One Band on a Mission

For his part, Bono makes it clear his praise is directed to a higher power. “They’re all, to me, songs of praise to God and creation, even the angry ones,”

Should U2 a band on a mission? A band with a strong sense of integrity and purpose, which so many say, is the foundation for their music.  They have sold massive amounts of records, tours and estimations that the group could be worth at least a cool billion including the 17 Grammy Awards this band has pass the test of time in an industry where longevity can be measured in months. 

For all the celebrity hype, Bono retains a certain authenticity, a centeredness and seems humble, which has come out many times during the 360 tour “You have given us a good life” He reminds us that we are the reason for the bands success. That our marriage with him and the rest of the band is not taken lightly.

360 is behind us, yet some part of us want to revisit with our old friends and hold on to those youthful times of our lives when music, religion and war had our focus and our attention to get some resoling foundation of peace and faith. U2 you have given us a good life. 

Would you call the following lyrics statements of faith ?

 “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (from Joshua Tree)
I believe in the Kingdom Come,
Then all the colors will bleed into one
But yes I’m still running.
You broke the bonds and you
Loosed the chains.
Carried the cross and all my shame,
You know I believe it.
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.

“Grace” (from All That You Can’t Leave Behind)
Grace, it’s the name for a girl
It’s also a thought that changed the world.
What once was hurt
What once was friction
What left a mark
No longer stains.
Because grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things.

Faith is nothing more than your ability to believe in something you cannot see yet you know to be true within your heart.  In a time when we all need a little faith why not believe in something greater than yourself why not have a little faith.

Bono was the only Christian in the early days. He started sharing his feelings and thoughts about God. And it seemed a natural progression from what happened in school to go along to meetings outside school.

“I realised that was where it was at and about the same time Larry and myself became Christians. From then on it seemed that there was a purpose for the band, if you know what I mean. Bono felt this from the beginning I think…”

“I believe in God very strongly and I don’t believe that we are just kind of exploded out of thin air. I can’t believe it. I think it is that spiritual strength that’s essential to the band. We want to offer people hope, but we don’t want to freak them out. We feel the Spirit is doing something different. Jesus taught in parables and some of our lyrics are like that.”

“I’m not cynical or pessimistic about the future and a lot of that must come down to my beliefs. It’s my belief in God that enables me to get up in the morning and face the world. I believe there is a reason and logic to everything.”

“I want an audience to feel washed after a U2 gig. I don’t like music unless it has a healing effect. There’s a huge spiritual battle going on in the world. It’s big and it’s serious and if you want to get into the battle you’ve got to get under covering. You’ve got to be part of a body.”

Its not a question of U2’s beliefs as it is what our belief provides us when we hear U2 songs, for some its just some words that provide the back drop to a great melody to others is a source that provides growth to the seed inside of all of us. Now before we upset those that do not care to believe that U2 has blended faith with rock music and that rockers can have faith expressed in songs with out attachment to a christain label, maybe your right, maybe faith better be left to your private thoughts and one should not sing in joy.

Perhaps it gives God goosebumps to hear these Irish rockers touch millions with their music while acknowledging and praising his name, even as they wrestle with him on a very public stage. May Bono’s voice and U2’s music ring out for a long, long time to come…   

U2 Rakes in 130M

U2 360 Tour It has been reported that the Irish rock band U2 has raked in a huge $130 million over the last 12 months — making U2  the biggest selling band in the world.

It may be recalled that this is a fact, despite frontman Bono was being unable to perform after an operation on his back in May.

And yet, U2 has still managed to feature as the most profitable international group. According to a magazine’s list of top-earning musicians, this was the the foursome raked in $130 million over the past year from their 360 Degree world tour and sales of their 2009 album No Line on the Horizon. Proving that rock is still indeed alive and earning, hot on their heels like a bat out of hell was AC/DC, who scooped up a respectable $114 million, and Beyonce has made $87 million.

Bruce Springsteen proved that he is still has his earning chops in order, and got in $70 million, while pop sensation Britney Spears ranked at the fifth place with $64 million. It was earlier reported that Lady Gaga managed to beat Madonna as Gaga made $62 million, while Madonna clinked the cash register with $58 million. 



