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U2′s No Line on the Horizon Review

John on March 5, 2009 at 11:24 pm

I’ve only listened to it twice, so I can’t really say what I’ll think of it after a few more listens. Here’s my first impression though…

This is, strangely, two albums in one. About half the tracks sound like the U2 of All That You Can’t Leave Behind and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb with a touch of Achtung Baby thrown in. Specifically, I’ll Go Crazy, Get Your Boots On, Stand Up Comedy and Breathe feel like a continuation of what came before.

The rest of the album sounds somewhat half-finished and over-produced. By that I mean that the songs themselves don’t really grab me. There are no hooks. Instead there’s a lot of soundscape stuff going on in the background and the bass has been pumped up as if to fill the space vacated by the guitar licks. What’s going on here?

Looking at the liner notes, it begins to make sense. U2 has given Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois writing credit on most of the tracks that didn’t grab me. I get it that these guys have been in studio with U2 a long time and contributed to the music in the past. Still, I think the writing credit bespeaks a band low on inspiration.

The other tracks (the better ones) were written mostly by U2 and produced by Steve Lillywhite (who produced the band’s first several albums). Not only is the music better, the mix is better on these tracks and, on first listen, the lyrics seem more engaging and memorable. U2, or someone working with them, must have heard this difference too. Who releases song #6 as the first single?

Again, sometimes it takes me a while to warm up to things. I didn’t care for New York the first 3-4 times I heard it. Once I saw them perform it live I got it. Now it’s one of my favorites on the album. So it’s likely a few more spins (or a concert) will change my mind. But first impressions…No Line is two half albums, one of which is engaging and the other of which feels drab as the cover and as uninspired. In fact, this album is sort of like the land and sea. They only appear to meet at the horizon, but there’s no real point of contact.

Related: A theologian I’ve never heard of has dubbed it U2′s most overtly Christian album.

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