Tuesday, March 10, 2009

No Line On The Horizon

I have two magazine subscription, Q and Time. I read Q to keep me up to date with what is going on in music and I read Time to keep me up to date with world affairs. However, sometimes both magazines venture into each other's territory as was the case when U2 released their new album, No Line On The Horizon, last week.

I was quite surprised to read that Time didn't rate the album well. They put it on par as Pop - which we all know is U2's worst album. Q on the other hand, gave it 5 stars out of 5 and put it on par with Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby! - definitely the best U2 albums. So how come the results are so different?

I wanted to buy the album as soon as it came out but only managed to go to the record store on Saturday (yes, yes I can but it online, but for some albums I need to have it physically). So I've been listening to it and try to make sense out of both reviews.

But first, both magazines have said that Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby! are U2's best works. I wholeheartedly agree, although I find Achtung Baby! having an edge over Joshua Tree. As for U2 songs, my favorites include The Fly, With Or Without You, and Walk On.

With the new album, U2 went back to basics (using Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois and Steve Lillywhite as producers for starters) but at the same time also tried something new. And here I think is where the two reviews differ. Time probably thinks that it tried for something new but failed (unlike when U2 did Achtung Baby! for instance). I understand that, like when you hear Edge's guitar you suddenly think of Where The Streets Have No Name, or when Bono goes oh-oh-oh-oh you wonder which song it was that had a similar oh-oh-oh-oh (btw, all U2 classics have oh-oh-ohs in it - proof that Bono doesn't need words or either ran out of words). But given that these guys have been in it so long (30 years and counting), what they are showing here is a new sound but still well in the U2 "soundscape". And this is why it earned them 5 stars from Q. You sort of expect them to do this, they did but much better than you expected.

Moment of Surrender is the beauty of the album. Bono shows his creaky voice but then eases it into the song and in the end you are unconsciously humming the oh-oh-ohs. Breathe is also a great song. Eno said it was one of the best U2 songs he ever worked on. At first it doesn't sound like much, but the song draws you in and at the end when Larry does his cymbal thingy you realised you just heard a very good U2 song.

Sure, some of Bono's lyrics still raises eyebrows, and yes, Edge's chiming chugga-chugga guitars sounds exactly like you have heard it but this is still a new horizon for them. And instead of becoming like The Rolling Stones just rolling along playing greatest hits from yesteryears, U2 is still very much what they are: The Best Band In The World.

Coldplay still has a lot of work to do.


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