U2's view of an Afghanistan Soldier

Bono’s hymn to a soldier dying in Afghanistan is unadorned, evocative and suggestive. And you don’t even have to know what it’s about to feel its quiet power or sense its sadness.

“There are a couple of songs from the point of view of an active soldier in Afghanistan,” Bono said back in June 2008, at the group’s Hanover Quay studio in Dublin, during a break in recording, “and one of them, White As Snow, lasts the length of time it takes him to die”.

Of all the character songs on the album, White As Snow is the most moving. Much of this is to do with its sense of quietude – not a mood one normally associates with U2. The song is almost ambient in its musical pulse, suggesting the presence of Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, and Bono’s voice sounds markedly different here, more restrained, more plaintive, the emotion suggested rather than strained for.

The song’s melody is based on an old hymn, Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel, that, according to The Handbook to the Lutheran Hymnal, was composed by “an unknown author, circa 1100”. (Surprisingly, the original has been faithfully covered by both Sufjan Stevens and Belle & Sebastian and, less surprisingly, by Enya and 2006’s BBC Young Chorister of the Year, William Dutton).

The idea of a song based on the dying thoughts of a soldier initially came to Bono after he read William Golding’s ambitious novel, Pincher Martin, which is told from the point of view of a British sailor who appears to have survived the torpedoing of his ship. As he approaches death, his thoughts roam back over his life, and the moral choices he made or avoided. (The novel’s denouement, though, suggests that the soldier died at the moment his ship went down and that the preceding narrative recounts his soul’s struggle to stay in the material world.)

After watching Sam Mendes’s film, Jarhead, Bono decided the song should evoke the thoughts of a soldier dying from a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. Intriguingly, you don’t really need to know the context for the song to work. It stands alone. Initially, I had assumed it was sung in the voice of a young Middle Eastern man who had been driven into exile, but there you go.

“We were going to start White As Snow with an explosion,” recalled Bono. “An early version had this industrial noise that sounded like the aftermath of a bomb.” Now, that would have been one way of getting around the problem of context. It may have worked, too, but the song is fine the way it is, unadorned, evocative, suggestive. You don’t have to know what it’s about to feel its quiet power or sense its sadness. “It’s kind of pastoral,” said Bono.

It bodes well for the album that will follow No Line On the Horizon, which has, he says, “the idea of pilgrimage at its centre”, and is made up of the “quieter, more meditative songs” that did not make it on to this one. “Intimacy is the new punk rock,” Bono added, laughing. But is it the new stadium rock?

U2’s music transcend age

 As Catholics begin the holiday weekend. The same questions appear to come up over time. Are the boys Catholic or Protestants? 

Throughout U2’s career, faith struggle has been a recurring theme in their music. Bono, a child of mixed Catholic and Protestant backgrounds, has explored his spiritual self through U2’s life in the spotlight. In his music, he frequently cites scripture and recounts personal periods of hope and despair, faith and doubt, temptation and grace — all characteristic of a Christian worldview. The spiritual messages behind the band’s lyrics are so prevalent that some places of worship have used the band’s music in services called U2charists, in an attempt to reach out to a younger crowd. From Boy, the band’s first album, to the newly released No Line on the Horizon, issues of faith continue to manifest themselves in U2’s music.

No Line on the Horizon may be one of their most spiritual albums to date. The band’s 12th studio album, Horizon was five years in the making, the longest gap U2 has ever had without a CD release. With a considerable amount of time put into the album, U2 aimed for reinvention. Bono told long-time collaborators Brian Eno and Daniel Lanoios that he wanted an album of “futuristic spirituals,” and the largely experimental Horizon was the result. The band wrote and recorded the album all over — spending time in Dublin, New York, London, and Fez, Morocco. Lyrically rich, Horizon is new and fresh while still remaining classically U2, complete with a spiritual restlessness, concern for social justice, and more than a hint of nonsense.

Magnificent

Bono / U2The themes in U2’s music transcend age, as they continue to explore love and its meaning, relationship with the divine, sin and forgiveness — with their signature humor and hint of irreverence.

