Wednesday, November 17, 2004

They're advertising in the skies/ for people like us...

I can admit when I'm wrong. Yeah there are VH1 moments. But the new U2 is pretty damn good. A lot less sappy than All You Can't Leave Behind. It's closer to that album than Achtung Baby, though. Listen, I know Bono's full of shit. I hate the iPod stuff. But I find it hard to deny these guys.

A lot of it sounds like it reaches back to the '80s... the bass breakdown in A Man and a Woman. The guitar in "All Because of You" (which sounds almost Boy-era, especially on the chorus). The oooh-eh-oohs of "City of Blinding Lights". It really is a good album. And oh good lord, "City of Blinding Lights" is basically "Where the Streets Have No Name" swept clean and gentrified; it's got some condos going up, maybe a nice coffeehouse, a bar with '80s Saturdays and no cover for the ladies until 11. New zoning regulations, more police around. What does it say about me that I like it? Time to get some eggnog latte at Starbucks? Maybe I'll pick up a cool jazz mix CD. And I'm convinced The Edge steals his own riff for "Yahweh". Something from Joshua Tree. Is he becoming the new John Fogerty?

The first time I really listened to the album all the way through, I thought it was actually astonishing. I've calmed down a bit since. It starts off with "Vertigo", which is basically a well-written and well-played throw-off. Then there are a couple of songs for the soccer moms in the house. "Miracle Drug" is bad emo, and U2 should be above that. Then it's like they started to care about making an album, about people not just doing the dishes to the album, or using the individual songs in emotional montages featuring baseball players, firefighters, and kids saluting flags to appeal to the suburbs (nothing says America like the Irish!).

Maybe that's their problem, and you can hear it on "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own". Now, it's hard to totally rip this song, because it was written for Bono's father's funeral (then why release it?). But still, it's a Hallmark card sentiment. There's a smaller difference between bombast and elegance than you may think. They used to tread it quite well; look at "One". But now you have stuff like "Walk On", begging to be used at the end of an "ER" episode where one of the doctors has an especially tough day, but learns that you just have to soldier on. Inspiring, really.

But after the first three songs, it does really take off. There are the dirty modern blues (and I don't mean that in a Blueshammer "deep down delta blues" sort of way) of "Love and Peace or Else" (which is still kind of a Hallmark sentiment, though you might find it in their Shoebox line of cards. A bit of the edgier Hallmark at affordable prices). The drive of "Crumbs From Your Table". The surprising bounce of "Yahweh". The mantra of "One Step Closer". And yeah, "City of Blinding Lights" and all the Olive Gardens therein.

What the album does lack is a sense of danger or immediacy that some of their '90s albums had. Achtung, Baby, that was a scary album. "The Fly"? "Acrobat"? Even "Love is Blindness" was scary in how it stood at the precipice of being in love, when you should be happiest, and was caught in the realization of what love entails. Even their cheesier albums, like Pop was superficially a "party" album, but was concerned with the loss, the evilness, the fear underneath. This album, and All That You Can't Leave Behind even more so, have just been... earnest. And I'm not the biggest fan of earnestness. I have no problem if Bono wants to be the UN ambassador of hope or whatever, but he doesn't have to play the role on the albums.

Anyway, good album. I keep listening to it online, so that means something. A few thoughts on the way out:


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