it would take a special kind of fool to argue with the view that U2 are the biggest band in the world right now. they are the only act that could (and probably do) match the all time kings, The Rolling Stones, with concert ticket sales. unlike the illustrious company in which i place them, U2 still care about what goes onto their new records. this is to say that U2 are perhaps the only act at the moment who see a tour as a good idea for showing off a new album, not an album as something to knock out as an excuse for a tour.
so, 12 albums in, is that still true? after a couple of listens to album 12, the answer would be more or less yes.
the usual fears surrounded the band making No Line On The Horizon. Bono's profile since the last studio album has been his usual (and if we are honest, sort of admirable) efforts to save the entire world. there's always a concern that his non-politician political statements will overtly creep onto an U2 record. thankfully, for the most part, the other three seem to be having none of it. what they are having, though, is more of the same from the last two studio albums, and this really isn't such a bad thing.
U2 no longer break ground. they did that a long time ago with The Joshua Tree, and very cheekily pilfered the Madchester sound of the Happy Mondays and turned it into their own thing on Achtung Baby. ever since then, it's been the sound they like making, and they are vibes that many millions like hearing them make.
the downside of the album first. there's a track called Unknown Caller which is arguably the worst thing the band has ever recorded. the instrumentation is little short of tinkering and getting in tune; the big crime is the lyrics. in 2009 we do not need to hear a middle aged Bono "being down on this technology thing" by making odd lyrics out of everyday computer technology. if this was on Pop it would have been innovative and interesting, now it's rather lame.
not quite as bad is the song White As Snow, but it's not perfect either. the fears of Pope Bono are revealed in this one. a ballad acoustic type thing, take this as a warning - this is the one they will play live when Bono wishes to share his views, worries and fears on any major incident or world event that has tickled his fancy or been mentioned by his mate George Clooney. you may wish to see The Edge taking out an acoustic guitar and a stool as a sign to head off to the facilities in the venue.
last gripe - why no vinyl release, boys? can't find anything listed on the net.
whereas there is nothing as majestic as Beautiful Day or as awestruck as City Of Blinding Lights on the album, there are plenty of great tunes. top of the list for me is the song they call Magnificent, named presumably because it is. the opening title track isn't bad, but when this second track kicks in, you after a few bars sit up and pay attention to it. nice one.
elsewhere there's the splendid Get On Your Boots, a rather mental psychedelic bass odyssey. Stand Up Comedy carries hints of The Edge listening to some classic Lenny Kravitz guitar; no bad thing since Kravitz probably borrowed from The Edge to being with. at times Moment Of Surrender sounds like they feel obliged to put an "epic" (i.e. longer than five minutes) track on each album. whereas it doesn't really work instrumentally, you resist the temptation to skip this track thanks to some inventive lyrics and a remarkable portrait of loneliness and solitude - everything that goes wrong on Unknown Caller goes right on this one. a bit of a better effort is on the last track, Cedars Of Lebanon, which has one of the best U2 lyrics in a long time, possibly ever : "this s***** world sometimes produces a rose / the scent of it lingers, and then it just goes".
on the whole, an album well worth having in your collection. much of Atomic Bomb seemed initially bland and contrived, but over the years it has proven to be a "grower" of sorts. in time i suspect that less than half of this album will be seen as "classic" U2, but the tracks that shall live on from this one will be held as equals of their greatest stuff.
OK Bono, off you go on your quests to save the world for another couple of years. cheers for the class album, looking forward to the next one!
and just what do the other three do whilst he is off on his missions?
be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!