Release Date: Mar 3, 2009
Record label: Interscope
Genre(s): Rock, Pop
The warning has been sounded. ”Danger! Danger! U2 are experimenting again!” This is not exactly welcome news for those who remember the band’s attempts at reformulating their cathedral-rock sound with of-the-moment trendiness (Zooropa, Pop) as something to be endured, not embraced, and who had been thrilled by their return to ”old-school U2” on 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind. Only once, with Achtung Baby, have Bono and Co.
First off, let's get a few things straight. U2's new African direction has not really materialised. In fact, it's pretty much confined to the sublime twitter of Moroccan birdsong at the start of Unknown Caller (at least Franz Ferdinand stuck with their Afrobeat adventure for a whole song). As for the inherently ridiculous idea of Bono writing songs "in character" (as if he wasn't already writing them in the character of Bono), well, that amounts to little more than the Iron John day trip of White as Snow, and Cedars of Lebanon's closing nod to the agit-prop genius of mid-period Human League.
Review for U2 fans U2’s latest reunites them with the crack team of Eno and Lanois, who brought us The Joshua Tree. This promises great things, which aren’t really delivered, but so what? The boys are back doing what they do best, sounding cool, emoting meaningfully and rocking out once in a while. It’s hard for me to tell you which ones are the good ones because I don’t really like any of it, but I know enough to tell that some of this stuff is vintage U2.
When No Line on the Horizon was still in the working stages, co-producer Daniel Lanois talked a lot of smack in the press about how U2 was pursuing an unprecedented sound. We gave them the benefit of the doubt, remembering how we almost got whiplash way back when they made the breakneck stylistic changeup between Rattle and Hum and Achtung Baby. Hell, we thought, those middle-aged multimillionaires might still have a surprise or two up their sleeves yet.
Irish metastars bare their knuckles for an album-length brawl with belief, Big Themes, back catalog career), U2 has increasingly had to address a nagging question from its massive worldwide fanbase: Which U2 will show up this time? Will it be a return to the cockeyed spirituality of The Joshua Tree? A detour into beats and burbles like Achtung Baby or its inferior, more experimental cousin, Pop? A “back to basics” gambit such as All that You Can’t Leave Behind? Herein lies the Problem of Being U2: It’s more challenging to ask fans to meet you where you are when they bring the baggage of having met you all the places you were over the course of 30 years’ worth of work. This gets in the way of appreciating No Line on the Horizon for what it is: a well-crafted, classically-sturdy rock album with a modicum of invention and a good deal of familiar-sounding material that will appeal to the faithful but not ask much more of them than to simply pay attention to musical cues recalling milestones throughout the band’s considerable history. grabbers that sit easily alongside U2’s best work: “Magnificent” is just that, a stately melody that could easily have been on War and rises just as high to the occasion; “Unknown Caller,” offers a bit of Joshua Treeamalgam of Elvis Costello cadence and Queen-like pomp.
A rock & roll open secret: U2 care very much about what other people say about them. Ever since they hit the big time in 1987 with The Joshua Tree, every album is a response to the last -- rather, a response to the response, a way to correct the mistakes of the last album: Achtung Baby erased the roots rock experiment Rattle and Hum, All That You Can't Leave Behind straightened out the fumbling Pop, and 2009's No Line on the Horizon is a riposte to the suggestion they played it too safe on 2004's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. After recording two new cuts with Rick Rubin for the '06 compilation U218 and flirting with will.
In the 1996 documentary Tantrums and Tiaras, Elton John is shown detailing his mind-boggling earnings. "What would you do if people stopped buying your albums and coming to your shows?" asks a voice off camera. John looks completely baffled, as if the voice has just asked him if he's planning to grow gills and go and live under the sea. "That's not going to happen," he frowns.
U2 have never been big on subtlety. Anyone who was lucky enough to see the band on their PopMart tour knows that. Anyone who’s listened to U218 all the way through knows that. Hell, anyone who’s heard a single song on the radio by Bono & co. in the past two decades knows that. U2 songs—at ….
Once upon a time hating all things U2, and particularly outspoken frontman Bono, became something of an international pastime. Then, around the back end of summer 2000, they re-emerged amidst a froth of pseudo teen-angst metal wannabees and semi-acoustic dullards with 'Beautiful Day', arguably their best single for at least a decade and suddenly it was cool to like U2 again. Almost immediately, budding musicians were falling under their influence like it was 1983 over again and bands were formed as a result.
Dublin's home brew never made a bad album, but it's nursed plenty of hangovers: sophomore slump October, Joshua Tree runoff Rattle and Hum, Achtung Baby backwash Zooropa. In the wake of U2's rebirth after 2000's All That You Can't Leave Behind and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb four years later, No Line on the Horizon reaches for The Unforgettable Fire's post-War reinvention but misfires this side of Pop without the songs. That initial single "Get on Your Boots" smells of Bomb detonate "Vertigo" constitutes the first clue.