Friday, February 27, 2009

No Line on the Horizon – U2’s new album

I am a huge U2 fan. I already knew I would like their new album, No Line on the Horizon, before I heard it. Why? Because 12 albums into a career there is not a single U2 album that has not paid off for me on repeated listens. These guys are thoughtful, creative and better at doing what they do than anyone else. I'm a fan and I'll admit it. So if you expect me to be lukewarm on this album you'll have to go someplace else.

Five years ago U2’s How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb grabbed me on the first listen. The songs on the album were spectacular and accessible – I understood them early on and continued to find new things to like in them as I played (and replayed and replayed) the album. That album stayed in my player for a very long time. I saw the tour and what little remained of my U2 skepticism went right out the window.

So, now that my confession is out of the way and I’ve given up any pretense of impartiality I can address their new album, No Line on the Horizon. My first taste of it was the single “Get on Your Boots” which, sure, is a little dopey in spots but, frankly, I played the single a lot. iTunes keeps track of the number of plays and I was well over a dozen by the end of day two. I thought it was creative and fun and had a killer riff. But when I finally got the chance to hear the whole album I realized that there was really nothing else quite like that on the whole album. In fact my initial response was that the album was quite subdued overall. This will take repeated listening to really get, I thought. And I was right. After a number of plays I have come to see this as a wonderful U2 album, and sounds to me very much like the natural successor to either Zooropa or The Unforgettable Fire.

Steve Harmon, in his review of the album suggests that this is the horizon line referred to in the song and tha albm title is the line separating heaven and earth and that Bono is looking at the horizon for a day when earth will be more like heaven. I am still hard pressed to get that out of just looking at the lyrics to the song but his argument makes a lot of sense to me. But that’s the thing about U2’s writing – the theological stuff is sometimes only there for those who have ears to hear. And in this case the whole album seems to be about trying to find what Bono had been looking for since the Joshua Tree. Even without the context for of the whole album I thought that “Get On Your Boots” was a call to arms – a call to the church to get out of it’s too complacent ways and do some work – these are work boots Bono is calling sexy. In context, it makes even more sense. This is how we can usher in the world where justice reigns – the world in the future (which needs “a big kiss” according to Bono.) This interpretation works for me.

There are times in this album where the point is pretty clear, as in the amazing “Magnificent.” Those of us who look for Christian subtext in U2’s music found it immediately in “Magnificent” – a song with a stirring sound and soaring melody. I can’t wait to hear how this one goes over live. But in this one Bono sings about how he was “born to sing for you.” The occasional reviewer missed the point here but Bono is pretty clearly talking about God – especially when he says that his first cry was a joyful noise. Bono also calls on some pretty familiar Christian imagery in “White as Snow.” You can't ignore this stuff and you can't just assume that Bono is playing with words - he is clearly evoking something in using these scriptural references. It all seems to point to an how Bono is still looking for peace and justice and love - and, in some cases, listing how we've all fallen short. This may be one of their more coherant album-long statements yet.

Musically I find this album has lots of things to enjoy. Eno and Lanois’ influence in pretty clear and this album really doesn’t sound like any other U2 album – but it still sounds like U2. It may not be as packed with hits as Atomic Bomb was but No Line on the Horizon is every bit as good. Bono still hasn't found what he's looking for but it's good to know that he and the rest of the band haven't stopped looking.

1 comment:

Isorski said...

I had been putting off reading your review until I posted mine. Now that I have done that, I read yours. You hit several nails on the head. Nice work!