Saturday, April 4, 2009

Music Review: No Line on the Horizon--U2

U2 and its bastard offspring Coldplay are now rivals to the the Biggest Band in the World. This is not the actual biggest band title being contended—Earth, Wind, & Fire would have something to say about a quartet winning that award. Nor is it about record sales. It is about some mathematical median between “biggest” and “best.” So, Rihana and Fall Out Boy might make more money than Norah Jones and the Fleet Foxes, but the latter are simply classier, longer-lasting, and...well, better 

The untrained listener hearing U2 and Coldplay back to back would be justly confused. Coldplay is quite simply a U2 cover band. Even my brother and I, seasoned U2 fans, were confused when first we heard Coldplay's smash hit single "Viva La Vida." "Is that Bono?" I remember asking hopefully. But no. In fact, Coldplay is a British band and Viva La Vida was produced by Brian Eno and scored a 72/100 on Metacritic. Contrast that with U2, which is a British band, and No Line on the Horizon, which was produced by Brian Eno and scored 72/100 on Metacritic...

Listen to Viva La Vida and No Line on the Horizon, U2's future megasmash back to back, and you'll know what I mean. The majestic palace-rock motifs, the drawn-out musicality, the soaring tenors (smooth, laid-back, and modern for Chris Martin, aka Mr. Gwyneth Paltrow; rough, passionate, and almost funky for Bono). 

You can't blame Martin and Coldplay for aping their heroic forebears. After all, U2 has won more Grammys than any other band in history, and sold more albums too--145 million of them. Some critics (mostly young Turks at Slate and the ilk) dismissed U2's latest offering, making snide plays on the title. "For this band, the line on the horizon is growing ever clearer." Nothing makes me madder than yuppie condescension, especially of demonstrable greatness, so I'll just go break a few 2 by 4s and be right back.....

...There, that's better. Anyway, I bought No Line with fingers crossed. I had heard the first single, the precocious, funky "Get On Your Boots" and I was a little apprehensive. I was a little underwhelmed at first listen. "No Line" itself was a great song, but "Moment of Surrender" dragged onnn and onnn and none of the other songs held my attention. Since then, I've listened to it quite a few times, and I love it. The lyricism, the melody, the practiced excellence of a band that was formed in...oh, wow, 1977. The year Star Wars came out. And here they are with a big, bold, sure-hit of an album. So, what exactly is on it? 

(01): No Line on the Horizon. The title track is beautiful. Classic U2, possibly my favorite overall. Lyrics: "I know a girl, she's like the day she's still the next she swells." 

(02): Magnificent. A classic power-ballad. The beginning is a little electronic, until The Edge's familiar guitar kicks in. The descending electro-thing after the first line and repeated throughout the song gives it focus. Lyrics: the kind U2 gets panned for--too Christian to ignore. EVERY secular review of U2's music has as a con Bono's "lyrical preachiness." Well, they can complain, but I think it's really refreshing. "Only love can leave such a mark...From the womb my first cry, it was a joyful noise....Justify till we die, you and I will magnify/ The Magnificent." 

(03): Moment of Surrender. Earnest piano and organ in the background just make this song last longer. Calm musically, rigorous vocally--a ballad with all that that entails. Not my favorite, but undeniably good. Lyrics: "It's not if I believe in love/ If love believes in me....At the moment of surrender/of vision over visibility." 

(04): Unknown Caller. It gets off to a slow start, but comes surging in with Bono's plaintive cry of "Sunshine, sunshine." The tintinnabulation of The Edge's guitar is particularly poignant, the rough Celtic harmony particularly sweet and fleeting. Lyrics: "Oh, oh, escape yourself and gravity/Hear me, cease to speak that I may speak/Shush now." It ends, once again, with plaintive organ. 

(05):  I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight. My favorite beginning. An echoing guitar solo. Then Bono starts and goes into a jarring falsetto immediately. The beginning jars; it's tentative before it coalesces fully. But when it does, with Bono's "Baby, baby, baby," . But even here, Bono's "preachiness" comes through. There's a tantalizing hint of deep cello that I wish would have been more fully expanded. Lyrics: "How can you stand next to the truth and not see it?/ A change of heart comes slow/It's not a hill, it's a mountain/As you start the climb/Do you believe me, or are you doubting/ We're gonna make it all the way to the light.....The right to appear ridiculous is something I hold dear." 

(06): Get On Your Boots. I didn't like this song at first, then I liked it, and now I'm edging back to not liking it again. It's undeniably funky and pretty cool, but it doesn't fit in with the rest of what must be called a fairly introspective album. The brazen beat and muddled electronic effects of Boots ruin a decent song that would have been more at home on their earlier, more electronic (and widely panned) album "Pop." Lyrics: "The future needs a big kiss...Satan loves a bomb scare...Laughter is eternity if Joy is real...Get on your boots/ sexy boots." 

(07): Stand Up Comedy. A great song, again with Edge's solemn guitar and rough Celtic harmony. Lyrics: "I can stand up for hope, faith, love...stop helping God across the road like a little old lady....Josephine be careful of small men with big ideas." Josephine refers to Napoleon's empress. 

(08): FEZ - Being Born. This album really does have alot of electronic garnishments, but they rarely seem overdone. This song has few lyrics, but those that are there are powerful. Lyrics: "Head first, then foot, then heart sets sail." 

(09): White as Snow. Begins with solo piano and a little electronic zip. Then the Edge cuts in with an acoustic as Bono talks about the lamb being as white as snow. Beautiful and ghostly. Lyrics: "Once I knew there was a love divine/Then came a time when I thought it knew me not/Who can forgive where forgiveness is not/Only the lamb is white as snow." 

(10): Breathe. A brash, beautiful song. It starts out flawed, but gets better as Bono's overdubbed voices reaches high as he sings "These days are better than that." Lyrics: "Breathe now/yeah, yeah/ We are people borne of sound/The songs are in our eyes/Gonna wear them like a crown." 

(11): Cedars of Lebanon. A sad, slow, ballad. Plaintive and spare. Lyrics: "Choose your enemies carefully, 'cause they will definite you. Make them interesting 'cause in some ways they will mind you. They're not there in the beginning, but when your story ends. Gonna last with you longer than your friend. 

In conclusion, a beautiful album from the masters of great rock music. Expect more music reviews in the future. 


Anonymous said...

Excuse, topic has mixed. It is removed