I think this is definitely one of the key songs in the album, and one of the finest. The meaning is quite mysterious, which is why I think it is very, very interesting. The obvious approach that it is about a woman who looks particularly tempting in a velvet dress is, in my opinion, a typical Bono bluff. Although the subject is related.
If you look at the lyrics for two minutes you realise the important part to figure out is what is the sun and the moon. This is a common image that Bono uses in many songs: the sun and the moon, along with the rain and the stars appear in songs like Mysterious Ways, The Fly, Staring at the Sun, Discotheque, Do you Feel Loved, Gone, ...
I have a theory for this that works great in some songs, but seems a bit forced in others... it goes like this: the sun is God (and truth, and good, and beauty, ...); the moon, which reflects the sun's light, but is not the sun, stands for the world, which has a lot of good and beauty in it but is not God, and should not be more important in our lives than God. Also, many times the moon is the temptation (sin is always a movement away from God and closer to the creatures, either people or things). I think this is particularly Bono-esque in the sense that Bono's appreciation of God is very... wordly, in a good way. He calls out to God from his great love of the World, and also from a clear (and getting clearer) perception of his condition of a sinner in need of redemption. Bono does sing many different things about love because he realises you can have good loves and bad loves, and in a way he respects the bad loves because he sees they are made of the same thing - love -, they're just turned the wrong way.
So read the lyrics to Velvet Dress with this in mind! It seems, in fact, like a man in the moment of temptation, but with that hazy, blurred atmosphere (so perfectly suggested by the guitar solo, which moves but has this frozen lick echoing in the background) that makes him question which is actually the greater good: the Sun that is sharp and clear, or that sweet moon that look so irresistible... that will not bring him any good in the long run, but will bring him a reflection of God right now, when "right now" is all he can see.
Another important thing to point out is that the chorus is a condition (if), but its consequence is never specified. What happens if she wears the dress? What happens if the world turns into that absolute irresistible temptation for a moment? This is the touch of genious in the song: what happens is that he will choose, and he can still choose right or wrong. So can you, so can I, ... this is where the song "opens" to become an anthem for freedom, and freedom so real it hurts. This is where love has a chance to prove itself...
Pedro Rodrigues pedro.rodriguesclix.pt (3rd of December 1998) Lisbon, Portugal
Originally posted by Remy:[..]
As with many U2 songs, it's about anything, nothing and a lot of different things
Originally posted by notcomingdown:Just kind of getting into this one. It has never been a particular favorite before, but it is one of the most interesting songs they have ever done. I love when an old song I have overlooked reveals itself to me.
Originally posted by kris_smith87:I love this song. It's one of my favorites. I also fell in love with the live version. It sounds rockier and edgier (no pun intended). I just wish this version was longer. Does anyone know if the boys performed the full song on the PopMart tour?
Originally posted by yeah:Most complete version should be opening night indeed. Nearly 4 minutes and misses just 2 lines of the lyrics.
Later versions vary between about 2:30 and 3:20 or so.
Would have been nice if they had played it as planned on the Vertigo tour.