Friday, February 20, 2009

Some First Impressions of U2's New Album

I posted this on Facebook, and I thought I’d put it here as well (especially since I am rather uninspired of late).

So I downloaded U2’s new album No Line on the Horizon on Tuesday night (it doesn’t come out until March 3, but it was leaked early, being accidentally sold online for a couple hours that night. I was in the right place at the right time).

I am hesitant to say too much about it because No Line on the Horizon, like the best of U2’s albums, is not the kind of thing that just walks into the light, undresses, and suggests itself to you. It is subtle and complex. When I first listened to 1991’s Achtung Baby, I remember not liking it very much at first. In fact, it took a good two years before I realized that it was the best album U2 had ever made.

So turning to No Line on the Horizon, I would definitely say that, unlike 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind or 2004’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (neither of which I find particularly remarkable), this one’s a grower. There are certain songs that are immediately catchy like “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” and “Get On Your Boots” (the latter of which is easily the album’s worst song), but more often it is the case that No Line on the Horizon’s songs are so layered and interesting that they’ll need some time to sit with the listener and let him get to know them a bit before he feels ready to opine too much about them.

If I had to venture an opinion about No Line on the Horizon at this early stage, I would say that it is a cross between 1984’s The Unforgettable Fire and 1993’s Zooropa. There's ambience as well as experimentation. As one reviewer put it, this current incarnation of U2 “has one leg in the shallow, concentrate-version of U2 that the world has taken at face value for a decade, and one leg in a future as exciting as anything they have hitherto allowed us to glimpse.”

For my own part, I am very excited about this album, I think it is the best thing they have done since the early ‘90s. Sure, I’ve got some nit-picky complaints about this or that lyric or production decision, but after almost a decade of U2 putting out albums that were decidedly less than the sum of their parts, it’s nice to hear an album that can be described or debated as a whole, on its own terms, without even mentioning what the individual songs sound like.

So well done, lads. You’ve given us an album that is bold, unpredictable, and when it comes to song structure, quite unconventional. Thanks for not playing it (too) safe.