Rolling Stone put out their best of 2009 and U2 score the tops on both Album and Song of the year (“Moment of Surrender).
Aiming for rock glory, Bono, Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. explore dark places (“Moment of Surrender”), find modern twists on their classic anthems (“Magnificent”) and uncover blindinglight soul (“Breathe”). The result was an album with a sense of drama that no one could match all year — more proof that a band that isn’t busy being born is busy dying.
In “No Line on the Horizon,” it is the combination of garage-organ drone, fat guitar distortion and Mullen’s parade-ground drumming, the last so sharp and hard all the way through that it’s difficult to tell how much is him and how much is looping (that is a compliment). The Edge takes one of his few extended guitar solos at the end of “Unknown Caller,” a straightforward, elegiac break with a worn, notched edge to his treble tone. “White as Snow” is mostly alpine quiet — guitar, keyboard, Bono and harmonies, like the Doors’ “The Crystal Ship” crossed with an Appalachian ballad. “Cedars of Lebanon” ends the album much as “The Wanderer” did on Zooropa, a triumph of bare minimums (this time it’s Bono going in circles, through wreckage, instead of Johnny Cash, who sang “The Wanderer”) with limpid guitar and electronics suggesting a Jimi Hendrix love song, had he lived into the digital age.
“I was born to sing for you/I didn’t have a choice but to lift you up,” Bono declares early on this album, in a song called “Magnificent.” He does it in an oddly low register, a heated hush just above the shimmer of the Edge’s guitar and the iron-horse roll of bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. Bono is soon up in thin air with those familiar rodeo yells, on his way to the chorus, which ends with him just singing the word “magnificent,” repeating it with relish, stretching the syllables.
But he does it not in self-congratulation, more like wonder and respect, as if in middle age, on his band’s 11th studio album, he still can’t believe his gift — and luck. Bono knows he was born with a good weapon for making the right kind of trouble: the clean gleam and rocket’s arc of that voice. “It was one dull morning/I woke the world with bawling,” he boasted in “Out of Control,” written by Bono on his 18th birthday and issued on U2’s Irish debut EP.