U2 fans are a fickle bunch. Some like every song and B-side the band has produced since they first started releasing 7-inch singles 30 years ago.
U2 fans are a fickle bunch. Some like every song and B-side the band has produced since they first started releasing 7-inch singles 30 years ago. Others dismiss the late 90’s experimentalism of Zooropa and Pop, or feel 1988’s Rattle and Hum was an embarrassing exercise in self-importance, when U2 went overboard with excess. Some are fine with Rattle and Hum‘s rhythm and blues revisionism, but cringe at the comeback commercialism of All That You Can’t Leave Behind and How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb-they fear the new. Others swear by War and Boy era U2, back when the band really mattered. Now they think Bono is an atomic clown.
Full disclosure: I think that Zooropa and Pop are two brilliant albums that nobody, not even the band, seemed to really like or fully appreciate, and I could do without the U2 that writes sentimental stabs at hit singles liked 2001’s “Walk On.” But in general, I’ve always dug the musical soul of these four Irishmen who still function like a band of brothers-Bono with his irrepressible pipes, the Edge with his laser focused, icicle blast guitar, Adam Clayton and his fundamentally “Euro”-style pulsing bass lines, and Larry Mullen Jr. with his dramatically accurate drumming. They’ve given us so many great songs: “One.” “Where the Streets Have No Name.” “With Or Without You.” “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” “Bad.” “Running To Stand Still.”
“The sweetest melody is the one we haven’t heard,” sings Bono like a bird, in sweet falsetto, like Rick Danko at the disco, halfway through the band’s twelfth studio album. It’s a line from “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight,” one of the more immediately catchy numbers on No Line On The Horizon. The song is a stand-out, but in truth, there’s nothing here that’s abnormally great, just like there’s nothing here that’s distractingly bad. If we’re willing to “stop helping God across the road like a little old lady,” we can take a nice ride around U2’s global village, high on the fumes. It all depends on how allergic you are to the occasionally awkward lyric.
U2 have said they wanted to compete with the Killers and the Coldplays of the world, and on No Line‘s eponymous opening track, they come out sounding exactly like Kings of Leon. It’s as if they’re saying, hey look, our sex is on fire too! But really, they’re just referencing themselves, reclaiming what the Kings have borrowed for their own purposes. Another nod to current modern rock fashion, the bare-bones, electronic sounding “Moment of Surrender,” stretches for over seven minutes, built around a slinky gospel groove. One quibble: if you “did not notice the passersby, and they did not notice you,” then how do you know they were there? “Force quit, move to trash,” commands Bono on the one note pony “Unknown Caller,” which updates “Lemon” and “Babyface’s” fascination with technology. “Re-start and reboot yourself.” It’s not exactly OK Computer, but it grows on you.
U2 know how to end strong: The galloping, 6/8 “Breathe” is among the album’s best, with odd, throwaway lines like “I wasn’t gonna buy just anyone’s cockatoo.” After that, there’s the moody war correspondent’s anthem, “Cedars of Lebanon,” a more subdued “Bullet the Blue Sky.” “Choose your enemies carefully ‘cause they will define you,” Bono murmurs, steeped in mystery. “Make them interesting ‘cause in some ways they will mind you/They’re not there in the beginning but when your story ends/Gonna last with you longer than your friend.”
Exchange “enemies” with “lyrics” and you have an interesting new meme.