So how is it possible that a group who put out their first album years before most of my classmates were born still carries relevance for young people? The themes in U2’s music transcend age, as they continue to explore love and its meaning, relationship with the divine, sin and forgiveness — with their signature humor and hint of irreverence. Their songs contain a depth that allows for reflection and interpretation.

The band’s spiritual side was evident during their performance of “Magnificent” that morning. A long, instrumental lead-in built up to the release of Bono’s booming voice, “I was born/I was born to sing for you/I didn’t have a choice but to lift you up.” As Bono closed his eyes and reached up to the sky, audience members witnessed what seemed like his personal conversation with God — Bono’s acknowledgment of God’s gift of music. Later, he highlighted the strength of divine love, “Only love/Only love would leave such a mark/Only love/only love can heal such a scar.”

From our view, we see nothing wrong with introducing faith, love and hope into music. Happy Easter U2 Fans.

 

 

U2 loses “Worst Album”

NME AWARDS 2010 This is one of the times that Bono and the boys can be quite happy they did not win the award. It seems that the bands record “ No Line on the Horizon” was up for the “Worst Album” award at the  Shockwaves NME Awards in London this week. Luckily for them, they lost to tween group the Jonas Brothers for their record “Lines, Vines and Trying Times”.

Other nominees included Green Day’s “21st Century Breakdown”, Lady GaGa’s “The Fame”, and “Humbug” by Arctic Monkeys. At least U2 weren’t nominated for “Worst Band”, which the Jonas Brothers also took home.

It’s funny to see records like “No Line”, “21st Century Breakdown”, and “The Fame” receive some positive recognition for their content (all three were Grammy nominated, with Green Day and GaGa’s records taking home wins), and then they get nominated for “Worst Album”! But clearly, they weren’t as bad as the Jonas Brothers!  Do you agree?

U2:Cedars Of Lebanon

We loved the spoken word out takes of the Joshua Tree and was delighted when they got a more dignified place in the 20th Anniversary Deluxe version of that album we love the mood of Cedars Of Lebanon. Another of Bono’s third person lyrics it finds a journalist in war zone thinking of home and life and death; and eventually God and enemies.

Some have pointed out that the underpinning track might be a straight lift from Eno’s ambient album The Pearl, a collaboration with Harold Budd back in 1984. Whatever, the history of the music, the lyric leaves us with a few questions.

The last song on a U2 album is always carefully chosen. Track listings are never carelessly thrown together. So, what was the reason for this track closing out NLOTH? Cedars Of Lebanon takes us into the Bible.

There is no way that Bono’s use of the phrase is coincidental. Their time at Fez during the Sacred Musical Festival might not have seen them use sufi prayers or chants but it certainly gave them the inspiration and courage to make a seriously spiritual record. Cedars of Lebanon are used in various ways in the Scriptures. However, what does Bono mean by its use here. A quick glance across Wikipedia and you find a plethora of Biblical uses for the Cedars Of Lebanon;

Jewish priests were ordered by Moses to use the bark of the Lebanon Cedar in circumcision and treatment of leprosy. Isaiah used the Lebanon Cedar as a metaphor for the pride of the world. According to the Talmud, Jews once burned Lebanese cedar wood on the Mount of Olives to announce the new year. Kings far and near requested the wood for religious and civil constructs, the most famous of which are King Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem and David’s and Solomon’s Palaces.”

Bono might be simply talking about the size of the Cedars and how God is bigger but where can he be found? The journalist might be journaling his objective feelings of the war zone and asking where God is or he might be seeking a more subjective interaction with God in his own life’s fraying threads.

Or Bono might be asking if God can be found in his Church, that the Old Testament tells us Cedars were used to build? Or is it Isaiah’s use as a symbol of pride that he is highlighting? Where is God in the deluded egos that go to war or in the self indulgent personal ego of a man wrestling with home and all that that means?

NLOTH ends with another cryptic clue of spiritual wisdom. Bono goes off philosophising about the importance of who you choose as your enemies. What is he trying to say? In subsequent interviews Bono has talked about the enemies that U2 have chosen, “we chose interesting enemies.

