Friday, March 6, 2009

Wrote a little reviewski

New U2 is, well U2. Unpredictable and better with every listen. Here is my review, long but there is a lot to be said about it.

U2- No Line on the Horizon
By: Mark Wampler

There is a pulse throughout No Line On the Horizon that is a little upsetting — a bit agitating. Perhaps it’s how confident the band comes off on their 12th studio release, Adam’s throbbing and relentless bass and Larry’s militaristic drumming that holds the group together like mortar. Rolling Stone’s review of the album describes Larry’s drumming as “so sharp and hard all the way through that it's difficult to tell how much is him and how much is looping (that is a compliment).”
It’s the harshness of the synths and the urgency in Bono’s voice that commands attention - Edge’s guitar tone is rough, un-sanded and fuzzy. This album is not going to be digested in one sitting; it is too harsh and different, almost unfriendly at first. In a sound only U2 can fashion, No Line is almost erotic (a description that will make sense if one can imagine Bono’s passionate writhing during live performances being manifested into sound) and definitely mysterious. “I was speeding on the subway / through the Stations of the Cross” Bono sings in “Moment of Surrender,” an apt description of the tension contained in the albums content - ultra-modern in its sound, yet saturated with ancient themes of God, love and redemption.
Melodically, No Line seems to take cues from eastern ragas, where a central tonal drone is established and then built upon like the foundation of a building. Its accompanying images are towering skyscrapers and frantic, huge metropolitans. “Lights flash past / like memories,” Bono chants in “FEZ-Being Born.” “A speeding head, a speeding heart.”
“No Line on the Horizon,” the opening track flies at you like a swarm of infuriated bees — rough and frantic. One will have to decide if they like being attacked by the sheer forcefulness of Bono’s vocals. With as many “oh’s” as words in the song, it’s easy to picture it being a big sing along during U2’s upcoming tour, tens of thousands of fans straining to match Bono’s soaring falsetto.
But for all of his forcefulness, the experimental and edgy (no pun intended) nature of the music has given Bono a back seat on this album. The questioning and soul searching that seemed to permeate Atomic Bomb has taken a back seat on this album. Bono seems to have found his voice again, more confident, assured. “I was born / I was born to be with you,” he opens the track “Magnificent”, a beautiful tribute to his Creator.
On “Moment of Surrender” Bono turns into an eager and reflective R&B singer which is entirely appropriate given the subject material: “At the moment of surrender / I fall to my knees,” he sings. It’s easy to picture a full-choir backing Bono and Edge in the chorus a la’ Springsteen. “It’s not that I believe in love,” he sings, “but love believes in me,” a line that works because Bono has said it so many times before. Edges guitar solo on the track has a hushed, voice-like quality. It takes a close listen before it is certain that it’s a guitar and not a soft vocal line, a fascinating effect.
If you’ve heard “Vertigo” the single off U2’s Atomic Bomb, then you’ve heard “Get on Your Boots,” the first single off their new album. “Get on Your Boots” is a better track but carries the same formula. “Let me in the sound / let me in the sound…” Bono chants a capella over Larry’s drumming in a line that will stick in your head for days.
The intro to “Stand up Comedy” sounds straight from the Zeppelin catalog. It has a non-linear structure, once it’s over it’s hard to tell exactly where it is that you’ve been. With a simple three-line chorus, “Out from under your beds / C’mon, ye people / Stand up for your love.” It also contains what could be the most bizarre lyric of the album, “Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady.”
“White Snow” starts off with a beautiful lullaby-like organ but carries an eerie resemblance to “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” and is the weakest track on the album. One can’t help but wait for Bono to burst out in “Rejoice, Rejoice!”
The song that could easily have been the first single is “Breathe” a complex mixture of accessible pop elements, harmony and that signature huge U2 sound. It is Bono’s best and most unique performance on the album. In it, one can discern definite hip-hop influences as Bono practically freestyles the verses. “I can breathe / breathe now,” Bono and Edge sing in the chorus, stretching out the syllables in the word breathe, with stunning harmony.
“Cedars of Lebanon” is a brilliant cap to the album but ends so abruptly it’s startling. It has a haunting chorus that simply repeats in a ghostlike melody “return the call to home, return the call to home.”

1 comment:

Tim Keel said...

Hi Mark,

Enjoyed the review. Thanks. Except that I think "White as Snow" is my favorite track, or maybe "Fez-Being Born." Funny how that is, taste and all. It seems like each U2 record has kind of a random song that ends up being my favorite: God, Part 2; Heartland; Elvis Presley and fact, I think I'll put on The Unforgettable Fire. Have a good one,