“Five years after their last album and more than 20 since they became the biggest band in the world, the time has come for U2 to reclaim their rock ‘n’ roll crown. With a career of almost unparalleled success and acclaim, expectations are high for their new album, No Line on the Horizon. So does it deliver?” IY
“Bono and friends have never shied from the grand gesture, never been wary of the heart-on-sleeve intensity that can lead lesser artists to sentimentality. Even when they’ve embraced irony, it’s not at the expense of passion.” EG “This album is a bit different. The huge, rousing tunes are still there. About half of the new album could be classed as having come from the classic U2 mold – driving rhythms, wide open guitars, impassioned vocals,” IY but Horizon “lacks the immediate, relentless melodic punch of The Joshua Tree or Achtung Baby.” EG
Over their career, U2 have “created a sound, …shrewdly expanded and reinvented it, and they never became ghoulish, price-gouging buffoons like the Stones. But unlike 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind (the follow-up to 1997’s electronica-tweaked misfire Pop), No Line on the Horizon isn’t content to reaffirm U2’s iconic sonic virtues.” CA Instead, the band makes a distinct “effort to tinker and rough up and refine anew their music’s essence,” CA resulting in “tracks with both anthemic sweep and intricate nuance.” EG “Some of these tunes are mellow and warm, some are stripped back and personal. Some take the trademark U2 ingredients of passion and power but play with melody and structure in a way that makes them stimulating and satisfying, even if they swerve to avoid a soaring chorus.” IY
Depending on the review, the end result is either that the album “ranks with the group’s best, boldest work and grows more resonant with repeated listening” EG or doesn’t “quite scale the heights we have come to expect” IY even though “U2 still inspire flashes of elation, awe, and yes, hope like no other rock band.” CA
The album is “produced by Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois and Steve Lillywhite, who have helped define and refine U2’s unmistakable yet ever-evolving sound.” EG Eno and Lanois are even “explicitly included in the songwriting.” CA
“Edge’s chiming, richly harmonic guitar work is showcased with loving care, whether he’s propelling a hook or pouring his bursts of color and light into a searing solo. Bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. remain the most supple and sensual rhythm team in contemporary rock, providing a flesh-and-blood foundation for the densely atmospheric, distortion-flecked arrangements.” EG
“Get on Your Boots, the first single, has been met with a lukewarm response. The guitars sound dirty, not uplifting, and the ‘sexy boots’ refrain is uncharacteristically mundane and ridiculous.” IY That song and Stand Up Comedy “adopt a self-conscious Zoo TV swagger that only exposes Bono’s dodgier wordplay.” CA
“As frontman, Bono continues to acknowledge the contradictions that come with being a superstar with a healthy ego and a keen conscience, worldly sophistication and spiritual curiosity. There are self-deprecating nods to his side gig as celebrated activist: ‘Be careful of small men with big ideas,’ he sings in [the aforementioned] ‘Stand Up Comedy’.” EG
That song, as well as “‘I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight’ [and] ‘Magnificent’…are the closest things to U2 epics. But they lack the simple power of the group’s grand anthems.” IY Magnificent could’ve been a standard U2 secular hymn, but it’s constructed like a Sasha & Digweed trance anthem, with peak-hour drum programming and electronic swoosh.” CA Meanwhile, “I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight reads like a bumper sticker on an SUV in a Wal-Mart parking lot – a meek yelp of rebellion from a mortgage-stressed husband who dreams of creeping out for Nascar Bud Shootout night at Hooters. But on the song of that title from U2’s 12th studio album, Bono belts out the line with liberating glee.” CA
No Line on the Horizon, “the pummeling title cut” EG “masses the Edge’s guitar and synth tracks into a dense whir and swirl amid gurning polyrhythms, giving Bono’s” CA “simple, repeated verses…followed by flourishing wails” IY of “whoa-ohs a gritty context.” CA
“Moment of Surrender, a celebrity-at-the-crossroads soul ballad, is given an ambient gospel sweep that’s both haunted and joyful.” CA This “seven-and-a-half minute slow burner, is long but never dull. Upon laid-back beats are layered strings, an organ and a gospel backing, before The Edge’s quivering guitar sends it into the dreamy, dusty distance. It is arguably the outstanding track.” IY
On Unknown Caller,” CA Bono takes on the persona of “a suicidal man who thinks his phone is texting him instructions via computer commands (‘Force quit and move to trash!’).” IY The song, “clocking in at six minutes, starts with sun-blushed chimes and flutters, and is built around a chanted chorus, as some desert drums, a familiar panoramic guitar and some wandering ‘woahs’ join in.” IY
“Cedars of Lebanon, the closing track, is more bare, but no less compelling” IY as Bono takes on the “the point of view of a war correspondent” CA “with reflective vocals on top of brushed beats and plaintive twanging.” IY The band are also stripped down on the “hauntingly spare White As Snow.” EG
Bono “is most revealing in yearning, searching mode. ‘It’s not if I believe in love/ But if love believes in me/ Oh, believe in me,’ he pleads in Moment of Surrender” EG a song in which “he imagines himself as invisible.” CA Then he “is a mostly phonetic presence during Fez – Being Born. It’s odd that the world’s most voluble one-named activist, who holds forth at will on, say, Larry King Live, seems unsure of how to express himself in a musical context. Maybe, like most rational adults, he’s lost some faith in pop or rock to transform the planet, but if you’re gonna be the leader of U2, you oughta embrace the pulpit.” CA
“So it’s finally startling when the confident rumble of Breathe emerges. Bono sounds wired, paranoid, and defiantly sympathetic, ranting about an ‘Asian virus,’ ‘juju man,’ and ‘St. John the Divine.’ Then, suddenly, his ambivalent anxiety recedes. And by simply being a rock star who’s singing his heart out, he depicts our ability to reenter the grind every day without cynicism as a near-heroic act. The Edge’s concise, ascending solo sears the point home.” CA
“Sick of Bono? Maybe. Sick of U2? Not yet.” CA “They may have turned a corner,” IY but “after all this time and all that success, U2 still hasn’t found what it’s looking for: The band is as full of questions and thirsty for inspiration as ever, eager to continue exploring and growing.” EG “This is the sound of a band at ease with themselves,” IY “expanding their vision, tilting their ambitions and letting their instincts for melody and musicianship deliver some stunning songs.” IY
- CA Charles Aaron, Spin Magazine, 2/20/09.
- EG Elysa Gardner, USA Today, 2/26/09.
- IY Ian Youngs, BBC News, 2/20/09.