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Track Review

Sometimes things fall apart.

Sometimes we're not even sure why.

That melancholy message permeates U2's latest song, a somber tale that's only momentarily disguised by its cheery title, "You're the Best Thing About Me."

Another Silly Love Song?

If you only listened to this song's chorus, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Bono was telling a happy love story here. "You're the best thing about me," Bono's iconic, raspy voice rings out above Edge's echoing guitar riffs. "The best thing that ever happened a boy." (The implied "to" in that last phrase is curiously absent.)

Alas, all is not well.

Quiet tension lurks in the song's first line: "When you look so good, the pain in your face doesn't show." The second line adds, "When you look so good, and baby you don't even know," perhaps implying that this woman has struggled so long that hiding her emotions has become second nature.

Then we hear this metaphorical harbinger of a brilliant, beautiful relationship burning out: "When the world is ours, but the world is not your kind of thing/Full of shooting stars, brighter as they're vanishing."

Things weren't always so dire. Once, this man and woman had a good time together. (Indeed, perhaps too good). "You're the best thing about me," Bono sings. "I'm the kind of trouble that you enjoy." But good things, he hints darkly, can be fragile, too: "The best things are easy to destroy."

Even though the song's protagonist apparently cares deeply for the woman, he keeps sabotaging the relationship. His unconsidered words do damage ("Shooting off my mouth, that's another great thing about me," Bono sings sarcastically), while his inner emptiness seemingly predestines him for failure ("I have everything, but I feel like nothing at all/There's no risky thing for a man who's determined to fall").

Later, Bono observes that what this man offers ("I can see you love her loudly") is not what she ultimately needs ("When she needs you quietly"). In the end, he leaves the woman he loves, even though he isn't quite sure why: "Why am I/Why am I walking away?" he asks.

And that's the melancholy mystery that the song leaves us with.

Messes, Mystery and Meaning

"You're the Best Thing About Me" doesn't tell a happily ever after story. Rather, it suggests that sometimes even the things we care about most deeply don't work out, sometimes for reasons we can't clearly articulate.

So does this song breezily rationalize abandoning a floundering romantic relationship? I don't think that's what's going on here. Rather, I suspect Bono & Co. are narrating a kind of painful experience many of us have lived through at some point in our lives. Even as we try to pinpoint what, exactly, went wrong, we can't quite put our finger on it.

U2 captures the pain of such experiences here, pain that this song leaves hanging instead of resolving. And even though most of us gravitate toward stories with nice, tidy endings, Bono & Co. don't give us one here.

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September 6, 2017

On Video

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Adam R. Holz

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