By Peter O’Brien
Henry Rollins once said, “The Clash is the band that U2 always wished they could be.” That may have been the truth once upon a time, when the angst filled, youthful quartet released their debut album Boy almost three decades ago, but now they simply have to settle for being U2. They have evolved into a sound that is so unique that there is little chance of confusing them with anyone else. Productively U2 has slowed down some since the early eighties, yet in between humanitarian crusades the Irish superheroes have managed to produce enough songs for not only their new album No Line On The Horizon, but also allegedly another release due out later this year. No Line On The Horizon is the bands twelfth album of their career and was released March 3rd, 2009.
The album begins with the resounding rhythm driven title track, “No Line On The Horizon” This song displays all the classic U2 elements as well as that of producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. The whole album has a resonating electronic vibe underlying it that fills out the sound, but also takes away from the rock n’ roll edge. This is how U2 is able to bridge between genres, and claim the vast audience they command. They rock just enough not to be pop, and pop just enough not to suck. The second track, “Magnificent,” displays this concept perfectly. The arrangement of the Edge’s guitar work balanced with Bono’s tender vocals keeps the songs in the dead center of a very narrow road.
The album is the audio equivalent to a wooden roller coaster ride. It starts off fast at the top and brings you down to mellow, yet moving tracks like “Moment of Surrender,” before beginning the climb to the next peak in the middle of the album. The ascent begins with “Unknown Caller,” a song that is musically reminiscent of their earlier work; it has a gradual instrumental build up that lead into lyrics about isolation brought on by technological advancement.
The middle set of songs, “I’ll Go Crazy (If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight),” “Get Your Boots On,” and “Stand Up Comedy” are solely credited to the band, without Eno or Lanois taking credit musically. They are also the most energetic and rockin’ songs on the album, void of ambient overdubs. It is on these songs that the real (angst filled, youthful quartet) U2 is displayed, while the others songs showcase their full potential as performers and composers. The listener is given another break from the aggressive rock at track nine with “White As Snow,” a ballad sung from the perspective of a dying solider and musically set to the melody of “Veni, Veni Emmanuel.”
As the end of the line draws near the band takes one final turn with “Breath,” a track that echoes the power and intensity of songs like “Pride (In the Name of Love).” The album closes with “Cedars Of Lebanon.” A vocally driven song, it plays out like an existential realization of a journalist in the Middle East, possibly covering the Cedar Revolution. The final line of the song is a summation of our war hungry world and the ironic, lasting effect it has on people. It is delivered without music so that it resonates with the listener.
The album is par for the course that U2 has been charting since 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind, following the debacle of 1997’s Pop, which knocked them down a peg in the eyes of the world. The album is consistent in song writing and production with its two predecessors – 2004’s How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb and the aforementioned All That You Can’t Leave Behind. All three of which manage to incorporate the best elements of composition from the bands early career culminating with 1987’s Joshua Tree and their experimental phase in the 1990’s. It is clear that U2 is a band that has learned as much from their failures as they have their successes and now strive for perfection. B+
Be sure to check out Peter O’Brien’s thrash metal documentary “Riphouse 151: Could’ve Been’s & Wanna Be’s” which is currently on the festival circuit.