U2 first debuted “Every Breaking Wave” in 2010 on the 360° Tour — but the version U2 played, which featured only Bono and The Edge, is much different than the finished product that was released on Songs of Innocence. Four years ago, U2 planned to release a follow-up album to No Line on the Horizon prior to the final 2011 leg of the 360° Tour, but the ill-fated Spider-Man broadway project got in the way.
Elements of the 2010 version of “Wave” remain intact — the verse lyric and melody are the same. The chorus, however, is brand-new, and the song’s original chorus is now its middle eight.
Often times, tinkering with a song too much can have a less-than-desireable result. “All Because of You” is one U2 song that should’ve just been released as soon as it was finished, as the Chris Thomas-produced version is superior to the version that landed on How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, but the end result of “Every Breaking Wave” is one of U2’s best songs.
The Songs of Innocence version of “Wave” starts off with a pulsating bass and simple drum beat, before Bono’s vocal kicks in. While the Innocence version of “Wave” is good, the stripped down, piano and strings version that U2 have played on their promotional tour is what transforms this song into one of the best songs U2 have ever written — a testament to the strong song-writing that went into “Wave.”
(Video via U2’s YouTube channel)
The piano version, also found on the deluxe version of Innocence, begins with The Edge trading in his guitar and delay pedal for a piano, before Bono begins singing.
“Every breaking wave on the shore
Tells the next one there’ll be one more
And every gambler knows that to lose
Is what you’re really there for
Summer I was fearless
Now I speak into an answer phone
Like every falling leaf on the breeze
Winter wouldn’t leave it alone”
The imagery that Bono uses to paint his picture is a call-back to the Unforgettable Fire era, when Bono’s lyrics invoked more imagery and were a bit more poetic than visceral. The piano-only verse also suits the songs lyrics and meaning much better.
After conjuring up the picture of old man winter not letting a dead leaf fall to its final rest, the song launches into its first chorus:
“If you go
If you go your way and I go mine
Are we so?
Are we so helpless against the tide?
Baby, every dog on the street
Knows that we’re in love with defeat
Are we ready to be swept off our feet?
And stop chasing
Every breaking wave”
Thematically, the song gains more clarity after the chorus. The protagonist in the song feels helpless, as a loved one simply isn’t there for him or her at that point in time.
Every sailor knows that the sea
Is a friend made enemy
And every shipwrecked soul knows what it is
To live without intimacy
I thought I heard the captain’s voice
But it’s hard to listen while you preach
Like every broken wave on the shore
This is as far as I could reach”
More metaphors! The protagonist’s state of mind is similar to that of a shipwrecked soul, or to a wave breaking on the shore; his or her psyche has to cope with accepting the fact that there is only so much that one person can do. No matter how far much you do for another person or how much you want to help, you can only reach as far as a broken wave on the shore at times — especially if the other person is incapable of listening or accepting help.
During the song’s second verse, a string section kicks in — adding a perfect touch of melancholy.
The middle eight and final chorus is what truly separates the piano version from the album version. As soon as Bono begins singing after a brief interlude, Larry Mullen Jr. and Adam Clayton join the band — with Mullen providing a driving beat.
“The sea knows we’re on the rocks
And drowning is no sin
You know where my heart is
The same place yours has been
We know that we fear to win
So we end before we begin
Before we begin”
After that, U2 launches into “Wave’s” third and final chorus, with the full band and string section all playing at once — creating the climax that the song didn’t have on the album.
The middle eight and final chorus illustrate that the protagonist knows what the other person is going through — but resigns to his or herself that this relationship just isn’t going to work unless the other person submits themselves to the idea of an actual relationship and stops running away, or, stops chasing every breaking wave.
Where “With or Without You” expresses a desire to be with somebody and a willingness to wait, and “One” accepts differences between two people while acknowledging that we have to carry each other, “Wave” is more defeated and perhaps more rooted in reality — the protagonist simply knows that he or she can only do so much.
And let’s be real here anyway — if somebody does go chasing every breaking wave, are they even worth the fight?