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U2 - No Line On The Horizon

U2, No Line On The Horizon

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

IT’S not easy maintaining a status as one of the world’s biggest and best bands. By the very nature of our culture, acts are built up, then knocked down. To endure means luck, good judgement, talent… and being able to take the knocks.

To be fair, U2 have had it better than most. The backlash has never been terrible and most of what they do screams of quality – from early War era, through Joshua Tree majesty, right up to last album How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. But their 12th album has drawn one of the most lukewarm responses of their career to date.

Were the critics being harsh, I pondered… but listening to it a few times, perhaps not. No Line On The Horizon is by no means a bad album. But it does suffer from lulls and is nowhere near as emphatic as U2 at their best. If anything, it reflects the difficult history it was reported to have had being made.

According to reports, early sessions with producer Rick Rubin fell apart, prompting Bono and company to reunite with Brian Eno and Danny Lanois, who worked their magic over The Joshua Tree. But while Universal hoped for a Christmas release, it wasn’t finished on time.

Not that missing a release date really matters. An album from an act like U2 or Coldplay is always going to make money if it’s good, whenever it’s released. So, expect No Line On The Horizon to become a blockbuster seller.

But it will divide even the most ardent fan over its merits. It’s good, sometimes exhilarating.. but occasionally disappointing.

Things begin brightly, with the title track feeling like a throwback to their Joshua Tree era, complete with a shuffling, busy drump loop, some atmospheric guitar from The Edge and a rousing, bluesuy vocal from Bono.

Magnificent is exactly as its name suggests, opening with the sort of riff The White Stripes would love, and mixing subtle beats and synths with more sterling guitar work from The Edge. Once he lays down the central riff, it’s like revisiting U2 in their early years and you’ll be singing along “magnificent” in gleeful harmony with Bono.

Moment of Surrender, meanwhile, drops the tempo and recalls the eerie beauty of tracks like One, whilst retaining an epic focus. It lasts for over seven minutes, includes a breathtaking guitar solo from The Edge, and even flirts with gospel-style sensibilities towards the end. It requires patience, but it does reward… even though the length is a killer that deprives it of the easy radio allure of One. It’s a useful reference point for the album as a whole – admirable, but strangely flawed.

Elsewhere, Unknown Caller is workmanlike, I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight passionately delivered with some typically pointed observations (“how can you stand next to the truth and not see it?”), and the boogie shuffle of former single Get On Your Boots sexy and invigorating despite what the majority of critics are saying.

Another album highlight then comes in the bluesy foot-stomper that is Stand Up Comedy, which references our “dizzy world” and drops a lively chorus. The Edge, again, serves notice of his immeasurable talent with another towering solo, that offsets some of the Red Hot Chili Peppers-style bass guitar nicely.

Fez – Being Born rocks your socks off, complete with epic Bono wailing, while White As Snow strips things back down and finds Bono’s vocals taking centre stage as his lyrics reflect a war-torn country and its impact upon the survivors. It’s a tender, melancholy moment that reminds the listener of U2’s importance on the world stage – as musicians and ambassadors for change.

Breathe is another lively straight-ahead rocker, during which The Edge’s guitars are eventually unleashed to typically inspired effect, and Cedars of Lebanon rounds things off in subdued, thoughtful fashion, reflecting more of their global concerns. Bono almost speak-sings the lyrics, while The Edge barely gets into second gear. It ends things in strangely downbeat, underwhelming fashion.

So, where do we stand overall on the album? It’s solid, mature, confrontational and definitely worth owning. It’s not the masterpiece that some have stated, but it’s nowhere near as disappointing as others have suggested. It has its rousing, crowd-pleasing moments, as well as its sincere, intimate moments too. As ever, it also reflects the success of the past with a need to remain vital and of the moment for the future.

Above all else, it confirms that U2 remain one of the world’s biggest and best bands… and, crucially, one that’s not ever content to rest on their laurels.

Download picks: No Line On The Horizon, Magnificent, Get On Your Boots, White As Snow, Stand Up Comedy

Track listing:

  1. No Line on The Horizon
  2. Magnificent
  3. Moment of Surrender
  4. Unknown Caller
  5. I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight
  6. Get on Your Boots
  7. Stand Up Comedy
  8. Fez – Being Born
  9. White As Snow
  10. Breathe
  11. Cedars of Lebanon