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A Critical Analysis of the Themes and Subtexts of U2's "Elevation"

  • Dec 20, 2010
Bono, the bi-syllabic musical Prophet hailing from Ireland, has spent a career bringing his lessons of love, peace and tolerance to millions of fans who grew to understand that the man and the message transcend all normal mortal barriers. With periodic spikes of brilliance punctuating an already star-guided discography, few songs if any capture all that is Bono more than his 2000 masterpiece Elevation.


High, higher than the sun
You shoot me from a gun
I need you to elevate me here

The first stanza immediately establishes the song's basic theme of being spiritually higher than we thought we were, reminding us of Oscar Wilde's observation that "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." At the same time, the mention of a gun foreshadows some of the inevitable violence that counter-balances a song that's based on hope.

A corner of your lips
Is the orbit of your hips
You elevate my soul

Here he explains the nature of his elevated state in reference to a kiss - an eclipse - a close of the eyes, an appreciation of feminine beauty. Other musicians have battled to find their own elevation: as later noted by Young MC in Bust a Move "You're looking for love in all the wrong places", or more coarsely alluded to by The Prodigy with their decision to "change my pitch up, smack my bitch up."

I've got no self control
Been living like a mole now
Going down, excavation
Higher now, in the sky
You make me feel like I can fly
So high

Providing a direct contrast to his currently elevated state, the singer looks back at where he has come from. Using the imagery of a mole, classically a symbol of depression, Bono reveals to us that he's been in darkness, trying to escape to the light unsuccessfully. In both compared states, he was once digging lower and now flying higher, subtly disarming the illusion of the status quo. It's a theme that we find reiterated in Cradle of Filth's famous track, "Hallowed Be Thy Name (Shallow Be Thy Grave)".

A star
Lit up like a cigar
Strung out like a guitar
Maybe you can educate my mind
Explain all these controls
Can't sing but I've got soul
The goal is elevation

In reference to the shooting stars frequently seen in the skies of Dublin in the latter part of the year, this deeply reflective verse is about hope, the belief in destiny, and to trust your own innate talents to achieve not just a personal but a professional state of ecstasy. "Explain all these controls" refers to the fallacy of things we believe give us control in life, when the real key to overcome problems is internal ("I've got soul").

A mole
Digging in a hole
Digging up my soul now
Going down, excavation

In the final tautological moment of self-doubt, his spiritual fulfillment is threatened once again - and this time quite violently, in the excavation of his very soul. Previously, Bono admitted he was "living like a mole", but here the mole is an external force pulling him back to darkness - no longer the source of his own despair, he must face his own demons.

Lift me out of these blues
Won't you tell me something true I believe in you

The redemptive power of love, the resurrection of life and eternal hope all combine in a perfect trinity to overcome the darkness. It's a fundamentally religious result from a dramatic psychological condition, and connects U2's music with the salvation of its audience.

A mole Digging in a hole
Digging up my soul now

Going down, excavation
Elevation Elevation Elevation Elevation Elevation

Finally, the Edge is given something to do.

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January 09, 2011
Love the breakdown here.
December 20, 2010
Too funny... nice one James!
December 20, 2010
Thanks, JRJ! You can tell I'm on the slow street waiting for Christmas...
December 20, 2010
I love it. A perspicacious deconstructionist critique that would make Derrida proud! I think. And here I was under the impression that Bono was seeking to improve his rebounding skills . . .
December 20, 2010
Thanks - I forgot to mention that obviously Bono's continual use of rose-colored sunglasses is somehow ironic.
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About this song


"Elevation" is the third track and third single release from U2's 2000 album, All That You Can't Leave Behind. Featuring a thunderous beat, a variety of sound effects on the central guitar riff, and an easy rhyming lyric for the audience to shout along with, it was highly effective in its concert-opening role on the Elevation Tour (named after the song) and became a hit in the United States and the United Kingdom. It was also their second #1 single in the Netherlands. In 2002, "Elevation" won "Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal".

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Label: Interscope
Release Date: June 12, 2001
Artist: U2

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