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The Herald Sun FEBRUARY 28, 2009 - by Olaf Tyaransen
U2'S EVER-EXPANDING HORIZON
Could Bono be the planet's most ubiquitous celebrity?
Open virtually any newspaper on any given day, and chances are there'll be a picture of the instantly recognisable U2 singer in one of his various guises.
Bono meeting Barack Obama in Washington... Bono and Bob Geldof with Gordon Brown... Bono and Bill Gates in Africa... Bono and Brad Pitt chilling out in the south of France... Bono and U2 playing at the Grammys... he certainly gets around. How does the man do it?
"There's a Bono factory," the forty-eight-year-old Irishman laughs. "The band, when they saw me getting busy, opened a factory. It's just there at the back of (Dublin suburb) Tallaght. And there's various different ones, and they're being used for different occasions."
The Bono factory will be working overtime in coming months as the band release and tour their twelfth studio album No Line On The Horizon (the title apparently inspired by the sea view from the window of the study of the singer's Dublin home).
Recorded over two years in Morocco, France, New York, Dublin and London, and produced by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, the album has already received rave reviews.
The band originally drafted Rick Rubin to produce, but the plan changed after an inspiring songwriting session with Eno and Lanois in the Moroccan city of Fez. What attracted U2 to North Africa?
"We went for different reasons, but mostly a kind of instinctive sense that going somewhere different was going to be important and inspiring for us," explains guitarist The Edge.
"I remember clearly at least two or three songs being born in that location (Fez). And very quick. Like, maybe three or four hours. We'd start with one little idea - it might be a rhythm or a chord progression or a guitar or a keyboard sound - and then very quickly through a series of ideas thrown in a song would come together.
"Basically there's four songs that were only ever performed once in their final version. Because it was that kind of a free-flowing songwriting workshop atmosphere."
"Brian Eno has got a very good understanding of what we go through," says bassist Adam Clayton. "We like to fully resolve something and work it through to the end. And sometimes we overwork it, but generally if we have enough time, and if we make good decisions, it always gets better. And that was a unique thing with this record. That when we took the decision not to finish it in June or July for a November 2008 release, it really allowed us to go back to certain things.
"It allowed us to look at the proposed list of tracks and pull a few more back on to the record that we hadn't worked on, and take a few off. So by the time we finished in December, everything was pretty well rounded on the record. Certainly this is the first record in a very long time where I've kind of gone, 'I understand and I know every decision that was made - and I back it'."
Although Bono usually writes directly from personal experience, many of the songs on No Line On The Horizon are written from third-person perspectives - a French traffic cop gone AWOL in Cadiz, a drug addict on the New York subway, a burned-out war correspondent in Lebanon.
"It was just a way of getting a fresh starting place," Bono says. "And I'd just kind of worn out my own biography or autobiography. The last two albums were very personal. And I'm not sure if I could bear it any more."
After two years recording, it's been reported that the band wound up with fifty new songs. Does this mean there's another thirty-nine finished U2 songs in the can?
"There's a ream of material that's in various states of unfinished-ness," admits The Edge.
"Some ideas that we would have spent half an hour on have got real promise, but we haven't looked at again. Or songs we would've spent a lot of time on, that for one reason or another just didn't fit with this collection.
"So in some ways, we're in a very good position for a follow-up album. And a lot of quite experimental stuff as well.
"We wanted to have a contrast of light and shade within the work, and so having got a lot of more moody pieces, we held some of those back. So (for) the next release, we're not short of dark, brooding material."
U2 have now been making music for thirty-three years. They're not planning on doing this forever, but right now there's no finishing line on the band's horizon.
"Do I see myself doing this into my seventies?" mulls drummer Larry Mullen Jr. "No, I don't.
"There will be a time. But right now, I just think it's very exciting to be out there making music."