Ever since I came up with the idea for Album Du Jour, I had really wanted to do “themes”, perhaps even weekly ones. The only one that stuck was “Gentle Giant Day”, but one of the ideas I had was to write up an album on the actual day of release. Though I could feasibly do that, given that I can have the new albums by midnight on their release date with my Zune Pass, it would mean having to dive into new music, which is not something I would enjoy every single week.
But, at least in the spirit of trying new things, I am going to do a first-listen writeup of U2′s new album, one that I’ve been anticipating ever since hearing the one song on it, No Line On The Horizon:
Now, I do know a little bit about this album’s history, the guys started recording it with Rick Rubin, the beardy beardo what jump-started Johnny Cash’s career after a 10+ year stall, and proceeded to do nothing of any importance before or since. Indeed the band did not get along with Rick, as he wanted to do things all rootsy-like, which would work for say, the Man In Black, but not for the biggest egos in rock music. So they canned him, and in fact seemed pretty disheartened about the way the band was going, but after getting help from Brian Eno and others, they revitalized themselves into recording what the critics are saying is a bold step forward (I haven’t started listening yet so we’ll see how bold that step is).
Does this story sound familiar? It should, I just wrote about it like a week ago. So that’s twice for U2 and once for Coldplay that airport-music aficionado Brian Eno has swooped in to save the day. Makes sense, the bands parallel each other like the wankers they are, but I digress. How does the album sound? Well it’s time to find out:
Track One: No Line On The Horizon
Well no “Uno Dos Tres Catorce” to open the album, that’s a start! I gotta hand it to Bono, even at the age of 89, he has no compunctions about singing way higher than I would want to all through the first track. It starts with some interesting guitar and typical bass against a stuttering beat much faster than they usually use, but then about 2 minutes in the usual kind of beat comes in, but then the chord progression changes, and then changes back. Pop music can be difficult to keep up with sometimes. This is definitely pop, with the spacey sounds in the background and everything, and it does make sure you know that by dropping everything out but those spacey background sounds, so that when they bring the big drums back in you’re like “YES YES YES”. Oh dear I’ve gone and missed all the lyrics. I guess I’ll never know why there’s “No Light On The Horizon”. Thumbs-up on this song.
Track two: Magnificent
Well, with a song name like that, it better be good. It’s kind of preparing us for rocking right now with some intro noises and a bass-drum beat.
Oh boy! There’s the good ol’ The Edge guitar effect. I’m rather fond of that sound, even though it’s become quite the U2 cliché by now. Yes, this seems like a slightly mellow version of a U2 Standard Song, what with the simple, rolling bassline and drums, and the guitar throwing delay notes into the stratosphere. I “guess” you could call that Magnificent, I may not use that word exactly, but maybe “Nice Bass Line” is a title Rick Rubin would have come up with. Still, it’s nostalgic yet new, how could you a U2 fan not love this?
Track Three: Moment Of Surrender
Whoah now, electronic drums kind of playing a bit off-kilter, as synthesized strings play a lovely melody. That’s not a bad intro at all! Oooh, it’s got a nice, morose tone, once all the instruments come in. Wow, so I wasn’t expecting Bono to come in shouting, but at least it’s nice shouting and, you know, not Mick Jagger shouting. One thing I was pretty worried about with How To Dismantle A Perfectly Good Pop Group was a real roughness and inconsistency in Bono’s note-hitting. He seems to be on top of things so far in this album, and in fact I can see myself shouting along to this song very soon. That’s a killer melody though, and against a very nice fluttery beat-thing against which real drums have now been applied. I can’t wait for the bridge! Ok, looks like there’s no proper bridge, but a nice guitar solo being played in slow-motion, after which some wonderful vocal exercises in the form of some “Oh Oh OOOOooooh”s are done tastefully in the background… well played.
Track Four: Unknown Caller
We start with a droning note, and some squishy piano sounds and some electric guitars all fiddling around playing random things that all fit together. Then Bono(?)’s voice comes in with a high falsetto, that’s pretty unusual, but then the guitars become one guitar playing a melody as Bono proper sings “Ohhhh” so now we’re back to normal. Again we’re in a minor key (the song started in a major key, but the switch is fairly normal for this band). Huh, except for the “Ohhhh”s coming back, the chorus is more or less commanded rather than sung. An interesting idea, though I’m not normally into group tandem singing. Ha ha the lyrics seem to be reaching for some technological metaphors, I guess I’ll have to read up to see if these make sense. Overall I am liking this song, but it’ll take me another listen to really absorb it.
