Thursday, March 12, 2009

U2, "No Line on the Horizon"



U2
No Line on the Horizon ***1/2

Let's be frank here. Everyone you know will want to hate on the new U2 album, No Line on the Horizon. "The Biggest Band in the World?" People are a little tired with that whole thing by now. Not only that, but just Bono. Bono, Bono, Bono. Who does he think he is, jumping on those roofs and hanging out with teenage girls last year? This album has to be bad. U2 has been around for almost 30 years now; they definitely can't make an album like The Joshua Tree or Achtung, Baby, right?

Wrong. As it turns out, No Line on the Horizon is actually quite good. U2 is still the well-oiled machine that they were. They have been down this road several times before. Now, the album is no Joshua Tree, or Achtung Baby, but it's still a good album from aging rockers. When some bands or artists reach the "elder statesmen" phase of their careers, they tend to soften up and, to put it bluntly, start to be bad. U2 proves that they can still be good even if their best years are behind them.

The album does have pretty much the same structure and style as the previous two albums, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb and All That You Can't Leave Behind, and it's not a bad thing because it's a formula that has worked before. This time the band tweaks something in their sound, adding some more ambient textures to it. Some of the songs lack originality, but being original is a hard thing to do, especially if a band has been around for 30 years.

"Get Your Boots On," the first single tearing up the airwaves, is a bit like "Vertigo" 2.0, but it's still a good, upbeat rock song, with a driving riff that will be in your head for a while. Also, "Moment of Surrender" will remind you of the band's biggest hit, "One" from Actung Baby. This is no "One," but it shows the band challenging themselves with its seven-minute length.

With this album, listeners, whether they are U2 fans or not, will try their hardest to dismiss the album as hackneyed and a cash-in. Of course there's nothing truly spectacular about it, but over time some of the innocuous melodies will get to you. The album is very subtle, which is something of a surprise when the band has the reputation of "The Biggest Band in the World." The album opener of the same name may have that moment where the fans will sing with band, but overall it's a subtle song.

"Magnificent" is relatively fast, new wave jam, powered with the Edge's guitar and Brian Eno's and Daniel Lanois' production. Like "Magnificent," there are many songs on the album that are past the five-minute mark, or hover by it, and don't feel like they're drawn out. "Unknown Caller" is technically a ballad, at six minutes (including an uplifting chorus,) but it speeds on by very quickly.

No Line on the Horizon is not the great album that some music publications have been praising it as. It's not a spectacular album, but it's a very efficient one. If the music you listen to is generally mainstream, then you must get this one, if you're an audiophile, into more indie and obscure artists, check it out because it's still U2 causing a ruckus.

On a final note, the best thing about the album is that they don't get over the top and pretentious, like frontman Bono can. U2 has made an album that doesn't need to prove anything, and it just rolls along, maybe because they have proven something before. They can sit back, relax and just watch another young bands try to prove something. It's sometimes weird to remember that they were, in fact, once a small, budding band from Dublin with everyting to prove.

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