INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Sydney Morning Herald FEBRUARY 28, 2009 - by Bernard Zuel
TRAILBLAZERS CHART THEIR OWN PATH
Ordinary bands rarely, if ever, change; they're too scared or too limited. The best bands, however, are prepared to remix their palette, challenge themselves with something risky and return to the past but with new eyes.
For all their faults, from occasional pomposity to narrow skills, U2 have rarely trod the same path twice in more than thirty years. And when they have (War repeating, if improving on, October; Rattle And Hum in the shadow of The Joshua Tree; Pop half-heartedly recreating Zooropa) they've followed up with radical changes on The Unforgettable Fire, Achtung Baby and All That You Can't Leave Behind.
Inevitably then, following the disappointment of How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, a commercial success but a creative cul-de-sac, comes an imperfect but fascinating album that doesn't reinvent but does reimagine and reinvigorate U2.
Not surprisingly, they've done that with help from the pair responsible for two of those earlier career-changing albums, conformity-averse producer-musician-songwriters Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. Perhaps surprisingly, they've achieved the new sound on this album by being both noisier and quieter than in the past.
At one end, guitars stride across the title track that opens the album with utter confidence, there's dirty noise in the dumb fun of Get On Your Boots, stadium-rock atmosphere in Breathe and a glam cock-o-the-walk in Stand Up Comedy. U2 are definitely a rock band without hubris.
But listen to the spaces between and you hear a counterpoint. There are the skippity rhythms behind the elegiac Moment Of Surrender; the heavy air and chanted backing vocals in the otherwise conventional dark night of the soul in Unknown Caller; and the displaced atmosphere of the intro and outro of Fez - Being Born.
And most of all, the creased night and folded soul of White As Snow and the inescapably noir environment of the album's masterful closer, Cedars Of Lebanon, where once again backing vocals, ambient noises and restraint seal a deal alongside the atmosphere of philosophical weariness.
Bono's lyrics aren't always as enlightening as the music, with love his preferred subject area. But when he does loosen the bindings, either in the free association run of Get On Your Boots or the war correspondent narrative of Cedars Of Lebanon, he rises to the occasion.
It's why No Line On The Horizon - resembling The Unforgettable Fire in mood and recalling Achtung Baby in energy - feels like neither a new band nor an old band; just a band still interested in learning about itself.