Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Horizon is Here: First Thoughts on the New U2 Album

After one listen, here are my assessments of the songs on No Line on the Horizon, the new U2 CD that came out today.

  • "No Line on the Horizon" - U2 sometimes chooses somewhat abrupt openers, songs that are not the catchiest ones on the disc. (Although "Vertigo" and "Beautiful Day" (from the two most recent CDs) don't fit this description, "Zooropa," "Discotheque" and even "Zoo Station" feel this way to me.) I found this song similar. Although it has the same rhythmic chop as "Ultraviolet" pushing the song along, I'm not sure that this is going to become a go-to song with which to start off my day.

  • "Moment of Surrendur" - A really nice song with a spiritual flavor helped along by the band's use of an organ and a rising chorus. The lyrical imagery is solid: e.g. "I did not notice the passers-by, / And they did not notice me." and "I was speeding on the subway / Through the stations of the cross."

  • "Unknown Caller" and "I'll Go Crazy if I Don't Go Crazy Tonight" - Both of these songs sounded like other recent U2 output -- from All That You Can't Leave Behind and How to Dismantle an Atom Bomb -- to me. They both feature Edge playing piercing arpeggios high up the guitar neck. On "I'll Go Crazy," he takes a solo reminiscent of the powerful notes that he plays on "Walk On." The chorus of "I'll Go Crazy" is a little poppier than U2 normally is, and that hurts some of the gravitas that flows through the lyrics of the verses. The shouted harmony vocals on these tracks don't work so well either.

  • "Get On Your Boots" - What a crazy mash-up of influences this one is! Following an opening that reminded me of "Vertigo," the song moves into something like Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" or The Escape Club's "Wild Wild West," and then we eventually end up in club land with a thumping beat and lots of effects.

  • "Stand Up Comedy" - This one is funkified in a way that U2 usually is not and has a very solid groove to it and good energy. It reminds me quite a bit of "Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me."

  • "FEZ-Being Born" - This album has a lot of production on it, and this particular song is the most located in a studio space. It feels a bit like a movie to me. I was seeing scenes from Wim Wenders' Until the End of the World (appropriately enough, I guess) while listening to it. After it wanders around in studio land for a while, there is a several-step progression into rock.

  • "White as Snow" - A well-matched lyrical and musical landscape, this one is desolate and reveals a distance. The song unfolds over time and makes use of a slight rhythmic gap between vocals and music to give it an Eastern flavor. (It also has a bit of a folk or country flavor to it.) It ends without a climax that it
    maybe could have used.

  • "Breathe" - At its beginning, this song is not sure what it wants to be: a drum groove gets suddenly slammed away by a blast of guitar. Bono tells a story in a very non-U2 way, a style that reminded me of some tracks Peter Mulvey has cut or a bit of Bruce Cockburn. The chorus brings it back to U2, especially Edge's guitar.

  • "Cedars of Lebanon" - Opening very quietly with organ and bass, the song moves into Bono talking us through a day over a low arpeggio. Larry beats out a steady march beat on the drums in the background.

Edge's guitar is quite recognizable across the album -- his arpeggios pop through on almost every song in a comfortingly familiar way. Adam's bass provides a warm layer of love running underneath the songs, and as usual, he provides some great melodic material, too. Larry seems to get to stretch out a bit on this disc, and the drums provide a variety of textures over the course of the disc. Bono's voice is a bit worn at times -- including on the opening number -- but he also tries some new styles out. Throughout, the use of stereo separation is excellent, as different guitar lines pop up on the left or right sides; at one point, there was the sound of a buzz saw cutting my head in half -- that's good production.

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