Pop was the first U2 album I ever purchased as a grotty teenager at the tail end of the nineties. Because of this, I've never had a problem with the band's more artistic or left field experiments, preferring universally despised records like Zooropa and Pop to more acclaimed, commercial endeavours like Rattle & Hum and All That You Can't Leave Behind. On the whole, Pop still stands up as a pretty good album, though it feels a little half arsed and there was certainly a degree of artistic compromise, with the U2 sound of old (which in hindsight seems more like a precursor to the style of All That You Can't Leave Behind and the new record, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb) infecting the techno beats & ambient instrumentation. However, the singles still stand up exceedingly well, with stuff like Last Night on Earth and Staring at the Sun merging the more wayward moments of Pop's experimentation with the anthemic and grandiose qualities of songs like The Unforgettable Fire & With or Without You, as evident with this great single, If God Will Send His Angels.
Here, we get a great deal of ambient techno meandering from co-producer Howie B (& I'm sure Brian Eno had a hand in here also), setting up the song's dense atmosphere of low-key, multi-cultural melancholy, as Bono intones in a manner that is almost spoken word & completely devoid of irony "there's nobody else here baby... no one here to blame". The verse continues over the atmospheric backdrop, as the drowning guitars of the Edge become more apparent in the mix. Still, Bono persists with vague yet deeply evocative lyrics, as a disconcerting digitally enhanced backing-chorus kicks in and the song begins to achieve momentum; "nobody made you do it, no one put words in your mouth, there's nobody here taking orders, when love took a train heading south". The song is augmented by pulsating electronic beats (think Radiohead circa Ok Computer or certain parts of Kid A) that fuse with the Edge's guitars and the relaxed rhythm section of Larry & Adam, which begins to make itself know as Bono reaches the chorus "...it's the blind leading the blonde, it's the stuff, it's the stuff of country songs, oh if God will send his angels".
The song has a real spiritual and devotional sound that works perfectly with the lyrics, with the inclusion of those aforementioned backing harmonies suggesting some sort of space age choir; something further illustrated by the subtle chimes & bells incorporated into the percussion. Bono's vocals seem more relaxed than on previous U2 songs of this ilk (this is a definite close cousin to songs like One, Stay (Faraway, So Close!) and the above-noted With Or Without You), retaining an emotional detachment... only breaking into his trade-mark croon during the chorus and that heart-wrenching outro verse ("I don't want to lie, I don't want to have to feel the song... and I don't want to love, and I... and I want to feel alone"). I'd say that this track is easily one of U2's most interesting compositions, fusing a soul-searching sense of devotion with a heartfelt gutter-poetry, with the reflections of poverty, loneliness and hardship being slyly juxtaposed with images of Father Christmas, coloured bulbs, Jesus and the entertainment industry. It's possibly the most cinematic of all U2 songs, with the band creating some amazing imagery within our minds, proving that the spirit of the Passengers wasn't too far away when devising this project.
The single is great - and good value for money if you can get your hands on a copy - featuring, as it does, three great/interesting b-sides that build on the style and sound of this song and the album from which it came. Slow Dancing is very much in the spirit of the Wanderer from 1993's underrated Zooropa album, with fellow country veteran Willie Nelson taking the reins from Johnny Cash to deliver a tongue-in-cheek country & western ballad shot through with industrial guitars and a plodding electro-pop rhythm, whilst Two Shots of Happy, One Shot of Sad, as the other commentators have noted, was Bono's song to Frank Sinatra. The single climaxes with a raw and stripped down version of Sunday Bloody Sunday, which is even more emotional than the previous bombastic live renditions and possibly more potent than the version of the song from War. This remains one of my favourite U2-related releases, with If God Will Send His Angels standing as one of my most listened to U2 songs... whilst also acting as a timely reminder as to how great this band used to be (single wise) after their recent lacklustre release, Vertigo.