Tuesday, March 3, 2009

U2's Twelfth Is A "Rose"

The 12th studio album and first in half a decade from Rock and Roll Hall of Famers U2 blasts off quickly with Larry Mullen’s drums crackling under a sonic landscape that is quintessentially both U2 and Eno/Lanois, the album’s by now legendary producing team. Indeed, Eno and Lanois are actually credited along with the band with the music on more than half of the new disc’s tracks. Longtime collaborator Steve Lillywhite is also credited as a producer, which perhaps accounts for the album’s ability to, depending on the track you’re listening to, remind you of the band’s early records or the recent masterpieces they released earlier this decade.

“No Line On The Horizon” is both the album title and the name of the first track. The number fits nicely into the tradition of classic U2 album openers such as “Where The Streets Have No Name,” and “Zoo Station,” boasts elegant, concise and memorable lyrics from Bono, and most importantly, gets the album started off with a rocking beat reminiscent of “Achtung Baby”-era music from the Irish rock gods.

Following a fairly set pattern for recent U2 albums, things slow down a bit, but just a bit, for the second track, “Magnificent,” a studio creation that veers a bit toward the electronica of “Zooropa” and “Pop,” stopping short of the excesses of a number of tracks on those albums, while featuring the unobtrusive gospel lyrics Bono has artfully woven into so many previous tunes. “The Moment of Surrender” is another in this vein. One can imagine that "Moment" is Eno’s favorite track on the album, he being unabashedly interested in crafting the perfect post-modern gospel sound.

“Unknown Caller” begins with a simple guitar part that would fit in perfectly with the band’s sound on “All That You Can’t Leave Behind,” and features Bono trying to communicate despite a bad connection and making amusing poetry out of what sounds like the troubleshooting manual for your iPhone (or is that a metaphor for your heart?).

“I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” finishes out the hypnotic first “side” of the album, with keyboard assistance from Black Eyed Pea Will.i.am among others, including Bono himself. Again, Bono’s lyrics here are among his finest, and that is really saying something.

But in case you have been lulled into thinking by this point that this is not a Rock record, the trio of tracks beginning with the first single “Get On Your Boots” takes things to a higher, harder level, in which Bono demands again and again “let me in the sound” and features some of Larry Mullen’s fastest drumming in memory, the percussion supplemented on the record by Sam O’Sullivan.

“Boots” gives way to the rock radio-friendly “Stand Up Comedy” which features another of the Edge’s so-called “eternal” riffs, one that feels both fresh and new, and yet as if it’s been there all along, just waiting to be played.

“Fez-Being Born,” is a curiosity that is described as two distinct creations in the liner notes, perhaps hinting that the track is a mash-up of two half-finished songs. It somehow works, even featuring an echo of the “let me in the sound” refrain over an insistent beat and a wailing, echoing Bono.

Winding down the last quarter of the album are the soft and sublime “White As Snow” which is a little island of a song that stands on its own quite nicely, and would have fit comfortably onto “Joshua Tree” or “Rattle and Hum.” Following that, “Breathe” is a great example of latter day U2, following the trajectory of the songs on “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” and “How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb” and featuring some fine guitar from the Edge.

Closing out the set is “Cedars of Lebanon” featuring soft-spoken lyrics over mellow, haunting music, and some memorable lyrical passages, including the one that sums up the album best: “This shitty world sometimes produces a rose.”

This review is copyright 2009 by Jeff Becraft, and first appeared at http://becraftsblog.blogspot.com. Your feedback is welcome.

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