All I’ll Ever Have: Redemption Songs

If you’ve read this at all you know I have an affinity for music. It can get a bit obsessive. I have a tendency to get a new album and play it relentlessly until something else I like comes out. It’s probably less than healthy. It’s always better for me when multiple things come out the same week; it encourages me to mix it up.

This week, the new U2 album – “No Line on the Horizon” leaked online the same day M. Ward’s new album – “Hold Time” was released. (The U2 album hits stores March 3 if you live in the US, March 2 if you don’t…I plan to buy – don’t judge me for owning the leak.)

U2 is one of my go-to favorites. They’re one of those bands where every song, every album triggers specific memories. You can love them or hate them, idolize Bono or despise him, but chances are there’s at least one U2 song with which you can’t help singing along when you hear it. “No Line on the Horizon” took a couple of listens before I fell in love with it the way I loved “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.” It was then I realized this album isn’t new U2…it’s an homage to classic U2: more “War” and “Joshua Tree” than “Zooropa” and “Pop.” It picks up both musically and lyrically where “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” left off.

If you don’t know M. Ward, you’re missing out. He’s a singer/songwriter and he’s fabulous. He’s like a less commercial version of Ryan Adams – the version that isn’t on the soundtrack to every Fox/WB teen drama or engaged to Mandy Moore. In fact, Ward is probably THE troubadour of our generation now that Adams has set down his guitar picks (supposedly for good). Even on first listen M.Ward’s songs sound familiar, but in a live-in-your-favorite-jeans kind of way, not in a generic music kind of way. Most of the music is his own, though he does cover songs you’d never think to re-invent. (Eleven of the fourteen songs on “Hold Time” are original, but his covers are of things like Buddy Holly’s “Rave On.”) If you’re new to M.Ward start out with 2009’s “Hold Time,” 2006’s “Post-War” and the 2008 She & Him album “Volume 1” which features Zooey Deschanel rather than his own worn-leather sounding voice on vocals.

As I listened to these albums this week, I couldn’t help but reflect on how music bares the soul of the songwriter, and thus couldn’t help but wonder if the spiritual allusions I hear are intentional or my own imposition of the reflection of my own heart and soul upon the music. I also couldn’t help but wonder if the allusions are as clear as I hear them to be, or if I’ve just been indoctrinated to look for the spiritual in the secular. I hope it’s the former, because while I love seeing the sacred in the secular, it perturbs me when spiritual allusions are imposed where they simply don’t/can’t/shouldn’t/were never intended to exist.

So you tell me – are the following lyrics clear allusions to Christ? or have I just been going to Sunday School for too many years?

“And he put his name in my chorus, and the dark before the dawn, so that in my time of weakness, I’d remember it’s his song
He’s got a line in the water, he’s a fisher of men
He’s got a lot on the line, he’s a fisher of men”
– From M. Ward’s “Fisher of Men”

“Once I knew there was a love divine
Then came a time I thought it knew me not
Who can forgive forgiveness when forgiveness is not?
Only the land as white as snow”
– From U2’s “White as Snow”

I’m not taking an opinion poll on this last one. Despite the fact that they use words like “damn” and “shitty” (gasp!) in other songs on the album – “Magnificent” is clearly a praise song. has evidently already remixed it…we’ll see how that turns out.

“I was born
I was born to be with you
In this space and time
After that and ever after I haven’t had a clue
Only to break rhyme
This foolishness can leave a heart black and blue

Only love, only love can leave such a mark
But only love, only love can heal such a scar

I was born
I was born to sing for you
I didn’t have a choice but to lift you up
And sing whatever song you wanted me to
I give you back my voice
From the womb my first cry, it was a joyful noise…

Only love, only love can leave such a mark
But only love, only love can heal such a scar

Justified till we die, you and I will magnify
The Magnificent

Only love, only love can leave such a mark
But only love, only love unites our hearts

Justified till we die, you and I will magnify
The Magnificent
– U2’s “Magnificent” from their new album “No Line on the Horizon”


One thought on “All I’ll Ever Have: Redemption Songs

  1. Blanca j. says:

    [Hey, have you ever read Steve Stockman’s “Walk On: The spiritual journey of U2”? If not, I think you’d really appreciate it (one of my life books).]

    I’m fully convinced that God uses any avenue he chooses to reveal truth. Christians sometimes try to force something to be EITHER secular OR sacred, when perhaps there aren’t any actual lines (what percentage of “sacred” does something have to be before it is considered “sacred”?). An artist can create something beautiful–which reflects Eternity–even if he doesn’t actually “get” Eternity. History has shown us this in painting, in music, in literature.

    I read the lyrics above and think of Christ. The work speaks to me, regardless of whether the artist intended that to happen.

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