We didn’t choose the obvious enemies - The Man, the establishment. We didn’t buy into that. Our credo was: no them, there’s only us.” In a song about war Bono then turns inside for the enemy, “”What that means is that we picked enemies that were more internal - our own hypocrisy…They are nearly always of a psychological, if not a spiritual, nature. The spectres that hold you back, they were our enemies.”

Back in the context of the third person war journalist song had the journalist mistakenly and fatally made home and God his enemies?

Or is Bono remembering his old mate George W? He chose his enemies post 9/11 and his entire legacy will be based around that choice. Even now, when his friends are all gone to other arts and parts and he is on his ranch in Texas, all alone, that relationship which Bush had with his enemies defines him in the recent annals of history. If we glance back at the video For The Saints Are Coming we see the alternative enemy that Bush’s administration could have fought, the natural disaster effecting their very own people on the Gulf Coast. How different would the definition of Bush have been had he chosen the right enemy?

This brings us into the provocative question at the end of the cryptic clues. Who have we made our enemies? What are the internal battles that we need to fight in order to fulfil our human vocations to the pinnacle of their potential? And as local communities, society and for the nation what are the right wars to fight.

We guess if we stop to become aware of the battles that we fight without even thinking we could then spend some spiritual wisdom prioritising what needs fought and what doesn’t. The personal or national pride that Isaiah named as humanity’s Cedars of Lebanon might be a good place to start.

Grammy Time ! Predictions any one ?

Grammy weekend has arrived. Well the boys from Ireland pull an upset and cap off a successful 2009. U2 has been nominated for 3 Grammys for No Line on the Horizon. The boys have won a total of 22 Grammys and they are tied currently with Stevie Wonder as the only artists to win as many. The categories may not be the top ones, album of  the year, song of the year and record of the year. However they are nominated, we can officially call this album the “Sleeper of the Year” ( U.S football fans know that’s a good thing). You can read all the nominations at Grammy.com. We will have a complete run down of No Line On The Horizon. We have all the songs/Videos loaded. You can down load them from iTunes or Amazon. 

 

 

Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals
(For duo, group or collaborative performances, with vocals. Singles or Tracks only.)

  • Can’t Find My Way Home
    Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood
    Track from: Live From Madison Square Garden
    [Reprise]
  • Life In Technicolor II
    Coldplay
    Track from: Prospekt’s March EP
    [Capitol]
  • 21 Guns
    Green Day
    Track from: 21st Century Breakdown
    [Reprise]
  • Use Somebody
    Kings Of Leon
    [RCA Records]
  • I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight
    U2
    Track from: No Line On The Horizon
    [Interscope]

Category 21

Best Rock Album
(Vocal or Instrumental. Includes Hard Rock and Metal.)

  • Black Ice
    AC/DC
    [Columbia]
  • Live From Madison Square Garden
    Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood
    [Reprise/Duck]
  • 21st Century Breakdown
    Green Day
    [Reprise]
  • Big Whiskey And The Groogrux King
    Dave Matthews Band
    [RCA Records / Bama Rags Recordings, LLC.]
  • No Line On The Horizon
    U2
    [Interscope]

Category 20

Best Rock Song
(A Songwriter(s) Award. Includes Rock, Hard Rock & Metal songs. For Song Eligibility Guidelines see Category #3. (Artist names appear in parentheses.) Singles or Tracks only.)

  • The Fixer
    Matt Cameron, Stone Gossard, Mike McCready & Eddie Vedder, songwriters (Pearl Jam)
    [Monkeywrench; Publishers: Innocent Bystander, Jumpin’ Cat Music, Theory of Color, Write Treatage Music.]
  • I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight
    Bono, Adam Clayton, The Edge & Larry Mullen Jr., songwriters (U2)
    Track from: No Line On The Horizon
    [Interscope; Publishers: Universal Music Publishing, Upala Music.]
  • 21 Guns
    Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt & Tré Cool, songwriters (Green Day)
    Track from: 21st Century Breakdown
    [Reprise; Publishers: WB Music Corp./Green Daze Music.]
  • Use Somebody
    Caleb Followill, Jared Followill, Matthew Followill & Nathan Followill, songwriters (Kings Of Leon)
    [RCA Records; Publishers: Martha Street Music/Songs of Combustion Music/Music of Windswept, Followill Music/Songs of Combustion Music/Music of Windswept, McFearless Music/Bug Music, Coffee, Tea or Me Publishing/Bug Music.]
  • Working On A Dream
    Bruce Springsteen, songwriter (Bruce Springsteen)
    Track from: Working On A Dream
    [Columbia; Publisher: Bruce Springsteen]

 © 2009 - The Recording Academy. All rights reserved.

