No Line On The Horizon

U2

Has it already been four years since U2’s last album? Everywhere you turn, it’s U2 all the time — the Super Bowl, Live 8, the Grammys and President Barrack Obama’s inauguration concert. They could probably get away with playing “Vertigo” for another five years, passing it off as their “latest” single. But that’s not how U2 operates. Despite the accolades, trophies and sainthoods, U2 and its four components — lead singer Bono, guitarist The Edge, bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. — do not rest easily on their laurels.

Roguishly Irish and yearning to cultivate like a four-leaf clover, U2 is a hard working band through and through. Playing every major event and drawing an immeasurable amount of press for their every move, they still get down in the trenches, still explore the vast underbelly of life as they see it, still put it all down for the world to love or deride. For No Line On The Horizon, their 12th album, it’s another step forward in the process.

The quest behind its making forms the basis of the album’s dynamic flow. Über producer Rick Rubin was originally slotted to pilot the new U2 album, but a handful of the recordings were cut and pasted onto a compilation (oh no! not another one) with little fanfare. Rubin may have been able to work his magic with Tom Petty, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Neil Diamond, but U2 are of a different stock and breed.

There’s an air of family-like loyalty in the group's camp, so it stands to reason they would turn to three of the most important figures of their career — producers Daniel Lanois, Brian Eno and Steve Lillywhite — to helm the reins of No Line On the Horizon. As key architects of U2’s sonically charged experiments, Lanois and Eno co-wrote seven songs and produced all but “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Crazy Tonight,” which Lillywhite guided (he also assisted on four others). Wearing certain trademarks, shades and gradations like an old floppy hat on Sunday, this record burrows out a jagged, inimitable niche for itself among a catalog of classics.

The opening title track conjures up a flavor of drama U2 is famous for (think “Where The Streets Have No Name”), building an anxious tension before Mullen rolls out an infectious rhythm that shakes its way down the aisle. The best U2 albums have a strong first number to pull you in, and this is no exception. But only part of the equation.

Then there's the rocket fuel guitar work. The Edge’s whining tone is so ingrained into U2’s overall sound that his versatility often lays in neglect. Not this time. Here, The Edge is…edgier. Maybe those summits with Jimmy Page and Jack White paid off. Which isn’t to say he’s completely revamped the distinctive jingle swimming upstream in a pool of reverb — it hangs on every turn of “Moment Of Surrender,” “Unknown Caller” and “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight.”

Now listen to the fuzzy and frosty notes severed by radioactive power chords in the opening strains of “Magnificent” and the body and soul of “Get On Your Boots” (with its “Vertigo”-like shimmy). It’s almost as if the guitarist went shopping for gear one afternoon and came back with a truckload of goodies. The attack is even more visceral on “Stand-Up Comedy” and “Breathe.” Watch out Slash, there's a new guitar hero in town and he goes by The Edge.

Dirft into the grooves and you might notice shades of The Unforgettable Fire haunting some of the melodies and choruses. Bono follows the insular guitar lines — aptly supported by Clayton’s lurking, ever-so-grounded bass — phrasing each verse to serve the rhythm, wailing passionately with shouts of “love” and “beautiful” and a couple “yeah hey heys.”

During troubled times, one can find solace in the humble mumblings of a poet and a pauper. With all his success and sway, Bono can forget the latter. But when he’s suspended by the muscle of U2, his words and his aura wash over the psyche like the first rainfall of spring — cleansing the soul, lifting the spirit and inspiring hope. “I’ve found grace inside a sound/I found grace, it’s all I found/And I can breathe/Breathe now.” With Bono’s assurance, simply breathing may be the best solution to the world’s woes.

~ Shawn Perry

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