U2: No Line On The Horizon

U2 are not a band that like to perceive themselves as treading water, and after the release of “How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb”, Bono expressed the intent to move in a different musical direction. As to which direction that would be, most of us have just had to wait and see. Well now that the new album has finally been released, I don’t even see a slight sonic tangent let alone a major musical diversion. It sounds to me more like a revisit of what previously worked on their most successful albums, but that’s not a criticism.

Assisted by the experienced and familiar old stage hands of Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois and Steve Lillywhite, it’s perhaps not too surprising that they seem to revisit a lot of the more successful elements of their back catalogue.

Bono’s fraternising with religious and world leaders is a sure fire way to wind most people up, and he seems to be at his most irritating when he’s preaching how to save the world, and at his most eloquent when just being a common or garden rock star. Thankfully some kind soul has successfully hidden his soap box for the majority of this album hence it’s lyrically pretty good.

Within the music industry the release of a new U2 album is a fairly major event. Many record labels now have a huge reliance on their stable heavyweights, and I’m sure U2 must be a major factor in keeping Island afloat. So with this increased gravitas I shall make a bit more effort than usual and attempt to cover all 12 tracks, in running order:

1. No Line On The Horizon 4:12 *****
The pounding U2 express train emerges from the smoky engine shed with its high tempo rhythm section, distinctive chord changes and great warbling vocals. The song title initially seems to be a clumsy fit to the music with Bono improvising a few extra syllables to make it fit.

2. Magnificent 5:24 *****
A growling simplistic riff and bass drum start the song off sounding like a White Stripes number before a swirling keyboard is overtaken by a drumming crescendo that calls a halt to the false start and takes us into more familiar U2 territory. Trademark vibrating guitar and rolling drum and bass take us back to a U2 reworking their “War” era material. If you happen to be listening to this song whilst waiting at the traffic lights, I defy you not to turn you steering wheel into an impromptu drum-kit.

3. Moment Of Surrender 7:24 *****
“Moment Of Surrender” has as low gentle build up and a softer spacious feel harping back to their mid 80’s collaborations with Daniel Lanois. The guitar work towards then end sounds like The Edge has been temporarily replaced by David Gilmour.

4. Unknown Caller 6:02 *****
A late Beatles Psychedelic vibe bleeds into a cautious “Where The Streets Have No Name” high noted guitar riff. 1987 nostalgia is further enhanced by Bono’s vocal delivery which instructs us to “restart and reboot yourself” which draws me to the inevitable conclusion that U2 run on a Microsoft rather than a UNIX platform. The Edge finishes off with a fine guitar solo before the song runs into its final resonating church organ chord.

5. I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight 4:14 *****
This song has an opening note sequence that sounds like it was composed by Bjorn and Benny. Things quickly return to a “Joshua Tree” era sound with more echo than a marching band lost in a large cave, but the Swedish sounding refrain keeps poking its head back at various points in the song. Bono’s calls of “Baby, Baby, Baby” sound as if they should be followed by “You’re Out Of Time” but he resists the temptation and the Lawyers can stand down.

6. Get Your Boots On 3:25 *****
A drum roll like the start “When Love comes to Town” initiates proceedings and takes us into the first verse of quick listed lyrics. The chorus provides the catchy “let me hear the sound” and grinding guitar that obviously made this song the top choice for the first single from the album. Bono stated prior to the album release that they tried to steer away from war related songs, a notion that is expressed clearly in this song with the line “I don’t want to talk about war between nations”. Although not an ambition that he quite managed to realise on the entire album.

7. Stand Up Comedy 3:49 *****
Clayton’s strong bass line sits behind Bono’s high wailing vocals and a Zeppelin styled Edge in full flow. My early album favourite also contains my favourite lyric from the album: “Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady” Superb. And rather good advice to boot.

8. Fez – Being Born 5:17 *****
As the recording of the album was completed in Fez, Morocco, I had expected a few more North African flavours to permeate into the music, but there doesn’t seem to have been much local culture absorbed in the album. This particular track has a few relevant sound bytes at the outset followed by a bit of dicking around before settling down into “Unforgettable Fire” era number.

9. White As Snow 4:41 *****
A slow arty piano and strings intro gives way to a classical acoustic guitar and melodious clear vocals. A quite, pleasant enough song that is slowly growing on me.

10. Breathe 5:00 *****
Bono seems to have a quantity of lyrics to cram into the most non-descript song of the album.

11. Cedars Of Lebanon 4:16 *****
“Cedars of Lebanon” is approached from the perspective of war correspondent and concludes the album with some poignancy. Bono delivers a bit of a monologue over a deep bass and slow rolling drum beat and not too much else leaving plenty of space to appreciate the great subtle guitar work.

The album was conceived and recorded over a fairly lengthy period with a proliferation of writing that Bono hinted could materialise in another release towards the end of the year.

Finally in an attempt to answer the question: “Is it any bloody good?” I’ve listed all of the U2 studio albums in order of my personal preference, to see where this new album fits in the pecking order. Of course I’ve only had it for a few days, so my initial position is likely to change, and it is just my own biased and subjective opinion. I’ve listed them in reverse order and recommend reading them using an Alan “Fluff” Freeman voice as you progress down to my Number 1 U2 album. OK Pop Pickers here we go….

12. Zooropa (1993)
11. Pop (1997)
10. All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2000)
9. Boy (1980)
8. October (1981)
7. The Unforgettable Fire (1984)
6. How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb (2004)
5. No Line On The Horizon (2009)
4. War (1983)
3. Rattle and Hum (1988)
2. The Joshua Tree (1987)
1. Achtung Baby (1991)

I know a lot of people would have placed “The Joshua Tree” at the number one spot in front of “Achtung Baby”. But “Achtung Baby” has a special place in my heart as it contains “The Fly”. My favourite U2 single not least because it was the single that finally displaced Brian Adams’ “Everything I Do” from its endless summer at the top of the charts and saved us from the weekly torment of watching Kevin bloody Costner with his bow and arrow at then end of “Top of the Pop’s” week after week.