Die-hard U2 fans finally have their wish, after waiting five long years since the release of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. U2’s new album, No Line on the Horizon, is a carefully crafted series of songs about being lost, finding the self in God, becoming disoriented and lost again, and becoming re-oriented to God and the world. Musically, the album continues the U2 tradition of vigorous rock tunes, complete with the classic guitar riffs, but with the addition of Middle Eastern overtones in several songs, giving homage to the band’s time recording in the unusual location of Fez, Morocco.
As usual, U2’s lyrics give a combination of scathing critique and encouraging hope to the Western world. More particularly, the band’s political and religious exhortations are addressed to the USA and, it could be argued, equally to the Christian church.
The title track and first song, “No Line on the Horizon,” begins the album’s journey with a feeling of disorientation or lostness, with no distinguishing marks to provide perspective in modern life. This track is followed up with “Magnificent,” whose driving beat, proliferation of biblical imagery and confident, soaring expression of purpose under God – the Magnificent – make it the album’s closest facsimile to a gospel song and reminiscent of their 1987 hit “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” U2 lead singer Bono sings to God, “I was born to be with you in this space and time.” Yet this song is not a blithely upbeat denial of the very real disorientation we all feel in our personal lives in the modern world. He continues, “After that and ever after I haven’t had a clue.” This combination of honest confusion and hope in God is what attracts many to U2.
The next two tracks address God’s call to us but in modern idiom, using technological metaphors. “Moment of Surrender” speaks of a moment of clarity and surrender when one goes down on one’s knees and recognizes “vision over visibility” or, in other words, invisible faith over what is physically seen. Love, often used as a placeholder for God, appears in this song and throughout the album. “Unknown Caller” uses the metaphors of computer and telephone to instruct hearers who are “lost” to listen to God: “cease to speak that I may speak. Shush now.” Both songs employ organ music interludes to allow hearers time to ponder, as if in church after an altar call.
Now that the listener has been called by God and had the chance to be made right with him, the album invites participation in the political and religious realities of the world. “Get on Your Boots” and “Stand Up Comedy” are particularly pointed injunctions for Westerners, Americans and the Church to get ready and begin engaging in the world. If there was any doubt about equating the oft-mentioned “love” with God, it is made explicit in “Stand Up Comedy,” which says baldly, “God is love.”
Those who remain unsure of U2’s Christian content will appreciate “White as Snow.” Sharing its melody with “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” the song is a haunting retelling of the Advent hymn in U2’s vernacular. Bono sings of the great longing for the lamb as white as snow, who brings forgiveness to all – both Westerners and their current arch-enemies, the people of the Middle East, from places like Fez.
These “enemies” are considered thoughtfully in many tracks. The album leaves the listener with this poignant thought: “Choose your enemies carefully…Gonna last with you longer than your friend.”
No Line on the Horizon is satisfying musically for its fusion of rock and Middle Eastern melodies, and lyrically for its astute observations and insistence that political and religious inertia can be overcome. U2’s answer is God. May listeners come to the same conclusion.