Sunday, March 8, 2009

No Line on the Horizon Reviewed

When U2 released "Get On Your Boots" I feared the worst - if this was the song they choose to kick things off with, a limp, reaching record must've been on it's way.

Then I remembered how "unique" Vertigo and Discotheque were: these boys haven't picked a good single since Beautiful Day.

It was a tough wait between the single's debut and the album's full release. Single be damned, it's a damn good album.

No Line on the Horizon is a refreshing return to some of the riskier writing and production the band explored during their Passengers and Zooropa sessions.

It's moody, intentionally constructed, and shines brightest when listened to in it's entirety. And for fans familiar with U2's entire catalogue (including B-sides and the aforementioned Passengers album) it's nice to hear some of the more experimental stuff make it to the A-side of a release.

Lanois and Eno have always brought a great sound to their production of U2, but what really sets this album apart is the songwriting and melody the two have contributed this time around (they're both granted songwriting credit in additon to their production notes). Eno's "unhuman" bent plays off Lanois' ethereal dissonance beautifully and when you add these ingredients to the epic grandiosity that ultimately is U2 you're left with a very satisfying meal.

The majority of the tracks on this album play off each other and work together toward the whole. If Bono et al had decided to focus the lyrics a bit more they could've easily turned NLOTH into a stunning concept album. As it is, the sonic co-operation between tracks is treat enough.

I'd be remiss if I didn't make mention of the basslines on this album: Adam Clayton puts his stamp on this album with more authority and bombast than I've ever heard on a U2 offering.

Feel free to add as many comments as you'd like as there's so much more to say...

Here's my brief track-by-track:

No Line on the Horizon

This one is gonna rip it live. Need I say more?

Good song? Yes. Magnificent? Not so much.

I know a lot of people think this song is poised to become the next "Where the Streets Have No Name" but the disco-inspired bassline and hand claps reall don't add up to greatness for me.

Moment of Surrender
This song is easily the best track on the album. It's the perfect mix of melody, production and atmosphere and though it's already over six minutes, it could easily hold my attention for another twenty.

Also of note: It makes a great a sister track to "North and South of the River"

Unknown Caller
The organ toward the end of this song is one of the best moments on the entire album. It's as overwhelming as standing on the outer deck of a BC Ferry when it's sounding it's horn on the way through Active Pass - the urge to scream as along with it is a hard one to fight. To not do so is to risk being ultimately consumed by it.

I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight
This song has numerous moments of brilliance and to be honest it's one of my favorite tracks on the album. That said, it does seem to borrow a bit too much of it's sound(s) from the All That You Can't Leave Behind sessions.

Get On Your Boots
I must admit that despite my rejection of this song as the debut single, it does work within the context of the whole album. I'll give you that, but not much more. And the beat at the end ("let me in the sound") is absolutely massive.

Stand Up Comedy
There's something here that just doesn't work. I'm not sure if it's that the boys are reaching for too many genres or what, but they just never seem to grasp the song. It's like a bad brainstorming session for Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me. Focus boys. Focus.

Regardless, It will rock the joint live.

Fez- Being Born
Perfectly placed, this song picks up where the title track left off and sets the stage for the rest of the album. Bono's voice is just ragged enough to "humanize" the electronica that Eno spreads thick throughout this one, and Larry's drumroll keeps it equally grounded.

The "let me in the sound" sample at the start is also a very nice touch.

White as Snow
If Eno shone through on Fez-Being Born, White as Snow is easily Lanois' most valuable contribution. Not only can you pick out his great harmonies, but the song carries his signature sound: haunting, melodic and somehow gently disquieting.

(Borrowing some of the melody from O Come, O Come Emmanuel works well, but every time they don't break into the song's big "Rejoice" chorus I'm left a little dissapointed. )

Breathe (live) was the second song off the album I heard after Get On Your Boots and it didn't make me any more confident there was a great album on it's way. Fast forward to hearing this studio version and things have changed: the song is tight and playful but also deadly serious. And it's hard not to walk with a swagger as Bono spits out his verse.

Cedars of Lebanon
The album's closer is basically If You Wear That Velvet Dress - but more about loss than love. Again, you can really hear Lanois' songwriting credits coming through on this one in a great way, and the atmosphere is beautifully punctuated with Eno's little blips and samples.

It's a stunning ending to a great album and I've got a hunch it'll be an excellent seque to the mellower companion album they're set to release later this year.


michael said...

After all of the buzz about this being a more experimental album, I didn't find it so. It is less friendly to mainstream radio than the previous two albums, but it doesn't really stand apart from the general U2 catalog as experimental (like say Zooropa or Unforgettable Fire).

I agree (at least so far) that Moment of Surrender is the strongest track on the album. Though White as Snow is gaining ground with me.

For me this album is Adam's album. He's playing a broader range of stuff. The lines are solid, musical and spacious. He stands out without dominating.

The Renegade Librarian said...

The 2001 album is called "All That You Can't Leave Behind", not "Everything". Get your act together, Kingsley, for heaven's sake...

Good review, even if I do disagree with some of your opinions. I agree with Michael that Adam is the MVP, for sure!

James Kingsley said...

sorry bingham - it seems i've made a few mistakes in my efforts to review the album in a timely manner.

your review is great by the way. i've quoted my favorite part below:

" ."

The Renegade Librarian said...

Even when you're being a complete arse and making fun of me, you still can make me laugh. I am taking my time and making sure the review is thorough and complete. I also always check my facts and album titles.