“Where the Streets Have No Name” is undoubtedly one of the most recognizable tracks in all of U2’s discography, so when another player comes around and puts their spin on an iconic composition, criticism is bound to go in one of two directions. It’s difficult to see many listeners having any issue with the wondrous take Brett Copeland has on the song in his latest single, which respectfully stays true to the fine lines of the original version while emphasizing some of the understated elements more appropriately highlighted in a 2021 rendition. You don’t have to be a big U2 fan to appreciate the skill here, but more specifically, I think those with a general taste for culture pop songcraft will find this especially appealing.
The lead vocal here reinforces the lyrical themes and even works to exaggerate the isolated feel of the atmospheric harmony central to the hook. The mix is generous with our leading man’s presence but never overindulgent when it comes to matching up his lyrics with the intensity of the band supporting him from the shadows. Their light proves too bright to remain in the backdrop for too long, but at no point does Copeland ever have to compete to get his fair share of the spotlight in this track; on the contrary, I would even go so far as to say that his is a voice that simply can’t join a performance without winning the lion’s share of our focus right out of the gate (nine times out of ten, at least).
This backing band, comprised of heavy hitters Tommy Black, Yohai Portal, and Zachary St. John, are more or less on their own separate path when Copeland starts peppering the instrumental melodies with poetry, but as different as the two facets of this track are, they come together in the most complimentary fashion I could imagine. There’s a seamlessness to this re-imagination of “Where the Streets Have No Name” that is a bit more prominent to the casual listener than it was in U2’s initial cut of the song released decades ago, and while I don’t like to compare any cover to its original – especially when it’s one as identifiable and beloved as this one happens to be – I don’t think you can listen to this and wholeheartedly ignore the aesthetical differences making both recording very entrancing.
There are only a handful of songs that I’ve personally listened to in the past six months that captured the real essence of what 2020 was like on both ends of the music industry, and Brett Copeland’s “Where the Streets Have No Name” is one of them for certain. This feels like an aural encapsulation of the disintegration in human contact we all experienced as COVID-19 slowly took over the cultural narrative for the better part of an entire year, and though it isn’t something he wrote himself, Copeland puts the sort of emotion into his performance here that makes every word feel like a direct line to his heart and that of his backing band.
by Bethany Page