   

U2 Scores Rolling Stones top album/song 2009

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.

 

No Line references to God

Many people have argued that U2 is really a Christian band that has achieved the ultimate crossover success.  Others say they were a Christian band that have fallen away from their faith.  I argue that they are a band that express their whole lives in their music, faith, love, dirt, everything.  It shouldn’t surprise people when someone who has a lot of faith then expresses it in their music. 

Many people see the Joshua Tree album as the defining moment in the argument, particularly the song I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For. 

Critics point to this song as U2’s declaration of faithlessness (This was a hot topic when I was younger and one of the reasons my mom didn’t want me to listen to U2).  I say it is only a natural response to the difficulties of maintaining faith. 

If you start at the top of a mountain traveling to a village in the valley, as you wind your way down the trail you sometimes reach points you don’t see your destination anymore.  Sometimes during these times it seems hard to travel on but when you see your destination again you receive renewed energy and pick up the pace.  Some think U2 in …Looking For are describing one of those moments you find yourself on a particularly long stretch of road were you can’t see the village below.  The point is, though, you keep walking and you will reach it eventually. The best list of bible references has been maintained Angela Pancella( @U2).We have included some of Angela’s work here. 

“We’ve found different ways of expressing it, and recognized the power of the media to manipulate such signs. Maybe we just have to sort of draw our fish in the sand. It’s there for people who are interested. It shouldn’t be there for people who aren’t.”—Bono on faith, quoted in “U2 at the End of the World”

No Line On The Horizon

“Magnificent”

“It was a joyful noise” — Psalm 100:1: “Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands.” (King James; see also Psalm 66:1, Psalm 81:1, Psalm 95:1-2, Psalm 98:4,6)

“Justified till we die” — the concept of being “justified” shows up all over the place, particularly in Paul’s letters, see for instance Romans 8:30: “Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” (King James)

“You and I will magnify” — Luke 1:46-55 is the song of Mary known as the Magnificat for its first line, rendered in King James as “My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.”

“Moment of Surrender”

“It’s not if I believe in love/But if love believes in me” — echoes 1 John 4:10: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

“At the altar of the dark star” — See “Slide Away” (below)

“Unknown Caller”

“3:33 when the numbers fell off the clockface” — see the cover art for All That You Can’t Leave Behind and its reference to Jeremiah 33:3: “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” Bono told Rolling Stone, “It’s known as ‘God’s telephone number.’”

“Cease to speak that I may speak” — may reference Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

“I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight”

“Is it true that perfect love drives out all fear” — more 1 John 4, this time 18: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

“Stand Up Comedy”

“I can stand up for hope, faith, love” — 1 Corinthians 13:13: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (See “Elvis Ate America.”)

“God is love”— 1 John 4:16: “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” (I’m just going to start calling this album 1 John 4 from now on.)

“White As Snow”

“Who can forgive forgiveness where forgiveness is not/Only the lamb as white as snow” — John 1:29: “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’” (Also see Exodus 12 for a description of the sacrificial lamb of Passover being without blemish.)

“Cedars of Lebanon”

Oh gosh, mentions of the cedars of Lebanon are scattered throughout the Bible. See Song of Solomon 5:15: “His legs are pillars of marble set on bases of pure gold. His appearance is like Lebanon, choice as its cedars.”

Go, shout it out, rise up -

No Line On The Horizon revisted

Have you been living under a rock for sometime? U2 got the Grammy nod last night, most fans feel the boys have been ripped off that they should have one a Grammy last time around. Well that’s all water on the bridge now.

