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First View: U2 - No Line on the Horizon

Feb 23

Written by:
2/23/2009 3:22 AM  RssIcon

From here on in, Short Cuts is going to change tack a little... as well as bringing you the good stuff that bubbles up here in Oz (I see that NME gave Empire of the Sun 8/10 earlier this month... see this earlier blog), I'll be providing a First View on some of the premier releases of the year. 

And what better place to start than U2's new release, No Line on the Horizon.

U2 - -New Line on the HorizonFour and a half years is pretty long between albums for the boys. As has been detailed elsewhere (particularly here in the Observer Music Monthly), the gestation of this album was fraught, even for a band that has often verged in the dysfunctional. And the question that is on everyone's lips... it No Line on the Horizon worth the wait?

After a third spin earlier on today, I would say yes. Hesitatingly, though. It's a dense record. Cluttered and noisy.

But... and this is the exciting thing. The previous 2 albums, All That You Can't Leave Behind and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (still hate that name) were a linear progression for a band that has pride in its ability to morph and explore. I mean, they were practically the same album as our esteemed editor admirably describes here. This accusation cannot be thrown as this new record. Right from the off, the title track features a vocal from Bono that is virtually unrecognisable. In a good way. Added to that, the famed rhythm section locks horns around a riff and thrash living hell out of it. (In fact, there are many moments on this album that recall Led Zeppelin!). It's still early days but it seems like the second song on the album, the soaring Magnificent, could well find itself up there with the U2 greats. It's melody wraps itself around a vaguely familiar Edge arpeggio and off it goes. It's glorious.

But I suspect some will prefer Moment of Surrender. Brian Eno features heavily here. The tempo is stately but, and I just love it, the band kinda harmonise! And there are handclaps. And it's not naff. The bass is supple and soft but the star is Edge. In fact, this is Edge's best album since Achtung Baby. He has numerous solos throught the entire record, some very familiar (that wonderful rising arpeggio with echo sound).

The mid section on U2 records can sometimes be flabby. Not here. The riff count from Unknown Caller, through Get On Your Boots to the Zeppelinesque (again) Stand Up Comedy is extraordinarily high for a U2 record. My theory is that this is a result of Bono's absences from the recording studio (he's a busy man these days). And the band have responded by melding around Edge and finding some serious groove.

The album slows dramatically with White As Snow, a first person narrative that seems to describe exile from a wartorn country. It's early days but this could be the best vocal on the record. Closer Cedars of Lebanon has something of The Wanderer about it.

So... it feels like it could be special. But I have some concerns. Even after three listens, I have not connected with the lyrics at all. As I type I cannot recall a line that resonated. Have I heard all that Bono has to say? Also, it's just so busy. I feel like I cannot relax when listening to it. Maybe this is a result of the numerous producers they have worked through to this point. Maybe this is a band who have lost a little confidence and are trying too hard. Still, U2 are no REM in that this record is one that I am looking forward to listening to and absorbing over the coming months.

I'm looking forward to hearing what you all think. And I welcome comments on the idea that Short Cuts will provide a First View. Next up is M Ward's Hold Time.


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