Album Reviews

U2 – No Line On The Horizon

(Mercury) UK release date: 2 March 2009

During 2001’s Elevation Tour, Bono joked that U2 were once again competingfor the title of World’s Greatest Rock Band, in reference to their forayinto dangerous territory with the disco-techno Pop album. Knocking off allcompetition in all rounds, the band has since maintained the status.

What’smore, 30 years after it all began, U2 are still inspired, constantlyreinventing their sound and rebooting the institution that they’ve become. Andit’s all due to a trio of producers.

For No Line On The Horizon, the band had initially begun working with legendaryproducer Rick Rubin, but the sessions were scrapped and they returned totheir usual collaborators, Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois and Steve Lillywhite.Certainly an effective formula, for the trio have always been at the helm ofevery single one of U2’s sonic renaissances: from the atmospheric TheUnforgettable Fire to the Weimar-Wenders wanderlust of Achtung Baby. No LineOn The Horizon stretches the band even further, to places where noboundaries exist.

While 2004’s How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb was a back to basics rockalbum, No Line On The Horizon sees U2 taking risks once again, yet at a measured pace,treading with the carefulness that comes with experience. While the debutsingle Get Your Boots On is a full-on, wham-bam whirlwind song, it takes afew listens to fully grasp and appreciate the drama, comedy and colorfultextures of the rest of the album.

Some are explosive, others are more spiritual. Like Led Zeppelin, U2 have found the line between the Occident and the East and blurred it. The album kicksoff with the title track, its strongest, wackiest debut since Zoo Station,alternating between desire, desperation and urgency, while Bono’s voice isbursting, ready to crack on a new horizon. The riffs are reminiscent of TheFly, and the Achtungesque influences carry on in Magnificent, coupled withKraftwerk synths. Its energy evokes War; so do its statements: “I was bornto sing for you/I didn’t have a choice.” Glad to hear that.

There’s Bonothe poverty-fighting, Blair-and-Bush frequenting activist and there’s BonoThe Ultimate Rock Star. “I don’t wanna talk about wars between nations,” hedeclares in Get Your Boots On. Instead, he opts to chronicle histravels: He is on a spiritual quest in Fez (Fez – Being Born), a modern-daywar-reporting Hemingway in Beirut (Cedars Of Lebanon) or simply hisexistence (“Escape yourself and gravity,” he wails on Unknown Caller),echoed throughout in Eno’s moody atmospherics and Adam Clayton’s thick basslines.

There is something almost palpable in the overall sound, led by The Edge’sfevered guitar, often reaching fever pitch and making us wonder who thevocalist really is: Bono’s vocal cords or Edge’s six chords. A questionanswered in the latter’s favor on Stand Up Comedy, where a gargantuan popmeets rock: Think of The Beatles‘ Sgt. Pepper’s colliding with Revolver. Theguitar screeches and transforms into a sonic monster, and it’s very hard tonot drown along in its frenzy, until Larry Mullen’s fierce, militarydrumming brings in some air on Breathe, one of the best tracks.

U2 have reached the point where anything they do will be, at least in some quarters, heralded as amasterpiece – or as Bono puts it, “our best album ever.” While he’s notentirely right, U2 have at least the integrity to not simply live off theirlaurels and explore other possibilities, all the while keeping one foot intheir glory days and one in the uncertainty of the future (what’s next?).And as far as exploration goes, U2 seem to have finally found what they werelooking for.

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