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.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Earlier this year (early January, in fact) I had dug up some old CCM albums and was listening to them again for the first time in a few years. Among other things, I wrote this:

Considering Lily, the band, is one of my guilty pleasures from the 90s and also one of my great disappointments. This pair of sisters made a folky album as Serene and Pearl and, when that didn’t work out commercially for them, they rocked it up a bit and formed the band Considering Lily. Their self-titled album is dorky and obvious with mundane images and lightweight tunes. But I liked it and there was something about its quirkiness that caught me back then. The reason that this band was such a disappointment for me is that, for their second album, one of the sisters quit and the newly reformed Considering Lily released an album that was not really at all like their first one. They got more normal and lost their charm. After that they never released another album. While this first one was a lot of fun my patience for the pedestrian writing and playing on this album isn't what it used to be. After two listens it ended up getting deleted from my itunes.

Over this past weekend I received this comment on that post: “Ouch. Serves me right for "Google"ing Considering Lily trying to find some audio clips of "The Pieces Fit" to link in an email.”

The comment came from Jeanette. Clicking on her blogger profile revealed nothing. But I seemed to remember that the woman who was added to the new Considering Lily was named Jeanette. I did some quick googling and I was right – Jeanette Herdman.

I have to admit that my heart fell when I read her note. It was not my intention to hurt her or anyone with my musings about those albums and I felt bad that she had read it and had been hurt by it – even if only a little. I went back and reread what I had written to make sure I hadn’t been especially mean – and I don’t think I was. But it reminded me that music that I review doesn’t just happen – it’s made by people.

I have read some reviews and critiques of my recent book (Helping Our Children Grow in Faith – quick, go order it and read it and then say nice things about it) and, while they’ve been mostly positive there have been a couple of comments that were lukewarm or critical. As I read them I know that it goes with the territory - something that I'm sure Jeanette knows too. In fact – I was quite nervous about that before the book came out. Once you put a book out there you are opening yourself up to people reading it and saying “this guy’s crazy and what’s more he can’t write.” I’m also a musician and I know that reviews can be rough. And, truth be told, when I occasionally write in a particularly snarky manner with humor I get good comments from people who think I’m really smart and witty and clever in the way I put down whatever it was that I was reviewing. That positive reinforcement encourages people to be mean in reviews.

But I also know that I enjoy writing and reading reviews of music and other things and that I will read, watch and listen to things that I just don’t like. Should I not write about them?

I think I will continue to write about them BUT Jeanette’s note reminded me to do it with a spirit of humility and to speak the truth (or at least my opinions) in love. And, Jeanette, thanks for your note and for reminding me of the faces behind the art. I’ll go back and listen to The Pieces Fit again – who knows maybe I’ll now hear things that I didn’t hear all those years ago.

more u2 on the way?

A recent interview with U2 revealed this:
The future is another question for another interview. How long can U2 stay meaningful? Where will rock's greatest adventure end? For now, there is enough material left over from the sessions for an album that, Bono says, will be released before the end of the year. It will be "a more meditative album on the theme of pilgrimage".


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A very nice Keith Getty quote

"If I've got non-Christian friends coming to church, I'd far rather give them four verses of comparatively heavy theology with some theological words which explains the gospel, than give them twenty repeated words that could be said about your pet horse or your girlfriend."

Read the rest of the interview here.