No Line On The Horizon: Kevin Courtney review


KEVIN COURTNEYreviews U2's No line on the Horizon

U2 No line on the Horizon Mercury ****

No one knows the line on horizon better than U2 – they’ve spent enough of their career gazing meaningfully in its direction. For their third studio album of the noughties, they decided to blur that line and let everything bleed into one vast wall of sound and twisted vision.

U2 brought us to a comfort zone of sorts with the last two albums, but here they’re up for taking a few risks and chancing arms, legs and cojones on this big, brash embrace of an album. It’s not so much throwing their arms around the world as trying to crush it in a big, fuzzy bearhug.

This is a record of twists and turns and death-defying loops, and anyone looking for a quick-fix anthem may be put off by the complexities on offer here. It’s U2’s prog rock album, so if you want to sing along, you’ll need to grab hold of your chin and pay close attention.

Magnificentcomes on like Blondie’s Atomicfiltered through Bowie’s Heroes, and is the first of three songs that clock in at more than five minutes. The longest one, Moment of Surrender, sees Bono finding – as usual – redemption in the dirt. Though the reference to getting money out of an ATM may be rather badly timed, it at least shows that his mind is still linked to the ordinary world.

Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois have co-songwriting credits on many of the songs, and Eno’s whooshing keyboard sounds and dense production threads through the album. (The tracks produced by Steve Lillywhite seem sparse by comparison.)

Bono seems more passenger than driver here, and he sounds all the better for it. The Edge is in serious guitar hero form, going all Eric Clapton on the solo for Moment of Surrender, then kicking into Jimmy Page mode for the riff of Stand Up Comedy. Adam Clayton’s bass strains the sub-woofers, but Larry Mullen jnr’s drumming is an exercise in keeping the runaway train on track.

The band leave it till the middle section to bring out the quickfire tunes ( I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight, Get on Your Bootsand Stand Up Comedy), then settle into some Eastern atmospherics on Fez – Being Born(Fez, Morocco is where the album sessions began). The Asian flavours linger on the penultimate blow-out, Breathe, and in the final dispatches of Cedars of Lebanon, but the Western-flecked White as Snow , a traditional arrangement with new lyrics, sits comfortably and confidently amongst them.

With No Line on the Horizon, U2 are no longer constrained by perspective or depth, and are free to throw the colours and shapes around and see where it takes them. They may not be the safe home ground of old, but they’ve arrived at a pretty interesting place.

Download tracks: Magnificent, Moment of Surrender, Stand Up Comedy

This review was published in the 13/02/09 edition ofThe Ticket .