Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

U2 “No Line On the Horizon”

On The Record readers with an interest in sampling U2′s new album should proceed here where there are one minute snippets (yep, 60 seconds) of all the tracks from “No Line On The Horizon” to be heard. Please let us …

Mon, Feb 23, 2009, 08:48


On The Record readers with an interest in sampling U2′s new album should proceed here where there are one minute snippets (yep, 60 seconds) of all the tracks from “No Line On The Horizon” to be heard. Please let us know what you think in the comments below.

Me? Well, seeing as you asked……

The arrival of a new U2 album has a strange effect on seemingly sane people. Many of my fellow critics, for instance, have greeted the new arrival with open arms, ticker-tape parades, unrestrained praise and new shades of purple prose. Such unpoetic arse-licking is to be expected from the band’s own golden circle of house-trained scribes, but it’s something else entirely when usually reliable bellwethers join the circus. Maybe they’re holding out for a 25 minute bull session with The Edge or it’s like the banking cowboys exhorting people to put on the green jersey

A peculiar byproduct of this particular release is the chorus of expert voices claiming that this is the album which will save the record business. Save the record business? Such misguided guff – that an album from one of the most marketing-savvy bands in the world will send people back into the shops filling their boots with CDs – makes you wonder when was the last time those experts actually stood in a record store and saw what was really going on out there. Naturally, HMV in Dublin will be opening at midnight on Thursday to provide the obligatory snap of U2 fans standing around on Grafton Street to get their hands on the new album. Have these people not heard of Rapidshare? Joke, OK?

It would be too easy – and, let’s face it, far more entertaining – to continue this post in a similar snarky manner. That would see us going down a road which would lead to an accountant’s office in Amsterdam or a room in the White House where Bono is knee-to-knee with George W Bush. But those are human transgressions. For musical transgressions, you have to head to the new album.

Like every outing since “Achtung Baby”, this album is about trying to go back to that glorious snapshot in time. “Achtung Baby” was where U2 were last at their most thrilling and they know it. Back then, they showed that you could only truly proceed in pop by abandoning everything which had served you well to date. Since then, they’ve tried valiantly to recapture that high ground, yet have not showed the inclination or bravery required to leave the baggage at the door. Once, it seems, was enough for that.

Like its predecessors, “No Line On The Horizon” doesn’t really amount to a hill of beans. It huffs and puffs and throws all the right shapes to make it look like the band are going to the well in search of reinvention and creative salvation. However, it’s all show and no substance. There are a flurry of ideas here and the usual retinue of astute helpers are on hand too to turn these ideas into potential gold and platinum, yet there’s little to indicate that the band have the mettle to challenge themelves by doing what is not expected of a band in their position. The notion that Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois (and Steve Lillywhite is here too to keep things truly old-school) will always save the day is written large throughout. The fact is, though, that Eno and Lanois are only as good as who and what they’re working with and this is where the problems begin.

Actually, no, let’s be fair, there are a few positives here, a few turns like “Magnificent” when U2 fire on all cylinders like it’s the most natural thing in the world for four geezers to stand around in a room and make this sort of gut-busting music together. You can hear the cogs turning, the guitars and drums perfectly in synch, the sound of stadiums jumping up and down with glee. You can hear where the album could have gone and how it would have cocked a snook to the notion that such acts as Coldplay, Kings of Leon and The Killers are fit to stand on the same stage as U2. It’s the sound of a band not merely applying for their old job back, but actually writing a whole new “smart boys wanted” advert.

Sadly, such euhoria doesn’t last. You listen to “Unknown Caller”, “Breathe”, “Stand Up Comedy” and “Cedars Of Lebanon” and wonder what the hell is going on. It’s the comedown after the sugar rush. Like most of the album, each of these four tracks is a bit of a muddle with the band sounding strangely ill-at-ease with each other’s contributions and the song itself. It’s a strange kind of collective misfit, tracks trying to poke oneanother into making some semblance of sense together because they sure as hell don’t do so on their own.

It would be much too easy to signal out Bono’s lyrics for a bit of a lash here, but the truth is that he’s just one culprit in this blustery, burpy, over-cooked melodrama. The album’s glaring lack of coherence can be attributed to many factors, including a lengthy gestation period and a surplus of chefs at the pass, but such excuses only serve to show up again how a great album needs more than good intentions and ideas. It really needs a bundle of great songs and “No Line On The Horizon” is sorely lacking in this department.

While listening to the album, I kept going back to that careless run of shows in Croker in 2005 when the band went through the motions like a bunch of bored rich pre-occupied men counting their money. But pop fans are always willing to sit around for a second act. Like all romantics, we give our heroes the benefit of the doubt, hence why so many will fire up “No Line On The Horizon” and will it to be great. Just great – no-one is expecting a grime or hip-hop U2 (that was “Passengers”, wasn’t it?) or anything like that.

What we were after was an album to make us forget and overlook the distractions which the band have become about. We wanted an album to remind us that four musicians could stand together and deliver an album which was as honest as the day was long and as true to itself as rock can still sometimes be.

But with every song which doesn’t sound quite up to scratch, every groove which sounds too layered and over-analysed, every track which keeps meandering without any direction home and every awful bum lyric which makes you wince with pity for the writer, you’re reminded that U2 have other priorities these days and that this is an album created with those priorities in mind. This album will fill stadiums, newspapers, radio stations, web sites, quarterly target spreadsheets, bank balances, pension funds and investment opportunities in the tech sector. But, unlike so many other albums which will be released with far less fuss this year, it won’t fill your soul.