I’m writing this on St Patrick’s Day. What does one listen to but those Dublin boyz2men, U2? Their 12th album, No Line on the Horizon, leans more towards their Achtung Baby days than to their last offering, How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. But hang on. Don’t expect a sonic whirligig this time round. This album sounds more like a sparkler.
The opening title song sets off into a full, choppy sound sea. By the next title, Magnificent, we have entered a funky bossa-nova terrain on which the Edge’s trademark jingle-jangle guitar flutters like a Jolly Roger flag.
I didn’t have a choice but to lift you up/ And sing whatever song you wanted me to sings Bono about his day job. That Brian Eno is once again casting his luscious sound shadows on a U2 album is quickly established.
On Moment of surrender, a gentle song meant for in-flight listening, Bono does his Gospel thing. The lights are still on even as the guitar slides to catch our attention. Bono’s oh-oh-oh’s, rousing and energetic in the past, sound suspiciously like fillers.
The bird cheep and stuck-bell-in-the-distance sound in the beginning of Unknown caller is supposed to create the mood even before Bono falsettos Sunshine, sunshine Abbey Road-style at the start. And immediately after, there’s more of those (tiring) oh-oh-oh’s. This is lazy U2 in the name of experimentation.
Which is when I’ll go crazy if I don’t go crazy tonight comes in to try and convince me that all is not going to go oh-joyous-oh on this record. So with heavy ears I reach Get on your boots, their hit single blitzkrieging the video circles in these foot fetish days.
The heavy sound of the song is a welcome relief. The buzz and roll kicks us off to a familiar shimmer zone. The bending line, You don’t know how beautiful/You don’t know how beautiful you are ultimately leads off to the anthemic, Let me in the sound/ Let me in the sound tipped with a Get on your boots/ Get on your boots. Heck, you could ride this song.
Stand up comedy is heavy and groovy. The guitarline holds everything together and Bono’s voice sounds solid for a change. U2 makes a strong bid for us to play this song loud. “Josephine, be careful of small men with big ideas,” Bono sings as a warning to all of us.
After the filler Fez – Being born (music while the credits of a film are rolling), there’s White snow, where we hear more Brian Eno sounds before Bono sighs out a folk-traditional number. Yes, let us move on.
It’s with Breathe that we reach a wonderful high ground. The rumbling creature that hurtles towards us through the speaker has the kinetic force of that old U2 gem, Hold me, thrill me, kiss me, kill me. Well, almost. The guitar saws everything in its path to make way for Bono’s word weaponry: 16th of June, nine o five, door bell rings/ Man at the door says if I want to stay alive a bit longer/ There’s a few things I need to know. Three.
He sings these words (the date referring to Bloomsday, the day in which James Joyce’s Ulysses is played out) in one continuous rail-tracked breath. Even after you go to the last song, Cedars of Lebanon, you’ll find yourself back in Breathe.
U2, in this album, certainly has something up their sleeve. But from what my ears tell me, I’m still looking at the cuffs.