Since the heady days of youth, when, buoyed by Lillywhite and Lanois productions, I eagerly awaited every single from the Joshua Tree, I’ve kept my ear to the ground for breaking news on U2. The first morsels from No Line on the Horizon appeared when Bono inadvertently cranked up a few singles at an outdoor party. These rough recordings, however, didn’t compound my excitement for the latest album, Sean O’Hagan’s article did. O’Hagan followed them for eighteen months to three cities and collected a number of anecdotes, most of which he frankly shares.
The album itself begins with a riff that blazes like a sprinter out of the blocks; however, the title track soon fades into oblivion, so much so that after frequent plays I still can’t recall it. For me the album begins with Magnificent: I get comfortable and settle in for a good listen, yet even this song incorporates an annoying keyboard track, perhaps a relic from some early 90’s recording session. Nevertheless, Moment of Surrender remains solid and I finally enter the groove; Bono rasps his voice, and Clayton and Mullen Jr. make their presence known (The Edge is always there). This song anchors the album and I’m glad it’s over seven minutes long. As O’Hagan notes this song was one of the few recorded in Fez, where devotions from Sufi singers wisped through the air.
I label the next few songs “tolerable”; that is, I don’t regret purchasing them, but they won’t be going in a playlist anytime soon. In Unknown Caller U2 seems to be channelling Yes, but doing a mediocre job of it. I’ll Go Crazy … is better, but a little too familiar and too forced. Next of course is Sexy Boots (they should have kept that name) which has saturated the airwaves and I now skip. I quite like the fresh sound of Stand Up Comedy (except for the bridge) and it will make it out of my tolerable category quicker than the rest. In the first minute and a half Fez sounds like a bad Sci-Fi soundtrack, but it soon captures some of the Moroccan inspiration.
White as Snow does very little for me; I think it’s because with every chorus I break into my best Whitney Houston, a by-product of holiday shopping, perhaps by summer I’ll have evinced all traces of her and be able to appreciate its subtleties. The album ends on a strong note. Breathe and Cedars of Lebanon is U2 at full potency: “pop-rock” U2 in Breathe and contemplative U2 in Cedars. Other nice features are Breathe’s strings track and Cedars’ fantastic falsetto part, exceptional lyrics, and haunting background track. Overall, this album follows a bang-whimper, whimper-bang pattern; fortunately, the bang counteracts all the whimper. The best ancillary news is that they will be touring once more—no room for whimper there. Sugimoto’s picture on the cover inspires, and reminds me of a Tanabe landscape.