Friday, Feb. 20, 2009

U2's New Album is All Over the Place

By Evan Rytlewski
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The cover art for U2’s No Line on the Horizon depicts what appears to be a line on the horizon, and sure enough, it portends an album rife with contradictions. As necessitated by the Internet, here’s my track-by-track insta-review.

"No Line on the Horizon" opens the album promisingly with an enticing haze of electronics and grinding guitars. The track kicks hard without falling back on arena-rock troupes.

“Magnificent” is genuinely magnificent nod to the band’s early sound and a more soulful continuation of the album’s powerful opener. Take a deep breath, though, because here comes the rough patch:

The noodly “Moment of Surrender” is seven-and-a-half minutes long. For that matter, it’s seven-and-a-half minutes too long.

“Unknown Caller” is the sound of Bono spinning around in his American-flag-lined jacket, intermittently releasing doves.

The unapologetically goofy “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy,” sounds like it could be a single, but it’s all over the place, manically toggling between straight-faced and tongue-in-cheek. It’s positively New Radicals-esque, right down to the “hey, hey, heys!”

Actual single “Get On Your Boots” is the new “Elevation,” meadheadism packaged as activism.

“Stand Up Comedy” opens like a bad G. Love song—and yes, that means bad by G. Love standards. It’s like hearing the Hindenburg crash into the Titanic.

The ambient “FEX-Being Born” was likely slipped onto the album by producer Brian Eno while the band was breaking for tea.

“White As Snow” is as stunning as it is chilling, U2’s earthy answer to R.E.M.’s “County Feedback,” and nearly as good. Now this is a song.

Shrieks of ambient cello ring in "Breathe." It’s up to the Edge to chase away the artiness with his cock-grabbing guitar, and he delivers the arena-sized goods. Bono’s on fire, too, his lyrics venomous yet pleasantly free of contrivance. Probably the hardest rocking song on the album—or at least the best rocking song on the album. A prime candidate for singlehood, though a bit long at five minutes.

The whisper-quiet closing ballad, “Cedars Of Lebanon,” doesn’t quite live-up to its lead-in tracks, but ends the disc on a note of grace, washing away some of the bitter aftertaste from all those mid-album missteps.

In short: The album is nearly evenly divided between clunkers and winners, but there’s enough meat and potatoes here to please the masses. No Line on the Horizon is a solid B.

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