“Winter” was a demo worked on for No Line on the Horizon, that almost made it to the album.
In a December 2008 preview of the album, published in Q Magazine, “Winter” was mentioned and the magazine identifies that it is about a soldier in a war zone.
In the article “U2: Hymns for the Future“ by Brian Hiatt in Rolling Stone Magazine, the band provides some insight into the album No Line on the Horizon, as well as song songs that will be used for the next album.
In the basement of London’s Olympic Studios, armed only with a MacBook and a Nord keyboard, Brian Eno is leading a doomed, one-man insurgency. It’s early-December and U2 are wrapping up their sessions for No Line, the track listing almost finalized, but Eno is still pushing for prayerful, moody songs that were long ago abandoned. lie’s most passionate about “Winter,” which sounds like no other U2 song. It begins with fingerpicked, chiming acoustic guitar and falsetto backing vocals, and once Bono hits a key line -“Summer sings in me no more” — Eno’s dramatic strings kick in. “Listening to the silence, the deaf and dumb roar of white noise/Your voice,” Bono sings at one point, followed by a choral chant. “Beautiful, isn’t it? They’re bonkers to leave it off’,” Eno says with real sadness, as the tune winds up with soaring, dissonant strings — they’re synthesized, played on his little keyboard down here in the basement. “It’s too long, it needs a bit of work,” he says of “Winter.” “But, you know, they won’t spend time on it. They’ve spent months working on the ones that are supposed to be the radio singles. Months! This: played, put aside.”
The song was actually released as part of “Linear”, the film that Anton Corbijn directed for inclusion with the album. The song was also later re-recorded and included on the soundtrack to the film, “Brothers.” It was nominated for a Golden Globe.
In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter by Jay Fernandez after the Golden Globe nomination was announced Bono spoke about a number of topics, but specifically about “Winter”:
We were involved in the very earliest stages of this movie—before it was a script! When it was just Jim pitching it! He wanted a complex song for a complex character. And we wrote two—one that referred particularly to the brothers that was called “White As Snow,” and this is called “Winter,” one that is just really a more universal song about the experience of the armed forces in Afghanistan. “No army in this world can fight a ghost,” in an asymmetrical war. The brave men and women of the United States military have their work cut out for them.
HR: How do you write these songs at the script stage?
Well, we were in songwriting mode, actually, when Jim first told us about “Brothers.” So we were actively looking for subjects. And I was trying to give myself a break from writing in the first person anyway. [laughs] I was bored, and I reckon our audience were bored hearing about my every whim and aspiration and fear. So I really jumped on the idea of trying to get into this guy’s head. I am so pleased it turned out very well. It’s had a few iterations. We did a kind of rock band version of it, we did an acoustic version of it. And even yesterday [laughs] I caught Edge—because we were supposed to be working on something else—I caught him working on an electronic version! [laughs] He’s very proud of it. We are very proud of it. Songs like this, if you’re a songwriter, don’t come about every year.
So as of December 14, 2009, U2 (or at least The Edge) were still tinkering with “Winter,” so there may be further iterations of it to come but at this point it looks less and less likely.