Bono vs. The Band: "No Line on the Horizon" Lacks Coherent Vision

New U2 album is a valiant attempt to recapture the magic of the past, but falls short of its potential.


Let me preface this review by stating that I like U2, particularly their work from the 80s and early 90s, and that, in my opinion, Achtung Baby is one of the greatest rock 'n roll albums ever released.  And despite what I say about Bono later in this review, he has no doubt put together some the best rock lyrics of the 80s and 90s. 

So without further ado, No Line on the Horizon, track by track:

"No Line on the Horizon" --  Maybe it's just me, but I can't help hearing Siouxsie and the Banshees' "Kiss them for me."  The track opens with some nice Brian Eno chords, reminiscent of Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy, but the lyrics seem weak, particularly the "no, no line..." in the chorus.  Overall, the track sounds more like a jam session with the kernels of several tracks pasted together.

"Magnificent" --  Easily the best song on the album. Had they opened here and progressed from this point, it might've been the album we were hoping for.  Very moving and good lyrics (apart from the title of the song, which seems a little literal). Otherwise, a pioneering track.  The Edge does outstanding work, as does bassist Adam Clayton, who is in large part responsible for the track's enigmatic melody.  Drums excellent, too, of course.

"Moment of Surrender"  -- A continuation of the U2 sound of the last decade: slow, faith based crooner rock for the Adult Contemporary charts.  The evocation of an ATM machine is a nice modern image, but the overall tone is a little conservative.  An attempt at making a wisdom track, but failing from a lack of inspired melody.  Saved from being a total throwaway by Brian Eno's drones and synth harmonies. 

"Unknown Caller" --  A much more inspired track thanks to the melody in the chorus. Risks are rewarded, though some of the moments seem like filler while Bono finishes what he needs to say.  Use of the password is another nice modern image for the web age, whether its was meant in that context or not.

"I'll Go Crazy if I Don't Go Crazy Tonight"  -- A really weak track -- can't help but feel like it was written by Bono, and the band is humoring him.  The music seems to be windowdressing for Bono's weak composition.  This songs is all about Bono and it shows.  The chorus tries to rescue the track, but can't turn things around.  

"Get on your Boots"  -- A total disaster. Should have never been released.  There's potential in the Edge's brilliant guitar work and the overall Eastern feel of the track, particulalry in the chorus, but Bono completely destroys this track.  It's like he thought he was singing Vertigo, and the "You don't know how beautiful you are" chorus sounds like it took a page out of the Coldplay lyric songbook.  Finally, the "Let me in the sound" vocal near the end just says it all -- like a message from Bono's unconscious, pleading to maintain his identity in a band that has evolved beyond his ability to lead.

"Stand up Comedy" -- Bono's meddling continues.  U2 does the blues, Led Zeppelin style.  Again, the Edge tries to rescue the track in the chorus, but Bono keeps letting out stink bombs, forcing his role as lead singer, completely overdoing it and betraying his age.  He seems reluctant to let the rest of the band shine.  A mess.

 "Fez -- Being Born"  -- This track starts with echoes of Bono singing "Let me in the sound" from "Get on your Boots" and moves directionlessly, until the track begins anew.  The music seems to lack cohesion, a continuation of Bono's identity crisis, unfortunately.  Eno comes in for a save halfway through, but is overwhelmed by Bono's stubborn clinging to the original track.  Sounds like another jam session.

"White as Snow" --  Can't help but feel like the Edge wrote this one.  Beautiful melody. This time it seems Bono's weak lyrics are the window dressing. Eno's allowed to shine as well.  Bono almost sabotages the track in the middle eight, but runs out of time and opportunity. Great track.   

"Breathe" -- An interesting composition, one of the few where the band seems to function as a unit.  The machine is oiled, the melodies, unpredictable.  The middle eight is less interesting and the chorus is bland.  Nice keyboard work keeps things moving, though.

"Cedar of Lebanon" -- The beginning seems to be a direct lift from Brian Eno and Harold Budd's beautiful 1984 ambient album The Pearl.  A sombre track, with a touch of alcoholism and transcendence.  A melancholy, poetic ending.