One of the most interesting aspects of the “Sunday Bloody Sunday” lyric is the fact that not too many popular songs are able to express such a profound, politically-driven theme without sacrificing the “entertainment” value which most people expect from pop music. In order to maintain a pop-music idiom, Bono’s lyrics are necessarily non-specific, and avoid mentioning any specific conflict or specific race ort nation.
It’s easy to imagine how the song’s impact might have been blunted behind a direct and specific addressing of, say, the enduring British and Irish conflict in Northern Ireland; had the band come out singing about any specific conflict, it would have been unavoidable that those who heard the song felt it advocated one side over the other. Lack of specificity allows the band to create a lyric which expresses a universal, anti-war theme.
The lyrics of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” when examined closely are really only a series of conventional platitudes, sung emotionally and with a driving musical arrangement, like an anthem, behind them. However, the lyrics, alone, convey little more than the expected emotional and imagistic range that one associates immediately with any anti-war expression. The second verse of the song generates an image of war and the suffering that war creates, but this image is in no way novel or inventive; rather it is so conventional as to be almost archetypal:
Broken bottles under childrens feet Bodies strewn across the dead end street But I wont heed the battle call It puts my back up Puts my back up against the wall (Sunday bloody Sunday) The understated, by always evident, religious sentiment of the lyrics enables the anti-war theme to move even deeper towards an archetypal anthem. The idea is that behind all of the war and destruction and hatred is… love.
And it is a love that puts humanity in contact with God just as war puts humanity in conflict with themselves and with nature. The subtlety of the almost pedestrian lyric comes alive when the words express the potential unity of humanity: “cause tonight… we can be as one/ Tonight… / Tonight… ” (Sunday Bloody Sunday) and it is the sudden reversal from conflict to hoped-for unity that marks the most notable emotional shift in the lyrics and in the song as a whole.