U2 – No Line On The Horizon (Interscope)
Critically bulletproof in popular culture as they are (don’t buy into the whole ‘I thought everyone hates Bono?’ thing, it’s not enough to dent their sales), it’s still pertinent to apply some sense to their latest opus, No Line On The Horizon. There are many, many mis-steps and delusions of adequacy running rampant on this terminally middle-aged album, but it’s still-more depressing to realise that this will be lapped up eternally by the masses, declaring legend status on them for nothing more than simply existing since the 80s without many gaps. Any band can do this now. Exist for more than two decades (given that you’ve had one or two very successful albums) and that counts as being a stalwart, a bastion, an example to the young ‘uns who ape you. Coldplay will achieve this, Muse will achieve this, Kings Of Leon might achieve it too. But it’s U2 who’ve pioneered the format. All those stylistic bumps in the road were completely natural, but none of them less worthy than this latest incarnation.
U2 have become an ugly band, technically stifled by their own instrumental puerility and self-reference. No matter how many ‘best guitarist’ lists he might feature in, The Edge is responsible for only one inconosonic texture (y’know, the flighty, reverb-y stuff) – everything else is purely workmanlike. Constant valorisation of ‘the blues’ as the well from which all modern pop music is drawn is no longer an authentic maxim, but its one that is continually relied upon the great ‘innovator’. In an interview with Radio 4’s Front Row programme, The Edge claimed that lead single Get On Your Boots was some sort of return to a straight-ahead rock song for the band. Nothing like Vertigo, Elevation, or Beautiful Day, then. Barely anything here is not frustratingly easy, tonal, faux-dramatic and predictable. A particularly bad offender is Moment Of Surrender. Needlessly grandiose, too overly simplistic to warrant length over seven minutes and a vocal delivery so over-earnest it can’t be taken seriously. Top it off with weak, tremulous and unbalanced vocal harmonies with little-to-none of the requisite resonance to engender an emotional response, and U2’s crimes seem to be ever-increasing.
Musically, things are bad, but Bono’s characterful poetry could at least provide interest. Sadly, lyrics don’t come more dullardly than “I don’t wanna talk about the war between nations…” on Get On Your Boots. Clearly, Paul, you do want to talk about the war between nations. If not, then what has the Christ-like philanthropy period of career actually been about? This little ‘sexy’ song is just disgusting. So fond is he of asking pointless questions (we all know that an African child dies every two seconds, and we’re very upset about it too) and making sweeping statements designed to encourage rounds of applause that it’s dropped into his heinously conceited and stylised lyrics. Whether it’s desperate grabs at party lingo (try “I’m gonna go crazy if I don’t go crazy!” on the similarly-named track) or the inane natural evocations of the African sunrise on Fez: Being Born, the whole is a verbal crisis. It seems, maybe through no fault of the band, that every line has been conceived so it’ll be quotable. They strive for resonance, but fail to remain relevant (there’s little worse than an ensemble chant of “re-boot yourself” on Unknown Caller… get with it Grandad! You’ve spilt tea on my I-Phone! Etc etc.)
There’s an awful guitar solo on Breathe, one of those ‘pick three notes and play them gradually faster’ tricks that were fatigued by 1990 at the latest – strangely alongside the only respectable vocal harmonies on the whole album. That, though brief, is strangely symptomatic of No Line On The Horizon. Several wrong elements combine for the duration; for one, there’s absolutely nothing here that hasn’t been done better before by U2 themselves, they’re still trading on legend status that has been unjustly awarded to them, and their viewpoints don’t ever coalesce into a unified message like on stronger efforts. It will sell and continue the legend of U2 rolling on, but another one like this could seriously find them out of favour with even the most foolish and lightweight of tastemakers.
No Line On The Horizon is out fucking everywhere now.