Spotlight: So Cruel, Achtung Baby

In this celebratory year of U2’s 20th anniversary release of Achtung Baby, I wanted to focus a couple blogs on songs that sit under the waterline on the record. The first of which is the song So Cruel. As most U2 fans know, this song is about Edge’s divorce. It’s probably the most gut-wrenching lyric ever written in any U2 song. The funny thing is that Bono, who has the most long-standing relationship with his own wife, probably wrote it. However, he gets it right when it comes to love falling apart.

Pretty much anyone can identify with this song. We have all been in relationships that have fallen apart or have come to a close, whether we wanted the finality or the other person wanted to call it quits. So Cruel gets it right. It speaks to the human frailty of relationships. Once one gets into a lovers bond, you give of yourself. You sort of melt into the other person whether you want to or not. It’s that self-extraction, when the relationship ends, that makes it very difficult and painful to move on.

What I like about So Cruel is its simplicity. The song rests in the middle of an album filled with texture, loops and newfangled sounds. The opening piano lulls you in to Larry’s drum tapping. Bono begins, almost in a spoken word style, about the recognition by the protagonist that something has gone wrong in a relationship. It is an amazing set-up as we move into the second stanza where Bono begins to lull us into the story. Much like the Siren’s song, we want hear more. Sirens usually sing songs of beauty yet this is not beautiful song, however Bono makes it that way with his new found falsetto. When he mentions wearing “love like a see through dress,” we can identify with the pain because love is suppose to be thick and in this situation, it’s painted thin.

As the song closes out in the third stanza, the orchestra crescendos there’s no turning back. The relationship that was splitting at the seams at the beginning of the song has now come to an end. Bono speaks that “in love there are no rules.” He verbalizes the harshness of love and not the beauty of it. Bono brings us to the finality of this relationship by ending the song with “Sweetheart, your so cruel.” The shattered glass of a relationship can never be put back together. It’s time to move on. So ironic, on this unrelenting emotional roller coaster of an album, that the next song on the record is “The Fly,” which has it interpretations in some corners as a “Bar Fly.”

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