Thursday, March 12, 2009

No Line on the Horizon - A Review

"Crap. Are you kidding me?"

That was my response to my friend Artie's comment that the new U2 sounded like Coldplay. He'd pre-ordered No Line on the Horizon on iTunes and gotten a sneak peak at the title track.

I felt like I would vomit.

But alas, it turns out that my friend had seriously misguided me. It's not Coldplay (thank God). No Line on the Horizon took me a bit by surprise, but so far I've liked it more each time I listen to it, which is a good sign.

Let me start by going back to 1991. U2 redefined their sound with the release of Achtung Baby, which contains six unparalleled tracks that have since become part of the sonic fabric of rock 'n roll. Their song "One" is one of the most important songs written in the last 35 years. After setting the bar beyond anyone's reach with The Joshua Tree, instead of retreating into safety by trying to replicate Joshua Tree, they broke new ground by using bold new guitar effects, more complex rhythms and darker lyrics. The result was the best rock album of the '90s.

Now it's 2009 and U2 has enjoyed 8 uninterrupted years of global success and popularity. Their two most recent albums, All That You Can't Leave Behind and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, are practically perfect. U2 symbolizes all that is cool and good. Does any other band have their own iPod? Does any other band appear on David Letterman more than one night? Enough said. . .

This is why No Line on the Horizon will endure, and probably will become one of their most important works. Their amazing popularity and influence have given them complete autonomy when creating a new album. Once again, instead of retreating into safety and putting out the same old crap album after album (see Creed, Nickelback, Coldplay, Creed, the Rolling Stones, or Creed), they've once again forged ahead into the new.

On No Line, they make us wait (almost gleefully) for a hard-edged rock tune. "Get On Your Boots" is the only balls out rock song, and it doesn't appear until track six. That along with Stand Up Comedy are the only obvious singles on the album.

Some of my favorite moments on No Line are:
1. Get On Your Boots: Superfun and classic U2

2. My favorite track: Unknown Caller (track 4). Great group vocals

3. White as Snow: U2 arranges a traditional advent hymn. It sounds mysteriously like the soundtrack from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Ennio Morricone's timeless western sound.

4. Bono's best vocals ever: Moment of Surrender, "I tie myself wire!!"

5. Freddie Mercury has reincarnated! Throughout the album are fantastic, elaborate harmonies both vocally and with Edge's E-bow.

6. Their relaxed and patient approach throughout. Most of the songs have an extended intro and thoughtful interludes that give you time to think and take in their art. Selah. Cedars of Lebanon closes the album and gives you a snapshot of their maturity and growth as musicians and artists.

It seems like U2 is purposefully enjoying their place in rock 'n roll. Never once have they come across as trying too hard or being over the hill. They have relevance and cool firmly in their grasp. They know they're still making great music and also seem to recognize how fortunate they are. Their team of producers (Eno and Lanois) has done what George Martin did for the Beatles: helped create timeless music that still will have cultural traction fifty years from now. Have fun listening to it. It will grow on you more and more.

More later. . .

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