U2 – No Line On The Horizon

U2 – No Line On The Horizon (Interscope)

U2 No Line On The Horizon

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.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “U2 – No Line On The Horizon

  1. Listen up you trash talking wanker…you talk about the masses bestowing legend status on U2 for sticking around for 30+ years (oh you noticed that , huh?) and this really isn’t a small feat because any band can do that these days (name one other band to do it successfully with all original members in tact) Obviously you have no clue what’s going on with this new album which I can firmly declare as one of there best to date! That’s right, I said it. Joshua Tree it’s not… but then again it’s not 1987 is it. No, it’s not…hmmm. You have the utter audacity to call this record ugly and speak nothing of the joy that it radiates. For example many critics have fired on Bono for using the lyric “I was born to sing for you” on “Magnificent” calling it pompous and pretentious. Which may actually have a ring of truth if this line was aimed at the fans…not the case…It’s a heartfelt outpouring of joy to give praise to his maker. The album is filled with examples of these kind of misunderstood lines. And furthermore…you make light of the line “reboot yourself” as if “Unknown Caller” is a song of silly subject matter..??????? wtf man. Obviously you haven’t suffered enough to realize the power of these words. How about this instead of trashing this latest effort, and holding it up against every other album they’ve ever made…actually listen to it and try to appreciate it for the great work it is.

    And that’s what I got to say about that!

  2. popmusicology

    John,

    first of all, many thanks for your comment. Say what you want about me, but I’m honestly not a trash-talker – I’m all about genuine criticism.

    The issue with U2’s legend status is that, by sheer virtue of their longevity, the band can now release whatever they like in as derivative a manner as they like, and their fanbase will make it a success. For those of us who aren’t in their fanbase, it’s all too plain to see this happening though, I imagine, this is not a viewpoint to which you’d subscribe.

    As for bands that are successful with all of their band members “in tact” as you put it, how about The Sex Pistols (except for Sid, but re-animating the dead is beyond even John Lydon), The Rolling Stones (same deal), Television and, until recently, Kraftwerk? What about the raft of solo artists with similar longevity? Neil Young, Springsteen, Leonard Cohen – why is it so much more remarkable that a band makes a 30-year career than a solo artist?

    You mention that the album ‘radiates joy’. I see very little evidence of this. If joy is the continual proliferation of similar musical ideas to their 80s records, constant guilt-tripping of the public for not caring more about African plight (for the record, I do care and donate appropriately, and Bono’s not the one who made me do it) and, on ‘Dirty Boots’, a weird faux-sexy intimation that ill-befits a man of 48, then yes, joy is its bedfellow.

    The only reason I’ve made light of the “reboot yourself” line is because it’s a laughable attempt to contemporise the band’s lexicon. And oh! How I wish I’d suffered more in my life so I can finally ‘get’ U2! But I’m obviously too middle-class and self-satisfied to really understand other people’s plight. What a clueless, selfish bastard I am.

    Why shouldn’t we hold this album up against every other album they’ve made? Isn’t that one of the more important contextual factors in giving a clear critique? Saying “well, this new U2 album is a ton better than the new Girls Aloud album” is completely pointless (and untrue, have a look at PM’s review of ‘Out Of Control’). Wouldn’t it be more help to the reader and possible U2 fan to say that this is a work that pales in comparison to their early material? We wouldn’t want people wasting their hard-earned money.

    Many thanks again for commenting,

    Pop Musicology x

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