This review was first
published on CLUAS in 2000
Other albums reviewed in 2000
A review of the album 'All that you can't leave behind'
Well, the rumours that U2 have returned to their roots, if U2 have such a thing, are true. The band, like chameleons, have tended to change with their environment - Rattle And Hum reflected their exploration of the American heartland, Zooropa was a reaction to the reformation and freedom of Europe while Pop tried to bring dance to the stadium. With this new album (note the absence of one-word ironic title), the band seem to be reclaiming their youth. Is this the beginning of U2's mid-life crisis? Tellingly, they have returned to the production dream-team of Lanois and Eno.
It all begins with the new single, "Beautiful Day". By now most are familiar with it's Lillywhite sheen and uplifting chorus. It's a cracking start. Elsewhere, the Edge has cranked up his guitar amps again (all the way to 11 on the monstrous "Elevation") while, in contrast, Bono has reeled in that voice a little. On this album, it sweeps and ripples on the beautiful melodies crafted round songs like "Kite" and "When I Look At The World". One of the traits of all truly great rock bands is that they all have a mesmerising lead voice and, here, Bono is that charismatic instrument. Like Michael Stipe and Jeff Tweedy, he seems to occupy a song. But it is the Edge who is the star here - his swagger on "Walk On" is sensational and is surely another No. 1. He duels with Daniel Lanois, weaving gossamer threads over the melodic "Grace" and, especially, "In A Little While". Bono's vocal on the latter is a croaky, soulful take that reminds me of vintage Sam Cooke (yes, it's that good). Eno's keyboard reveals itself as Bono exclaims "Slow down my beating heart..". And yes I love a good love song.
This being U2, the album has the odd duff note (is this to remind us they are fallible?). "Wild Honey" is a vaguely countryish, vaguely interesting trawl through some mystical garden while "Peace On Earth" has a lyric so mawkish that even Sinead O'Connor might balk at it.
So, what are we left with? Bono seems to sum everything up himself on what is the album's greatest song, "Stuck In A Moment You Can't Get Out Of". Complete with understated brass, the lyric and melody combine and U2, once again, transcend the sum of their parts. It's a vast sound. "I'm just trying to find a decent melody / a song that I can sing in my own company" Bono sings. I wish I could write the melody down as easy as the words.
"New York" sounds like an out-take from 'The Unforgettable Fire' and is out of kilter with all that surrounds it. Maybe this is appropriate as, with its choppy guitar, the theme is geographical and emotional displacement. Is this Bono's first mid-life crisis song? It segues into the gently melodic "Grace". A come-down song with some evocative keyboard from Eno, this is where the album should end. Instead the Salman Rushdie penned " The Ground Beneath Her Feet " is tacked on for the UK market. Needlessly.
It seems to me that U2 have reclaimed what they lost with Pop. Maybe a return to U2's halcyon days of Time magazine covers and world domination is asking too much but I do want them to mean something to me, to repay my faith in them. This album is not just a return to form, it's a return to greatness.