Ooooooh a nice pipe organ just came in with a minute and a half to go, suddenly this song is way better! Then comes in a nice guitar solo… oh U2, this is why your songs are always like 6 minutes long, you have to make sure you get in as many things that I’m going to love as possible.
Track Five: I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight
Uhhh, wow, so the first time Bono sings the album’s title (which is within 2 lines or 30 seconds) he sings “Crazy Tonight” in this creepy falsetto (I guess that was still him singing in the previous track). It nearly cracked me up. It comes back in every verse section, looks like, wow. I am almost having trouble focusing on the rest of this song because I’m listening for that now. Wow the song’s bridge has some interesting noises going on too. Overall, though, this is a fine-sounding song, or you know, utter celtic nonsense if you’re a U2 detractor.
Track Six: Get On Your Boots
Ahhh, the song I know. I have said many times before that it takes little more than a distorted bass to make me love a song, and this song does so much ELSE to be awesome that the distorted bass is almost not the best part. I enjoy this song, particularly the “You don’t know how beautiful you are” part, as that is a winning melody derived from the Morrocco backdrop the band recorded in. At the end there’s kind of a vocal break-down that sounds very much Mike Doughty-inspired, though I doubt U2 are aware of that.
Track Seven: Stand Up Comedy
What?! Why is this called that? Why is it funky? What exactly is going on here? Is this the 80′s or something? This is kind of an interesting song, and I particularly like the rock riffs, but this is puzzling me like no other. The guitar solo is not helping me answer the question, cool though it is. I guess the best thing to do with the previous rock song was to follow it up with another rock song. What could the next track have in store?
Track Eight: Fez – Being Born
We open up with the sounds of lots of people and thumpy bass tones… and a telephone? …and a reprise of the M. Doughty breakdown from 2 songs ago… and some weird synth noise. Ahhh, this must be some kind of pretentious thing. Oh wow, then it all kind of gets thrown in the blender and out comes this minory chunky tune that I am digging. Man, now that this has turned into a proper song, I am really liking it. It has this cadence on the drums that is really pleasing, and though one of the guitars is just playing one note for each chord change, the other guitar is following the vocals around, and is sounding very lovely. Also there is some mad harmony going on with the vocals, unlike the group tandem singing from earlier. Yes, this track is good, I was a little worried there for a second.
Track Nine: White As Snow
Ahh, piano and backwards-tracking, I sense The Edge’s presence in the making of this track already. Ooooh man, now we’ve got acoustic guitar and hollow sounding electric guitars. The melody and chord structure is pretty folksy for U2, but we’re only a minute in so we’ll see how it goes. Man, I am digging this song too, it’s coming in with either a horn or a horn-sounding synth as the beat tightens up to their usual beat, but still keeping that down-to-earth melody, at least until the last minute, when a couple of really clean high notes kind of shake things up, but overall, good stuff!
Track Ten: Breathe
Man so many songs are called this. Anyway, we’re opening up with some busy tom-tastic drums, which leads into some irregular chord changes, and Bono is now singing quickly. Wow, I would have dismissed this song if it weren’t for the way he’s singing it, the fast parts kind of have a story-teller element to them, which I kind of can’t help but dig. The chorus isn’t quite as great, but I may change my mind about that very soon.
Track Eleven: Cedars Of Lebanon
Wow, we’re at the end already! Man, what a lot of noise behind the opening sludgy synth, it’s like this is being recorded off a cassette tape. I guess it’s just for that sound, as the guitar that’s half-heartedly joining it is coming through perfectly clear. Bono’s vocal performance on this is kind of peculiar, he’s kind of sing/talking, but the way his voice drops after every line is kind of like Leonard Cohen or something, certainly he sounds like he’s smoked a few. A few “what” I’ll let you sort out. Man, then the chorus comes in and it’s a really tight, unreverbed harmony. I really, really love the all-too-brief chorus harmony there. It’s at least revisited slowly with strings as the last minute of the song comes all too soon. Ooooh and I really love the last few lines of lyrics there, too, but I’m not going to rewind in order to reprint them, you’ll just have to hear it, I guess.
Man, what an album! I’m not sure if I’m ready to say that “U2 Is Back And Better Than Ever”, but there’s a lot to revisit with this sound, and it’s certainly miles better than How To Dismantle An Atomic Clock. That’s about what I was expecting. I guess I’d say the only point I would have raised an objection to was “Stand Up Comedy”, but it’s at least a bit of weirdness to shake things up in the middle of the album, certainly it kept me on my toes for the next 5 songs. I don’t think I can pick a favorite quite yet, either, as some of the slower songs seemed stronger than the obvious hits. Oh well, maybe if I would have waited a while before writing this I would have a much more solid opinion! Hope you enjoy!