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Review

Irish megastars once again reinvent their world-famous sound

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March 5, 2009

It has been five years since U2’s last release—the commercial mega-hit “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb”—which lingered eternally at the top of the charts. Throughout their long, storied musical career, the Irish giants have been described lovingly (and, at times, hatefully) using every superlative in the English language and have, at one time or another, held all of the “important,” hyperbole-soaked titles that critics and fans alike have liberally bestowed upon them (“Greatest Band on Earth” has a nice ring, doesn’t it?). The Dublin boys continue to blaze their trail towards rock immortality with their brand new studio album “No Line on the Horizon,” a work that provides much needed reprieve from the empty filler content that has unfortunately characterized their last two efforts.

Gone are the hideous collages and awkwardly designed album cover portraits, replaced with a serene black-and-white shot of the ocean meeting a clear skyline— a foreshadowing glimpse of the music that lays behind it. Gone are the arrangements of the trademark ear-splitting, stadium-rock anthems that have become the band’s bread and butter. They have been interchanged with more tentative and gentle sounding creations. “Our band has certainly reached the end of where we’ve been at for the last couple of albums. I want to see what else we can do with it, take it to the next level,” Bono said in 2007.

“Magnificent,” the album’s second track, starts with the deep growl of The Edge’s signature Gibson Explorer, before quickly giving way to Bono’s reverberating, colossal vocals: “I was born / I was born to be with you / In this space and time.” It’s lines like these that reinforce the fact that Bono has long since transcended the label of mere “rock star.” He stands before us as a living embodiment of the narcissistic celebrity, a larger-than-life globally-tuned god who has tattooed his own image into the back of our brains.

The first featured single, “Get on Your Boots,” features a mellow, fuzzy guitar in perfect sync with Adam Clayton steady, almost unnoticeable bass. It kicks off with a snappy, rapid lyrical pace. “Night is falling everywhere / Rockets at the fun fair / Satan loves a bomb scare / But he won’t scare you,” Bono croons calmly, hammering home the realization that listeners can never be sure about the meaning behind his cryptic lyrics.

Although it begins in a compelling fashion, the energy and promise that was built up early fizzles into a dull, easily forgettable disappointment.
However, there are several interesting, low-key moments at the album’s tail end that warrant attention.

The gloomy “Cedars of Lebanon” is a sung from the perspective of a war journalist, and “FEZ—Being Born” shapes up as one of the strangest, most jumbled songs U2 has ever recorded—a stunning achievement in itself.

Devoted fans will undoubtedly love this record (refer to the opening sentence if you can’t deduce the main reason why), but any of the actual music U2 releases is inevitably fated to be overshadowed by their own monster superstardom and overexposure. Amidst iPod commercials, Super Bowl performances and humanitarian crusades, sometimes it’s hard to forget what made millions of people fall in love with them in the first place. “No Line on the Horizon” isn’t perfect, but it is a big step in the right direction.

Andrew Phelps is an alumnus of UW-River Falls.