If you were choosing artists for the soundtrack to accompany a biopic about the life of South African leader Nelson Mandela, who would be at the top of your list? It's practically a gimme question, with the easy answer being U2. From the song "Silver and Gold" on the live Rattle and Hum release in 1988 to lead singer Bono's current and active ambassadorship on behalf of the continent of Africa, this band has a long history of trying to make a difference in the very areas that Nelson Mandela is now so widely lauded for devoting his life to.
Movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was certainly interested in signing the band for the project, and he says the Irish supergroup was just as enthusiastic in its acceptance of his invitation to participate. Weinstein reported, "When I asked them to consider writing a song for Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, it was the fastest 'yes' I have ever received. The band saw various cuts of the film over the summer and worked diligently to write a song that truly reflects Nelson Mandela. I think they did a brilliant job honoring the man and the leader they have known for over 20 years."
Describing the sound of this song and others the band is currently working on with producer Danger Mouse (who's perhaps most famous for being one half of Gnarls Barkley, along with Cee Lo Green), bassist Adam Clayton says, "I think it's a bit of a return to U2 of old, but with the maturity, if you like, of the U2 of the last 10 years. It's a combination of those two things and it's a really interesting hybrid." Bono's soaring falsetto is still in fine form at the age of 53. And Edge's jangling, haunting, echoing guitar arpeggios in this mid-tempo ballad are equally and instantly recognizable.
The band is also still very much in touch with its poetic side, penning phrases here that could give a class full of English majors a pretty exciting week were they to start deconstructing.
"The sea wants to kiss the golden shore," Bono begins with a verbal flourish. "The sunlight warms your skin/All the beauty that's been lost before/Wants to find us again." In the second verse he adds, "I can't fight you anymore/It's you I'm fighting for/The sea throws rocks together/But time leaves us polished stones."
So we start with hints at the paradoxical nature of relationships, finding one another amid loss and growing beautiful in the crucible of life's inevitably topsy-turvy tumult. Then, as it progresses, "Ordinary Love" turns its attention to its title. Love, Bono suggests, must be more than something we simply fall into: "We can't fall any further/If we can't feel ordinary love." And yet, again paradoxically, without that everyday quality to it, love cannot aspire to great things: "We cannot reach any higher/If we can't deal with ordinary love." Later, Bono lobs this question into the mix: "Are we tough enough/For ordinary love?"
Though the song never directly addresses Mandela's life and actions, it's clear given the context that Bono believes he has lived a life full of exactly such "ordinary love." That it shaped his legacy. So listening repeatedly to the song's circuitous chorus pushes us to concentrate on the possibility that supposedly ordinary love is actually the foundation for an extraordinary life.