Perhaps part of the secret to U2's wide appeal is the subjectivity of the songs. Many of them are cryptic enough to be interpreted in a variety of ways, making them meaningful to everyone, regardless of faith. Their 1991 hit "One" is a perfect example. Bono has previously indicated it's a conversation between a father and his son who's afflicted with AIDS; but it's written in such a way that it can be interpreted simply as an anthem about carrying each other's burdens in unity, compassion, and servanthood – unquestionably Christian themes, but certainly not unique to Christianity. Also from Achtung Baby is the song "Mysterious Ways," a cryptic alternative rocker if there ever was one. There are a number of interpretations, but the most popular one I've seen is that it's inspired by Oscar Wilde's play "Salome" (the stepdaughter of King Herod mentioned in Matthew 14), in which he writes, "One cannot know how God acts. His ways are very mysterious ways … One cannot know anything. All we can do is submit in everything." Another interpretation I've seen is that the woman in the song is a metaphor for the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and the bridge seems to support that theory as well: "One day you'll look back and you'll see / where you were held now by this love / While you could stand there, you could move on this moment, follow this feeling." Meanwhile, Achtung Baby's "Until the End of the World" is almost certainly about the betrayal of Jesus from the perspective of Judas, complete with depictions of the Last Supper and the garden of Gethsemane. In light of the spiritual allusions, is it all that unthinkable that the seemingly sensual rocker "Even Better Than the Real Thing" is actually a spiritual love song about accepting Christ into our lives?
These Christian themes aren't immediately apparent when listening to U2, but they aren't too much of a stretch either, and they run through the other three albums released last decade. The theme of broken lives in need of spiritual healing seems to be at the core of two tracks from 1992's Zooropa, the electronic and monotonous "Numb" and the glorious "Stay (Faraway, So Close!)." Also from that album is "The First Time," which is often perceived as a song about the Trinity (again, feminizing the Holy Spirit), and the love God freely offers. Pop's "Staring at the Sun" could be about the doubts we wrestle with in pursuit of the light of Truth. The imagery is even more striking on tracks from All That You Can't Leave Behind. The hit single "Beautiful Day" is much like one of those "after the storm" gospel songs, seeking joy amid the frustrations of daily living and alluding to the Great Flood in the bridge. "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out of" is like a soulful four-minute summary of Ecclesiastes, touching on the meaninglessness of worry and materialism and concluding with "this too shall pass."
Fans will be thankful for the inclusion of goodies and rarities on this compilation. For starters, two key singles have been included from projects outside the standard U2 catalog. The darkly symphonic rock of "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" from the film Batman Forever is probably about the perils of celebrity and pride, though there are allusions to C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters in the video. There's also the politically inspired "Miss Sarajevo" from the experimental Passengers project. Those disappointed with the band's Pop album probably will appreciate new remixes of "Gone," "Staring at the Sun," and "Discotheque," as well as Zooropa's "Numb." Though not everyone will find these versions superior to the originals, the producers do manage to tweak the tracks enough to make them sound a little more at home with the other tracks. Additionally, there are two new tracks. "The Hands That Built America" appears in the upcoming Martin Scorcese film, Gangs of New York, and it pays tribute to the Irish who left their homeland and helped shape the Industrial Revolution. "Electrical Storm," the current radio single, is about love and reconciliation in the midst of fear and uncertainty (i.e. 9/11). While it's something of a typical U2 song, it's also extremely infectious. Fans also will want to rush into stores to pick up the special limited-edition copy of The Best of 1990-2000, which contains a companion promo DVD of U2's upcoming video collection, as well as a 74-minute disc of 14 B-sides and remixes. This is a generous collection indeed.