Swear I'm not Paul: Album Review: U2 - No Line on the Horizon

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Sunday, March 8, 2009

Album Review: U2 - No Line on the Horizon

U2 - NLITH cover art

U2 - No Line on the Horizon

With a new U2 album, you always need time to digest it. You can't simply make a rash judgement. There's always too much hype. Especially this time. Kind of ironic when you think back to their pre-fame bandname. Thus I've let the album settle for a week or more. I've gotten used to its peaks and throughs. And been more or less engulfed by the latter.

No Line on the Horizon could well be U2's worst ever album. I don't want to be too harsh and make that claim outright, but it definitely is their worst since Pop. It was supposed to be a departure with worldly influences (they decamped to Morocco to record some of it, don't you know. The writers for the Herald AM obviously don't, claiming 'Fez' is Middle Eastern-influenced). Instead it sounds like an album of B-Sides that could have been the bonus disc for the inevitable Best of U2 2000-2009.

The first three songs are actually decent enough, and don't prepare you fully for what the rest of the album lacks. The opening title track could have been on the last record (which is actually better than critics say). And despite the fact I'm about to give it some backlash, 'Magnificent' is one of the better tunes on here. It starts out sounding like Bono could break into "Woah Black Betty, bam a lam" at any moment, before dissolving into a 'New Year's Day' pastiche. And that's one of the better songs.

'Moment of Surrender' is like an All That You Can't Leave Behind offcut, and is probably the best song on the album. A high before a stream of lows. Some may argue that it's dull and boring, but because it doesn't try to be anything other than what it is, it works. Which makes me ask why the Rick Rubin songs were scrapped. Hopefully these will be on the second U2 album of 2009, Songs of Ascent. Because if Rick's tunes were worse than these, then they surely must have been horrific, and I don't blame the guys for dumping them.

'Unknown Caller', 'Stand-Up Comedy' and 'Fez-Being Born' are among the worst songs U2 have ever recorded. The refrain in 'Unknown Caller' is excessively laboured and its a disfigured sister of 'Miracle Drug' from How to Dismantle and Atomic Bomb. Is 'Stand Up Comedy' a deliberate joke? Even if it is, it's still not funny. The Killers could do a better job. 'Fez-Being Born' is a waste of five minutes, five minutes which I have now wasted a number of times. Bono, I want my half an hour (at least) back.

Although steeped in All That You Can't Leave Behindness, 'I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight' is actually a good pop song. It should have been the first single, as it is miles and away better than the clunky 'Get on Your Boots'. Remember the emotion Bono showed in 'Miss Sarajevo', 'One', 'Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own', yeah? This is probably the only place on the album where he actually shows he's still possible of that. That said, it's only an equal of the third of that trio. 'Get on Your Boots' on the other hand, is just 'Vertigo'-lite.

'White as Snow' is incredibly boring, because it lacks any substance. Whereas 'Moment of Surrender' is similarly slow, it's never dull. 'Cedars of Lebanon' suffers from the same triteness. 'Breathe' is one of the only decent songs in the second half of the album, actually it's the only one worth listening to.

So overall it could well be worse than Pop, but after listening to this record so much over the last week, I'm officially on a U2 hiatus.


Anonymous said...

"No Line on the Horizon could well be U2's worst ever album."

Certainly seems that way going by the reviews.

Well written, good work.

music=love said...

I'd have to politely disagree and say it is much better than All That You Can't Leave Behind' and 'How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb' as I think the band were looking for commercial success and hit singles. I think this album is far more introspective and reminiscent of The Unforgettable Fire. I do think that Get On Your Boots was possibly one of the worst choices as a first single. It should have been Magnificent. Also, I agree Unknown Caller is one of the worst songs there but the rest are strong.
I think the band are marking the return of the album as it is meant to be heard whole not just as a collection of singles.
Anyways that's just me...but I rate it highly!

Jimmy Jangles said...

If this is true, Mezza gonna cry when I hear it.

Ronan said...

It's true Jimmy.

Thanks for your comment music=love, I like it when people actually back up their points instead of just tearing me a new one. Maybe if I do listen to it more, and actually appreciate it, I'll grow to like it.

Anonymous said...

Nice review, but I disagree. Listen to it a few more times and be taken in. But then again, I quite like 'Pop'; an often unnecessarily slated and criticised album, the melodies hold the clue.

music=love said...

Corniel, I agree and I loved 'Pop' too. It's far too underrated.

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