HOW TO DISMANTLE AN ATOMIC BONO: U2

With No Line On The Horizon the Irish
superstars, abetted by Eno, Lanois and Lillywhite, create their messiest album
yet.

 

BY A.D. AMOROSI

 

 

As icy as its graying
minimalist cover by Japanese photog Hiroshi Sugimoto might suggest, No Line on the Horizon (Interscope) is
U2’s messiest album yet. High pitched, cushiony, operatic, playful, clunky, mostly-midtempo,
often at a lack for a decent turn of a lyrical phrase or vexing chorus, this
thing is the Irish quartet’s White Album.
Or rather its fragile eggshell off-white album; more eccentrically bold (yet
surprisingly tinnier) than How To
Dismantle An Atomic Bomb
, not quite as passionate and joyful as All That You Can’t Leave Behind (despite
Horizon‘s unusual wealth of love
songs – to Bono’s missus, I suppose), and certainly less challenging and
electro-buzzing than Achtung Baby,
the latter my favorite of the band’s recordings.

 

 

While the melting
droney organ and clicky rhythm of its title song (how oddly linear for U2, a
title song first) unfurls, a whinnying high vocal slows to announce “no-o-oh
li-y-ine on theee hor-i-z-ee-on.” It’s an uneasy convenience the way Bono’s words
and vibrating vocal tics (too few at this stage of the game) find themselves
having to (con)form to the tune’s bridge and sighs. Weirder still is how
perfectly the song ends. Actually how every song ends. No Line might be U2’s most neatly crafted album – mordantly hermetic
even when it’s fuzzy, nattily fussy even while it’s muddling.

 

 

The
softly-splayed disco of “Magnificent” and its bible of adoration (“Only
love can leave such a mark”) and the slinky synth-gurgle of “Moment of
Surrender” and its dumbest-ever texts (what the googliemoo is he straining to
sing about, semi-precious stones and the altar of the darks stars) seem to beg
for, and get, commitment. It’s cozy. And that’s occasionally woeful and weird. This
is nice house-husband work that these tracks consider, with their laid-back
Leslie-guitar (?) solos and humbly thumping shuffles trailing behind Bono. In
fact, in that context, lines like “the right to be ridiculous is something I
hold dear” and “every generation gets a chance to change the world” – on the
swift magical mystery pop of “I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” –
sound like a house-bound man stuck with the kids for too many months. Is this a
Bono solo record with his three buddies lending (way too moral) support?

 

 

All this ennui
and mid-tempo cool up to this point in the album’s tracklisting – yes, I’m
going track by track here; that’s how conveniently laid out Horizon is – and the “joy is
real”-filled slick glam blur of “Get On Your Boots” feels wrong. That
is, until you get to the next track, the snaking, hard(ly) rocking “Stand
Up Comedy” and its skanky groove. There’s a bit of Beatles again in U2’s
melodic prowess. And The Edge gets his hungriest shot at hunkering down and
riffing out bluesily on this one. Enjoy the growl. You won’t hear it again,
even though “Fez
– Being Born” has the album’s only true freakout in its splintered chorale, its
synthy blipping, its dense wall of bass, chamber-y pianos and N’Orleansese
shuffle.

 

 

Should we mention
here that Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois and Steve Lillywhite produced this
thing and added little gurgles to every artsy antsy element? Yes. OK. They did
that. It’s still tinny, although there’s stuff everywhere. Yet all that stuff
feels neatly arranged.

 

 

Suddenly “the land is flat” and Bono’s singing in a (gratefully) deeper voice, about the dry ground,
with a flat dry vocal and a flat dry production against a keys/loop/board on
“White as Snow” – suddenly he’s doing a Jim Morrison. Which is OK by me even at
this late stage of the game. “We are people borne of sound/The
songs are in our eyes/Gonna wear them like a crown,” Bono yelps. while The
Edge finds a fever pitch Ronson-like staccato on “Breathe.” I
might’ve kvetched but-for-a-second at Bono’s love letters during Horizon‘s first half. But they work
better than his universal soldier thing, especially when you consider
“Cedars of Lebanon” and its noodling dedication – musically and
lyrically – to going around the world at war and winding up in the same place.

 

 

Yet all this is something you can’t leave behind as Horizon finds – not portrays; it ain’t that dramatic, nor is it remotely the unqualified
success that Rolling Stone‘s recent
five-star wet kiss would have you believe – an imperfect U2 at its seductive
conductive coolest.

 

 

Notice I didn’t say its hottest?

 

 

 

 

 

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