Back on Course
U2 have seemingly settled into a pattern of falling asleep at the wheel of their own juggernaut. Ever since The Joshua Tree, every other album (barring Zooropa) has been an exercise in regaining control of the ship. People called Rattle and Hum too American, Pop too electronic, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb too safe, and almost every release after those felt like a response to each album’s critics. No Line on the Horizon is similarly a peak to Atomic Bomb‘s valley.
As a whole, No Line on the Horizon gives longtime U2 fans a refreshing blast from the past. With Brian Eno/Daniel Lanois production recalling the band’s finest moments of the ’80s and ’90s, The Edge’s riffs set with Cinemascope-sized ambiance and Bono’s always-soaring vocals in tow, U2’s epic, muscular sweep is still alive and well. There’s also a sense of eclecticism about the record as well—the electropop of “Get on Your Boots,” the thunderous reggae swagger of “Stand Up Comedy,” galloping post-punk in “Fez-Being Born.”
Upon closer examination, the flaws become exposed. “Get on Your Boots” is a microcosm of the U2-niverse, messily mixing politics (“I don’t want to talk about wars between nations”), extroverted glamour (“You don’t know how beautiful you are”) and the whole “everyone’s unique” cliché (“Someone’s into blowing up / We’re into growing up”). “Stand Up Comedy” suffers from the hollow sentiment in the chorus, “Stand up for your love,” Bono likening himself too much to Bob Marley.
Still, there are surprises in songs like “Magnificent” and “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight.” The former’s pulsing drums and synth crescendo build to The Edge’s simplest (and probably best) riff in years; the latter’s titular use of a seemingly pissed-off teenage mantra as a plan to gain life experience comes off with effortless joy. No, U2 have not made another Achtung Baby or Joshua Tree despite their best efforts. They have, however, navigated their way back in that direction.