Brian Eno is MORE DARK THAN SHARK
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"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno

Wondering Sound NOVEMBER 16, 2010 - by J. Edward Keyes

U2: NO LINE ON THE HORIZON

Meandering and colossally misguided

Given the colossal belly-flop that was Pop and how fearfully the band clung to formula on the two records that followed it, it seemed like U2's era of experimentation was over. But on No Line On The Horizon, they undertake the bravest risk of their career: making a record that doesn't have any songs on it. Weird, wan, meandering and colossally misguided, No Line finds U2 wandering blithely in the desert like Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman in Ishtar, hoping to stumble along some inspiration along the way.

The creation process was open-ended: After shelving a half-begun project with Rick Rubin, U2, along with longtime co-conspirators Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, disappeared to Morocco, set up an elaborate studio in a Moroccon riad and let songs emerge from endless improvisations. While in some ways this may be preferable to the brutal calculation of the group's previous pair of albums, it's all for naught if it doesn't yield anything worthwhile. Though the title track is better than it's often given credit for, most of No Line is formless, the songs wanting for strong hooks to anchor them. Moment Of Surrender goes on for seven-and-a-half-minutes, moving from spooky synths to limp bass groove to forced melodic epiphany. Apparently, the "surrender" in the title is the listener's. Cedars Of Lebanon lays like fetid water. Fez - Being Born is called Fez - Being Born. Most of the songs are buried beneath a wash of synth, making them seem blurry. Unknown Caller is a dead-ringer for All That You Can't Leave Behind's Walk On, but with only a quarter-teaspoon of that song's hardheaded conviction. Ultimately, No Line feels like a gigantic shrug - four men playing as if simply by muscle memory; nothing memorable coming out.

The sessions apparently yielded a whole host of more interesting - albeit more experimental - material, which the group plans to release as a "sister album" called Songs Of Ascent. Additionally, some of the material ultimately rejected for the record - like the sure-footed "Winter" - betters by a good distance tracks that made the final cut. But No Line leaves U2 at a troubling juncture, one where their time-tested aesthetic method of "build/tear down/rebuild" seems to be, for the first time, failing.


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