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Rolling Stone MARCH 2009 - by Brian Hiatt
EXPLORING U2'S BOLD NEW 'HORIZON'
Inside the studio as the Irish rockers finish off their hard-hitting, ambitious new album, No Line On The Horizon.
Even from the bottom of the stairway leading to the control room, the huge sound leaking out is unmistakable. On this early-December evening in London's Olympic Studios, a new U2 song is being born.
Upstairs, on a green couch at the rear of the room, there's Bono, singing his latest attempt at a lead vocal at the top of his lungs. He rocks back and forth on the couch, as if in epileptic prayer, while he chants the lyrics into a microphone. The words, which he keeps revising, have an almost hip-hop-like cadence: "Stand up, 'cause you can't sit down... Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady... Come on, you people, stand up for your love." The track is powered by a heavy riff that lands between The Beatles' Come Together and Led Zep's Heartbreaker. The groove is much slinkier than anything U2 have done in years.
Bono's hair is cropped into a punky buzz cut. He's wearing jeans, worn brown cowboy boots, a black denim shirt - and even in this dim and private setting, his omnipresent orange-tinted sunglasses. Surrounding him are his bandmates, who have long since finished their parts. The Edge sits next to Bono, eyes closed, absorbing the music; Larry Mullen Jr. plays the occasional air-drum nearby; and Adam Clayton stands in a far corner. "We haven't quite gotten this right, and I'm the problem," Bono says of the tune, which is called Stand Up Comedy - at lest for the moment. Tomorrow it will have new lyrics and may be renamed.
The new album, No Line On The Horizon (due out on March 3rd), mixes some of the loudest and fastest tunes U2 have ever recorded with songs that reclaim the experimental spirit of their Achtung Baby-to-Pop '90s run. There are pop songs, too, as well as at least one familiarly chiming U2 anthem, Magnificent. But after two years, U2 still aren't quite finished. "We're at the point where half the album is done, and half the album is in a state where anything can happen - and probably will," says The Edge as he offers a tour of the studios vast live room, which looks much the same as when The Stones recorded Sympathy For The Devil there. In the basement, long-time co-producer Brian Eno is revamping various songs with his laptop, while Steve Lillywhite helms the main board upstairs.
The first single is likely to be Get On Your Boots, a song that picks up where Vertigo left off, with a furry monster of a fuzz-guitar riff; power chords that, per Bono, echo The Damned's New Rose; and a chorus that mixes whimsy and ardour" "Get on your boots / Sexy boots / You don't know how beautiful you are." "A hundred fifty beats per minute, the fastest song we've ever played, Bono says, playing the tune at deafening volume in an airy studio lounge after dinner. "We're not ready for adult-contemporary just yet."
The Edge spent time in the past year hanging out and jamming with Jack White and Jimmy Page for the documentary It Might Get Loud, and something seems to have rubbed off. "He's developing a third testicle, that's what is happening to The Edge," Bono theorises. "I just hope it's not catching." Some of the songs began as solo GarageBand demos by The Edge, but others developed as full-band improvisations with Eno and co-producer Daniel Lanois playing keyboards and guitar.
"We start simple, we get complicated, and then we re-simplify it," says Eno "It's been a longer process, but I think it's compositionally stronger than anything they've done for a long time." That said, Eno is irked that the band has dropped some of the more contemplative and adventurous songs it developed. "Tell them they're being stupid cunts," he jokes, after playing a lovely discarded ballad called Winter.
Still, there are plenty of unexpected sounds. One concept for the album was a division between "daylight" songs - with organic instruments and arrangements - and "after-dark" songs. Of the latter, Bono says, "we allow our interest in electronic music to come out." Among those songs is the title track, which has a churning, tribal groove and a deadpan chorus, and the ambitious possible opening track, Tripoli, which violently lurches between different sections.
Moment was played just one time - the band improvised the version on the album from thin air. "This kind of spirit blows through every now and then," Bono explains. "It's a very strange feeling. We're waiting for God to walk into the room - and God, it turns out, is very unreliable. So you don't have the right to imagine you can make a great album. But what you can do is create the conditions where it might happen."
U2 BREAK DOWN 'HORIZON'
Key tracks from the band's eclectic new offering
Get On Your Boots The likely first single, this blazing, fuzzed-out rocker picks up where Vertigo left off. "It started with me playing and Larry drumming," The Edge recalls. "And we took it from there."
Crazy Tonight "It's kind of like this album's Beautiful Day - it has that kind of joy to it," Bono says. With the refrain "I know I'll go crazy / if I don't go crazy tonight", it's the band's most unabashed pop tune since Sweetest Thing
Unknown Caller This mid-tempo track could have fit on All That You Can't Leave Behind. "The idea is that the narrator is in an altered state, and his phone starts talking to him," says The Edge.
Cedars Of Lebanon "On this album, you can feel what is going on in the world at the window, scratching at the window pane," explains Bono, who sings this atmospheric ballad from the point of view of a war correspondent.
Magnificent"Only love can leave such a mark," Bono roars on what sounds like an instant U2 anthem. Will.i.am has already done what Bono calls "the most extraordinary" remix of the tune.
Every Breaking Wave A swelling soul-pop song, with bright synth sounds influenced by OMD and, Bono says, "early electronica". "You don't hear indie bands doing blue-eyed soul [like this]," he adds.
No Line On The Horizon The title track's relentless groove began as a group improvisation involving all the band. "It's very raw and very to-the-point," says The Edge. "It's like rock & roll 2009."