There's a joke of sorts here somewhere: when is a U2 single not a U2 single? Answer: never. No matter what U2 do or how far they try to push their particular envelope there is always a faithful predictability at the core of their music that stamps it as U2 as surely as a librarian studiously stamping a book before it leaves the library. Sometimes it's just some Bono bluster, sometimes it's that chiming guitar, but there's always something that gets me to roll my eyes in a 'here we go again' kind of way. And here we do indeed go again - following the band's dissatisfaction with/mixed critical reaction to the experimentation of 1997's 'Pop' album, U2 2000 strove to return to a more 'traditional' U2 sound. A laudable intent perhaps, but the irony is that in trying to return to their roots, 'Beautiful Day' is perhaps the most un-U2 single they produced in years.
The key is its apparent simplicity: what I like best about 'Beautiful Day' is its clean directness and genuine optimism. "It's a beautiful day, the sky falls and you feel like it's a beautiful day. Don’t let it get away" - unlike most of the band's output there's a complete lack of that usual knowing force of will that tries to automatically induct the song into a mythical rock and roll hall of fame via self conscious worthiness, hyperbole and bad metaphor. There's a straightforward honesty about it that I've not heard on a U2 song since their debut album way back in 1980 and for once all four members sound like they're breathing out in harmony to release the tension born of just being in U2. Of course, the tortuous writing, recording and mixing process behind the song belies the artless purity of the end result, but that's down to the production work of Lanois and Eno who inject the air between the tracks that make it float to an audience who might otherwise be turned off by the weight of the ballast they usually carry. Like me. And yes I know all this probably winds up the average U2 fan/obsessive, but as these are exactly the sort of people I enjoy seeing wound up then it's all to the good.