We have written a couple of stories about the Album(CD,MP3) and we must confess again that we really did not like the work. It seemed out of sorts, different. Not anything we have heard before. Ah a concept was born. The Album grows, has legs which turned us around. We thought we would pull up a old story to refresh minds and provide some prosective on the album as well as provide new listeners a chance to comment.

The U2 album, ‘No Line On The Horizon’ was released March 2nd  2009. It is a great record, and greatness is what rock and roll and the world needs right now. From the grittily urgent yet ethereal title track all the way to the philosophically ruminative, spacey coda of ‘Cedars Of Lebanon’ it conjures an extraordinary journey through sound and ideas, a search for soul in a brutal, confusing world, all bound together in narcotic melody and space age pop songs.

“Let me in the sound” is a repeated lyrical motif (showing up in three songs, including current single ‘Get On Your Boots’). The theme of the album is surrender, escaping everyday problems to lose (or perhaps find) yourself in the joy of the moment. For Bono, it clearly represents an escape from the politics of his role as a lobbyist and campaigner into the musical exultation of rock and roll, yet the very notion of escape remains political, if only with a small p.

“Every day I have to find the courage to walk out into the street / With arms out, got a love you can’t defeat” is the inspirational bridge in an epic, explosive rock anthem ‘Breathe’, that could be set in Gaza or at your own front door.

Scattershot half-spoken verses fire images like news reports from the battleground of life (”16th of June, Chinese stocks are going up / And I’m coming down with some new Asian virus … Doc says you’re fine, or dying”) til he is “running down the road like loose electricity”, tension building in thundering drums and grungey two note guitar riff until it all lets loose in a soaring, anthemic chorus, as Bono tells us “I found grace inside a sound / I found grace, it’s all that I found / And I can breathe”.

The theme is even more explicit on ‘Moment Of Surrender’, a pulsing, dreamily gorgeous 7 minute weave of synths, silvery guitars, sub-bass, handclaps, Arabic strings and soulful ululating vocals, in which the narrator experiences a spiritual epiphany at the very prosaic setting of an ATM machine. It is a beautiful piece that provides the album’s beating heart and shows how far U2 can drift from their stereotype as a stadium rock band into unknown territory while still making something that touches the universal.

Musically, these songs might be the two poles of an album that switches between overloaded rockers and hypnotic electro grooves: the U2 / Eno divide. ‘No Line On The Horizon’ was produced by the professorially brilliant Roxy Music synth magus Brian Eno with his rootsy, muso collaborator Daniel Lanois, the same team that has presided over U2’s finest albums, Unforgettable Fire (1984), The Joshua Tree (1987), Achtung Baby (1991) and their latterday reclaiming of pop’s high ground ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind’ (2000). The chief difference is that here they have been explicitly invited into the songwriting process, with 7 of the 12 tracks credited to both band and producers, and recorded with a six-piece line up featuring Eno on electronics and Lanois on acoustic and pedal steel guitar.

It is these songs, in particular, which push U2 towards the invisible horizon of the title, at once more linear (they tend to be driven, with singular grooves, often pulsing along on particular sound effect or rhythmic repetitions) and lateral (they defy obvious song-structure, choruses drop rather than soar, Bono’s rich, high voice subsumed into stacked harmonic chants). These tracks draw out of Bono a contemplative depth, so even the fantastically odd ‘Unknown Caller’ hits a vein of emotional truth, when the spaced out singer is cast adrift on the soundbites of computer and communications networks (’Password, you enter here, right now / You know your name so punch it in’) yet seems to find himself talking to the inner voice of God (”Escape yourself, and gravity / Hear me, cease to speak that I may speak”). Words and music dovetail in surprising ways that send the senses spinning.

