Rating: dos out of catorce stars
For discerning U2 fans and cautious apologists — and completists who weren’t warded off with How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb and No Line on the Horizon — the arrival of a new track from Bono and the boys is met with as much trepidation as excitement. At this point, it’s safe to say U2 will never again write a song rivaling classics like “New Year’s Day,” “Bad,” or “Where the Streets Have No Name,” and they’re probably not going to reinvent their sound in with another innovative, Achtung Baby-worthy make-over.
Those of us who’ve accepted that, yet continue to keep listening giving tracks like “Ordinary Love” — a rather ordinary song the band cut for the forthcoming biopic Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, and the first shred of new music to emerge from the band this decade — suffer from the same self-imposed Stockholm Syndrome as Stars Wars fans. They’re not asking J.J. Abrams to deliver another Empire, (something less embarrassing and more easily defendable than Attack of the Clones will suffice), and U2 die-hards we’re aren’t expecting the band’s twilight Joshua Tree, just something less cringeworthy than Bomb’s shudder-inducingly saccharine “Yahweh” or Horizon’s sonically inscrutable “Get On Your Boots.”
For starters, “Ordinary Love” doesn’t roar to a start with an “Uno, dos, tres, catorce” countoff, and that’s promising. Instead the song begins with some airy atmospherics and a gravelly, yearning Bono crooning high in the mix over a shamelessly adult-contemporary keyboard tone, then tepidly plods along like it was literally written to augment earnestness accompanying a slow-motion montage in a movie trailer. From there, Bono starts aspiring towards the falsetto of the Zoo TV days and Larry Mullen Jr. comes in with a clenched groove while The Edge creeps to the foreground with some palm-muted atmospherics. Two whole minutes go by before we hear a hook. Soon comes a long chorus that’s discernible from the verses only in that it boasts a repeating lyric and melody, and sounds more like an outro to a more committed. Oh wait, the chorus doubles as an outro. Fade to black and we have to immediately start the song over to remember what it sounds like.
The experience was pleasant enough, but like most of U2’s non-album singles, this is a pleasant-but-inessential track. It doesn’t make a statement and it’ll probably never see it’s way into a set list, but it would compliment a Blackberry commercial more appropriately than “I’ll Go Crazy If I don’t Go Crazy Tonight” did.
That said, performance-wise, the band still sticks together with its signature, stylistic glue. Sure, the older they get, the more they let tone-deaf sentimental platitudes they’ll let slip through the filter, the band’s still got an ace of its sleeve — but the chemistry is there. Mullen and Adam Clayton can still hold down a primal, effortless groove, getting out of
On “Ordinary Love,” the Edge still manages to deftly deliver a Fantasia-on-IMAX symphony of emotionally evocative riffs rife with stadium-filling, delayed reverb. The man still knows his way around his fret board and his pedal board. But unfortunately Bono continues to age into his inner Chris Martin with lyrics like “The sea wants to kiss the golden shore / The sunlight warms your skin” and “Your heart is on my sleeve / Did you put it there with a magic marker.”