter scale?

With or without you. U2’s 1987 song of tortured personal relationships seems way too complicated for the woke generation and its painful clarion title sounds like something Extinction Rebellion would chant at a fascist police horse before punching its lights out during a completely non-violent demonstration at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre. It’s all very binary and lacking fluidity for a contemporary audience using $700 noise- reduction headphones while staring at their phone. Bono’s repeated lament ‘and you give your love away’ is problematic and may well be slut-shaming if we all squint at the same time. Millennial rating: misogynistic if you really try.

I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. What was an existential cry for meaning in a materialistic world is now what you hear from any millennial online shopping on their device in-between considering their Tinder options. This song shows that we can all come together as long as we believe in the power of extreme capitalism. Millennial rating: IPA approved


Running to stand still. All about the cycle of drugs and the difficulty of breaking free of what Lou Reed once called the endless cycle in his song ‘Endless Cycle’ that he wrote after shooting up at The Factory. It may also be about what Andy Warhol called the Fifteen Minutes of Fame depending on whether or not you are Bono. Everybody does drugs these days and who wants all this moral judgment and compassion and consequences when you’ve got pill-testing and safe injecting rooms to make it all go away unless you happen to own an apartment whose value is plummeting due to being next door to a safe injecting room. Millennial rating: OK, Boomer.

One. A beautiful, emotional masterpiece that just needs a backbeat and a rapper over the top banging on about beating his Ho, the size of his dick and how much fly cocaine he takes to make it truly contemporary and commercially viable. Its use of fragmented Christian imagery in the lyrics is likely to frighten small children and ABC viewers who have grown up on a strict diet of Four Corner exposes on Catholic church abuses. The use of numbers is also likely to create problems for a generation unable to count beyond the number 1 and totally viable arguments that maths is in fact racist. Millennial rating: Frightening.

Beautiful Day. The simple sonic rock of this anthem was an inviting break from the complex dirty cynicism of the U2 sound in ‘The Fly’ where Bono wears his vinyl jacket, sunglasses and pretends he’s Satan. Its video filmed in an airport remains problematic – featuring heterosexual couples kissing when surely there must have been a few gay couples with frequent flyer points hanging around. Then there’s the whole OH&S thing when Bono lounges on the baggage conveyor belt; the monstrous carbon footprints and of course the band playing on the tarmac on a culturally appropriated Persian rug. Released in 2000, a year later the symbolism of an airport as freedom is replaced by 9/11 and the airport as a sanctuary for needy terrorists with mummy issues wanting to create a caliphate by flying planes into buildings. Millennial rating: First world problems.

Numb. This is the song when The Edge just gave up. A slow 1993 dirge about not feeling anything while sitting on a couch and being tied up with rope and selfied by fans. We’ve all been there. This may be triggering for Climate Change protesters who know what it’s like to be unable to move after bravely gluing themselves to inanimate things but now want this removed from their web profile because socialism is for losers and they just want to become investment bankers where the real money is. Millennial rating: I feel numb for what I had to pay for my investment apartment in St Kilda.

Sunday Blood Sunday. This 1983 song about period pain was ahead of its time as it engaged with an issue for trans men everywhere. Some will struggle with mentioning the Christian day of celebration twice in the title and the fact that blood is a male construct like engineering courses, suspension bridges, invisible teeth-straightening, cankles and casual hypocrisy. Millennial rating: One for the feminists.

Mysterious Ways. Another song about the desirability of women. Will this band never learn? There’s also the cultural appropriating film clip with the belly dancer and Bono chewing on the Moroccan scenery. One for Tim Sop, Gillian and the gang to investigate just like in the good old days. Maybe in a café in Koo Wee Rup or the cemetery where they buried our greatest cartoonist. Misogyny rating: Catastrophic.

Vertigo. A song about reaching for the business class sick bag while on an international flight during your world tour and realising that Greta is glowering at you from the ‘Mouthy Teen of the Year’ cover of Time magazine. You wonder why you couldn’t have just used a yacht like every other international band or voice of a generation. It’s not like you can’t afford one. Millennial rating: How dare you!

Do they know it’s Christmas? While not really a U2 song as it was written by the same people who gave us ‘Wake me up before you go, go’ it is their masterpiece. Best known for the Bono solo where he has rock star sex with himself and a consenting microphone while singing about starving children in Somalia. As we enter the happy holidays season this song has never been more relevant. Millennial rating: What’s Christmas?

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