Dave Long 2009 Left to their own compositional devices, U2 produce rock songs of high-wire adrenalin and in-your-face immediacy. It is almost a relief when they arrive like a troop surge in the middle of the album, reclaiming familiar territory with a burst of shock and awe. This is U2 on safe ground, ramming home the kind of smack bang crunch pop rock that they know radio programmers will fall at their feet for, yet there is almost too much melody and a surfeit of lyrical ideas. Current single ‘Get On Your Boots’ is the prime example, walloping along with two note punk rock energy, a low-slung heavy metal guitar riff, an expansively melodic psychedelic chorus and playful sloganeering lyrics in which Bono gets off the soap box to pay homage to the more prosaic pleasures of a beautiful woman in comically “sexy boots”. Along with the Oasis on steroids singalong pop of ‘I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight’ and pop Zepplin-esque grooviness and shuffling beats of ‘Stand Up Comedy’, these songs are the albums most immediate and yet least resonant tracks. They are light relief from the more demanding adventures into new sonic terrain.

Bono’s worst reflex as a lyric writer is sloganeering, partly because he is so good at it. On the three songs just mentioned, he piles catch-phrase upon soundbite to build up a thematic idea, often one that plays with his image. So in ‘Stand Up Comedy’ the diminutive rock star in stacked boots warns us to “stand up to rock stars / Napoleon is in high heels / Josephine be careful of small men with big ideas” and in ‘I’ll Go Crazy’ he confesses (or complains) “there’s a part of me in the chaos that’s quiet / And there’s a part of you that wants me to riot.” It is all good fun but too often sounds like a series of t-shirt slogans rather than a song with a heart of its own. His phrasemaking is put to much better effect when it pared back so that the emotion of the song takes precedence, as on the strange, addictive title track, where he loses himself in the blur of a mysterious love, a person whose unknowability represents a kind of Godliness and who tells him “infinity is a great place to start.”

On ‘Breathe’, U2 locate the emotional and philosophical heart in an out and out ball busting U2 anthem (which Eno, apparently, asserts to be “the most U2 song” they have ever recorded). It is matched, in this respect, by the quite wonderful ‘Magnificent’, in which the U2/Eno/Lanois combo conjure up an instantly recognisable U2 classic in a love song with the flag waving pop drive of ‘New Year’s Day’. These are songs that will fill their fans with joy, but it is in the album’s more intimate, off beat adventures that U2 lock into something that forces listeners to sit up and take note of them anew. There is a busy-ness in terms of sonic tapestry, the meshing together of Edge’s sci-fi guitars and Eno’s synths providing an intricate, detailed soundscape that constantly tugs at the ears and mind, but the U2/Eno/Lanois songs hold the centre, slowly revealing themselves, demanding repeat listens. It certainly sounds like U2 (as do a lot of groups these days) but in its boldest moments is as fresh and ambitious as the work of first timers, not veterans 33 years on the road.

If it has a flaw, it may be in U2’s inherent tendency to want to be all things to all people, so that in album of surrender, they can’t quite let themselves go all the way. They still want to bat the ball out of the stadium everytime, and so instinctively counterbalance their desire to reach something otherwordly with the safe bets of crunchy rock hits. In that respect, it doesn’t have the innocence or singularity of ‘Unforgettable Fire’ or ‘Joshua Tree’, nor does it quite affect the bold re-wiring of their sound that was ‘Achtung Baby’. To me, it is probably the album ‘Zooropa’ was supposed to be, building on the sonic architecture of classic U2 and taking it into the pop stratosphere. But what a place for a band to be, in orbit around their own myth, making music that bounces off the inside of a listeners skull, charged with ideas and emotions, groovy enough to want to dance to, melodic enough to make you sing along, soulful enough to cherish, philosophical enough to inspire, and with so many killer tracks it might as well be a latterday greatest hits. It is, at the very least, an album to speak of in the same breath as their best and what other band of their longevity can boast of that?

Anyway that’s my opinion. I can tell you what Bono thinks, because he has been texting me. He comes (as he explicitly says on ‘Breathe’) “from a long line of travelling salesmen” and he would probably sell his album door to door if he could. “Lifeforce, joy, innovation, emotional honesty, analogue not digital, home-made not pro-tooled, unique sonic landscape,” are his buzzwords (although punctuation and spelling are mine). “I pinch myself every morning, evenings no longer a trial. Soul music for the frenzied, rock music for the still. The album we always wanted to make. Now we f*** off …”

 

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