U2 - No Line On the Horizon
Trainspotters will note that those adjectives are a nod to the titles of two Dylan albums. And I can't help thinking of Dylan (or at least Dylan-lite – I'm not suggesting Bono is as accomplished a lyricist as Dylan) when I listen to this album.
Bono's lyrics are in turn opaque, suggestive, trite and beautiful - far superior to much of the drek we've already been subjected to this year. And producer Daniel Lanois performs his usual brilliance, as he did with Dylan's Time Out of Mind
. And also, as with U2, pundits have tended to write Dylan off at times, until surprised by yet another work of quality.
But before I get into a fulsome analysis, dotted with nifty allusions, informed by research into how NLOTH
was made, and powered by a desire to make you understand what I believe the album to be about – if all you want to know is, is this a good album?, then yes. Yes it is. It's a very good album.
A review of a U2 album is always also going to end up being a review of Bono, that massive presence. Well, I say massive – Bono himself is a little more wry, warning us on "Stand Up Comedy" to "Stand up to rock stars, Napoleon is in high heels, Josephine, be careful of small men with big ideas." It's this self-deprecation, or at least self-awareness, that is part of the appeal of NLOTH
, both lyrically and musically.
Which is not to say that Bono's lost any of his sense of being the chosen one. As he sings on "Magnificent", "I was born to sing for you/I didn't have a choice but to lift you up." But hey, we need our rock gods to believe in themselves. If you took away Bono’s arrogance, you'd be left with Woody Allen. Nobody wants that.
You'll be tempted to listen to these words, from the beautifully atmospheric "Cedars of Lebanon" (where Bono appears to sing from the perspective of a war reporter), as a neat synopsis of U2's songs: "The worst of us are a long drawn out confession/The best of us are geniuses of compression."
There are both types of songs here, but for a U2 fan of Catholic tastes, the long drawn out confession of "Moment of Surrender" ("I tied myself with wire/To let the horses roam free/Playing with the fire/Until the fire played with me") will be as welcome as the return to rock's primary message that is "Get on your boots" ("I don't wanna talk about the wars between nations/sexy boots, yeah").
Actually, while we're using U2 lyrics to describe No Line on the Horizon
, how about this bit from "Breathe", possibly the most U2 of U2 songs on this album, as a metaphor for the relationship between U2 and producer Brian Eno? "I’m running down the road like loose electricity, while the band in my head plays a striptease."
It might be stretching a point, but the flat out electric rock of U2 wouldn't be as interesting without the layers of striptease sound Eno brings to the mix. (Eno and Lanois are credited as co-writers on seven of the songs – of which "Breathe" isn't one!) There's a sense in which Edge's guitar-playing and Eno belong together. Texture is more important than pyrotechnics, and you've all read a hundred U2 reviews where Edge's guitar-playing is referred to as "chiming", (4,520 results on Google for "chiming Edge guitar") "shimmering", "cascading" and suchlike.
In the final analysis, this is as much Eno and Lanois' triumph as it is U2's. Are there flaws in it? Yes, if you're looking. There'll be listeners who think that the "Get on your boots" is frivolous, but then they’d probably say that of the MC5's "Kick out the Jams." The key is given to us by Bono, on that very same frivolous song, when he sings "meet me in the sound." On No Line on the Horizon
, it's an invitation well worth accepting.
On No Line on the Horizon, U2 are a band with the balls to sound like themselves. And there's no better band to sound like, if freewheeling, bringing-it-on-home rock ‘n roll with a twist of hubris is what you do.
What to read next: