Saturday, February 21, 2009

U2: No Line On The Horizon, The Review

A track-by-track analysis:

1. No Line On The Horizon: The opener finds the band in rude health. Vocally Bono improbably rolls back the years to capture ‘Boy’ era exuberance, the melody is self-assured, the effects driven guitar straight from ‘Achtung Baby’ and the rhythm section swagger with a new found intensity. A thrilling, blood boiler.

2. Magnificent: Destined to be a massive single. All the U2 hallmarks are here in the right epic proportions and the chorus shows you why Coldplay are just a bad U2 tribute act.

3. Moment Of Surrender: The track takes the band into unknown waters with a series of inventive instrumental passages, buoyed by the soaring chorus and underpinned by Bono’s ironically mundane lyrics “I was punching in the numbers at the ATM machine” ... at least i hope he's being ironic......

4. Unknown Caller: Again a mixture of so-so lyrical content and an unconvincing melody suggest that U2 were willing to accept second best on this album. Bono serves up his usual “human being isolated by the modern machinery of humankind” lyrics, but he really lost me when he solemnly intoned “Restart and reboot yourself”.

5. I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight: With a title like this the track is going to have to be extra special. It isn’t. Think the breezy atmosphere of ‘In a Little While’ while The Edge plays the “I Still Haven’t Found ....” riff .... yawn

6. Get On Your Boots: An unusual lapse in judgment for a lead-off single. The song tends to cover overly familiar territory thus breaking the first rule of pop: Don’t repeat yourself !

7. Stand Up Comedy: Immediate sucess, The band brews up a downright funky storm invoking the spirit of Bob Marley’s ‘Get Up, Stand Up’ while The Edge plays a mutated version of Led Zep's 'Heartbreaker' riff. Exceptional.

8. Fez-Being Born: The first part of the track (christened Fez) is one minute of synth mush that should have stayed on the cutting room floor, Being Born is U2 trying to do something different and is an enjoyable if limited success (My first thought was something akin to 'Ultraviolet Light').

9. White As Snow: Now this is very different, a traditional arrangement sees the band stipped bare of the usual polish, and did I hear a snippet of brass in there somewhere ! The Edge’s harmonising vocals completely outshine Bono. An unexpected delight.

10. Breathe: U2 go Zeppelin. The Edge delves into his Jimmy Page bag again and produces some of his best heavy blues riffing. Dark, with a grungey atmosphere, it’s one of the best songs on the album.

11. Cedars Of Lebanon: I appreciate the ambient credentials of the backing track, I don’t appreciate Bono’s overcooked vocals.

U2 began work on a new studio album in 2006 with Rick Rubin, these sessions appear to have been abandoned but the band has expressed interest in returning to the material in the future. Following this false start they returned to the safety of long time producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois.

Safety is the important theme to take away from U2's behaviour, because although the album has been touted as a return to ‘Zooropa’ style eclecticism it sounds worryingly close to 2004's uber-bland ‘How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb’.

The ‘new’ creative process saw the band genuinely collaborate with Eno and Lanois for the first time, with 7 of the 11 tracks credited as a co-write between the six men.
While recording, emphasis was placed on creating spur of the moment magic with first takes being considered final.

How many of these first takes appear on the album is up for debate, but according to Brian Eno the song ‘Moment Of Surrender’ appears on the album exactly as it was the first and only time they played it. Now I’m sure that for U2 this is tantamount to releasing their ‘OK Computer’ but for the rest of us back on earth it’s makes for interesting if not seismic listening.

We get the usual guitar pyrotechnics from The Edge but even he slips back into the comfort zone by returning to the same familiar rhythm lines and effects pedals.

For all the lip service paid by the band for creating something truly experimental, you can’t escape the fact that there’s an overwhelming instinct to appeal to the broadest base possible It boils down to the fact that the boys can’t have it both ways. This is not an experimental album. It’s just another U2 album, and while not a particularly great one, it has enough daft charm to make it preferable to the previous outing.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Essential 10: Bruce Springsteen (Part 2)

6. Born in the USA (1984): The iconic, MTV friendly, pop culture album with all the hit singles on it. Misunderstood ? Yes, Accessible ? Very, His best work ? No.

7. Tunnel Of Love (1987): Reviews at the time would have described this as the disappointing follow-up to “Born in the USA”, but the passage of time has shown the deeper resonance within. Intensely raw and personal with some truly incredible songs, partly let down by an uncharacteristic, tinny production.

8. The Ghost of Tom Joad (1995): Following the Human Touch/ Lucky Town fiasco in 1992, Bruce was ready to get serious again and threw yet another curve-ball in the shape of these desolate, character driven stories imbued with a murky borderline atmosphere. A mixed bag, but Youngstown and the title track are pure Springsteen gold.

9. The Rising (2002): The post 9/11, Bush era album. On one hand its a major return to form with the E Street Band back in tow. On the other hand its overlong, with a horribly compressed drum sound (an unfortunate trait of producer Brendan O’ Brien).

10. Magic (2007): At the time I wasn’t convinced by the return to pop sensibilities, then I woke up to the fact that most of the songs are pretty much outstanding (with the odd clunker in there too).

And the rest:

Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ: Solid.
Human Touch: Avoid.
Lucky Town: Mildly engaging.
Tracks (Boxset): Mammoth, for hardened fans only.
Devils & Dust: Excellent return to the ‘Tom Joad’ sound.
We Shall Overcome: Worthy folk project. Enjoyable.
Working On A Dream: Flawed, yet interesting.