"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
The Age FEBRUARY 2, 2009 - by Bernard Zuel
TRACK BY TRACK: HOW THE NEW U2 ALBUM RATES
I've had one listen to the new U2 album No Line On The Horizon. It sounds adventurous and there are bits of very old U2 and bits of not so old U2, in league with sounds more common in Brooklyn at the moment than Dublin. You can easily hear the influence of producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. Definitely an improvement on How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. Here is a hurried first response and don't hold me to the lyrical references.
Track 1: No Line On The Horizon
Buzzy guitars and offkilter Enoesque noises vie for attention while Bono strains for effect as he reflects both the tension and the intensity of the song. The chorus (not a big one; more a devolving of the verse) retains the tension but puts it in a gentler setting. Bono seems to be singing to, or about, a girl, not for the last time on the album, but it's not easy to decipher.
Track 2: Magnificent
More of those odd sounds behind treated guitars and synthesizers and the song opens in two or would now be called "classic U2", the familiar '80s quick marching rhythm and the Edge's exploratory guitar lines. The most traditional sounding song on the album has Bono declaring that "I was born to sing for you / I didn't have a choice" before confessing that "only love can leave such a mark".
Track 3: Moment Of Surrender
A moodier track with irregular hand percussion (or a loop, or both) picking away at the edges of a bed of synthesizers and violin. The emotional tone is late '80s U2; the musical palette, with hints of electronica, is more early '90s. Before those richly layered Eno/Lanois-signature backing vocals arrived late in the piece Bono goes from enigmatic: "I tied myself with wire to let the horses run free / playing with fire till the fire plays with me" (I think) to matters closer to the heart: "it's not if I believe in love but if love believes in me".
Track 4: Unknown Caller
Some really interesting ambient sounds in a late, late night setting more concerned with atmosphere than asserting itself. It's 3.33am "in a place of no consequence or company" and he's "speed dialling with no signal at all". The lyrics seem more impressionistic, disconnected and with a touch of David Bowie in the chanting underneath. And is that French horns at the end? Not usually heard on a U2 album.
Track 5: I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight
Mixed marriages don't always work, but should, seems to be the theme. "She's a rainbow and she likes the quite life / I'll go crazy if I don't go crazy tonight." This is a straight out pop song with reverb guitars and Bono in high croon. It's also a U2 track they could do in their sleep, but no less attractive for that. The question is will it last as long as some of the others?
Track 6: Get On Your Boots
The first single and perplexing some already. A mess of dirty guitars and urgent energy play through electronic bibs and bobs. You can hear Fly-era U2, with a little less edge, but here something niggling through earlier songs becomes clearer: they have been listening to Brooklyn's art rockers TV On For Radio. It makes some sense: TV On The Radio spent their youth listening to Eno and Bowie too.
Track 7: Stand Up Comedy
A strutting '70s guitar finds The Edge channelling his inner Marc Bolan while that Brooklyn fractured dance of rock feels returns (and then becomes almost pure Madchester ecstasy nightclub). The "song" runs out a little earlier than the groove does but it doesn't seem fatal at all.
Track 8: Fez - Being Born
This seems to be two songs hooked together, one a collection of odd sounds and shapes, the other a pulsing rock number which becomes something else again when the sonic oddness returns prior to a drifting away ending.
Track 9: White As Snow
A ballad not just inspired by but evoking wide spaces and open skies. There are low rumbles and darting sounds, brass even. Could this be U2 aiming for Bruce Springsteen in his solo tales-of-the-desert mode?
Track 10: Breathe
This is pushier at immediately, coming with a bit of attitude. Did Bono really just say he is "not somebody's cockatoo"? He definitely says "I'm running down the road like loose electricity while the band in my head plays a striptease" and it's an apt description of this land of atmosphere and aggression.
Track 11: Cedars Of Lebanon
Lyrically and musically strongly reminiscent of a film noir narration (Bono as Walter Neff? Why not?), the central character is a man cut off from affection and life in general. Some really interesting harmonies - Eno at work again - and a closing set of lines worth pondering for implications. "Choose your enemies well for they will define you... they are going to last with you longer than your friends".