I debated whether or not to make any comments on the revised version of "Mercy," but decided that after 6 years of hype about the song, ignoring its first public performance probably would seem odd. I didn't share the general passion for the original demo version that began circulating around the time of HTDAAB (a stab at the lyrics here); I found it overlong, indulgent, and repetitive, despite enjoying some of the couplets and the ending. The new version (or the current iteration of it?), which was premiered in Zurich, has been tightened up considerably and made more, let's say, radio-friendly. I don't think we really know all the lyrics for sure yet (particularly the end of the chorus), but this effort is the best I've seen.
So just a couple things about the changes, just for fun.
The title of the song and several of the first lines that with it set the tone are unchanged: "I was drinking some wine/ And it turned to blood..." I really miss the extremely clever "a one and a zero," though. Still, I think the new version has a depth and stability that is absent in the demo -- both for musical reasons (the decision to go more guitar-driven, the clearer form, the tighter melodic moves) and textual ones.
If this wasn't a slip and the lyric does turn out to have been switched from "You're gravity searching for the ground, you're silence..." to "I'm silence, searching for a sound," I wonder if the importance of the image of "the sound" in NLOTH has had some influence. U2 sometimes seem to define terms in a private lexicon by the way they've already used them elsewhere ("love and logic" for example); perhaps they think the noun "sound" is taken now, in a way it wasn't in 2005. On the other hand, the first version was a nice, consistent depiction of the incarnational impulse we get in songs like "Stay" (abstract noun wishing to be concrete noun.)
It hits me that the refrain "Because because because we can, we must" may sort of be standing in for the 2004 sections about social justice that recycled some Bono-activism soundbites: "love is justice not charity," "love has got to be with the weak," etc. However, with that theme now absent from the 2010 text and the song focusing more intensely on the interior dynamic of weak, weedkiller "me" faced with "you," the concept of an external obligation seems to me to enter from nowhere.
I laughed at the audacity of the new chorus, with its "You’re gonna kill me and I wanna die/ We were meant for each other, you and I." (A bit more intense than that sweet little Noel nouvelet allusion "Love is come again/I am gone again" -- although there's plenty of death in that hymn text too! However, it's refreshing not to have all those repetitions of "Love" throughout the song -- maybe that U2 code word has become a little tired.) Death is certainly not new on the U2 theme list, nor is imagery that veers dangerously close to equating suicide with spiritual surrender; however, as of the time of HTDAAB it was the rebirth aspect that was getting more emphasis. That whole album, as I've said elsewhere, is a kind of extended answer to Nicodemus' question, "Can a man go back into his mother's womb and be reborn?", and thus the original "I'm born again and again and again" ending fit in very well with that era. But there's very little death on NLOTH.
Because this is 2010 and not 2004, I can't help reading those new lines in light of the mix NLOTH has between images of very workaday ordinary living as graced, and evocations of a kind of ecstatic mystical union undergirding this life. At the U2 academic conference, Jeff Keuss alluded off the cuff to a citation he had seen mentioning Bono reading John of the Cross (which, sadly, he wasn't able to locate again afterwards), and I did pull up the Spiritual Canticle yesterday, with all its "being brought near death/by the arrows you receive/from that which you conceive of your Beloved.... Reveal your presence, and may the vision of your beauty be my death" stuff. (And then there's "Why, since you wounded this heart, don't you heal it?"... is that a little reminiscent of "Magnificent"?) Whatever. Anyway, death is back, I guess, but this take has a sweep and assurance to it that's different from earlier uses.
"There's no one else to trust," at least until we get a better version of what those lyrics really are, reminded me of mewithoutYou's line about "There's no one here to believe but you" from "Every Thought a Thought of You." Highly unlikely that there's an actual connection, though.
I'm looking forward to a few more performances and to getting a better sense of what's going to become of this near-mythical song.