IGN FEBRUARY 20, 2009 - by Brian Linder


Dublin rockers drop their Bomb follow-up.

No Line On The Horizon, the twelfth studio album from Irish rockers U2, doesn't officially drop until the first week of March, but it's been leaked online early courtesy of the band's MySpace page. We've taken a thorough listen and submit these impressions of the latest effort by theboys from Dublin.

Bono (vocals and guitar), The Edge (guitar, keyboards, and vocals), Adam Clayton (bass guitar), and Larry Mullen, Jr. (drums and percussion), collaborated on the album with long-time producer pals Brian Eno and Danny Lanois, with additional production by Steve Lillywhite. Expectations have been running high, as we tend to think of this musical team as a practically unstoppable force of excellence, but the album's debut single Get On Your Boots tempered things a bit - it had to grow on us. Would the rest of the album leave us feeling as tentative?

U2 has said that their follow-up to 2004's How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb is a similarly rock-oriented joint. They aren't exactly fibbing, but there's nothing quite as blazing as How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb's Vertigo. In reality, the album's sound is a mishmash of styles that U2 has mastered over the years, while occasionally flirting with musical territory heretofore uncharted by the band.

The title track kicks the album off to a strong start. Choice riffs courtesy of The Edge are laid down with Bono crooning hoarse vocals about girls, the universe, and infinity ("I know a girl with a hole in her heart / She said infinity is a great place to start"), which we're sure has some deeper meaning that we just haven't unlocked yet. Oddly, though the track is at it's most captivating between verses when Bono belts out his trademark "oooooohs."

Magnificent continues down the same lyrical path with musings on the nature of existence, love, God, and the unity of humankind, all of which make up the album's conceptual core and to which Bono is no stranger. Musically, this is stock U2. There are no complaints, but also nothing that's going to blow your mind.

Three tracks in, Moment Of Surrender is a tune that wouldn't have felt entirely out of place on 2000's All That You Can't Leave Behind - that's a good thing. Here is where Bono begins to really pull the listener in lyrically. He's at his best when his earnestness is dirtied up a bit, and that's the case here ("I tied myself to the wire / to let the horses run free / Playing with fire / Until the fire played with me").

Arena rock ballads are what U2 do best, and we can already hear the crowd singing along with Unknown Caller, a song that uses technological vignettes as metaphors for spiritual awakening - or at least that's our best guess.

It's clear by this point that Bono and Co. have a lot to say. That's not a bad thing, but on I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy they're simply trying to say too much. The song collapses a bit under the weight of its message. It sounds perfectly palatable, but is at it's most interesting when Bono and Edge are belting out the chorus and bridge - where the listener has a little breathing room. The track is also (arguably) marred by a production choice that is evident on the much of the album. While we're pleased to be able to understand every lyric that is uttered, it might have been nice to let the vocals occasionally take a back-seat in the mix. They are way out front in most places. Sometimes it works, and other times it feels like too much.

Well, I don't think the album's "mind-blowing" stuff but definitely the best album since Achtung Baby. I could of course gone a bit higher on the score, something like an 8.4 - Magnificent, Moment Of Surrender and Fez - Being Born are all great tracks, and it stays rather consistent through out.

Get On Your Boots, which you've likely already heard unless you've been hiding from all forms of media, is very much a musical sequel to Vertigo. It took a while to grow on us, but in the context of the album it's strong. The bridge ("Let me in the sound / Let me in the sound / Let me in the sound") is actually one of our favourite moments on the album, and the band makes good use of it again later (read on that below).

Stand Up Comedy initially flirts with the same fate as I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy, but the riffs and hooks are strong and keep the track decidedly afloat, and it winds up pretty hot. This is what Bob Dylan would sound like if he were an stadium-touring Irish rock star.

The opening ambient sounds of Fez - Being Born create an aural space where the listener is drawn in - here is where the "let me in the sound" lyric is recycled. And when the song begins in earnest it proves a solid, musically adventurous prelude to the album's final act.

White As Snow is a quiet, soul-searching number - one of the most intimate songs in U2's entire catalogue. And if you're thinking it sounds a little bit like something you've heard before at Christmastime, the song's musical structure is clearly inspired by the hymn Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel.

Larry Mullen and The Edge get their time in the spotlight on Breathe, with its drumtastic intro and crunchy guitar goodness. That's not to say that Bono is a slouch. We read where producer Brian Eno called this the "most U2" of any song the band has recorded, and we can see why.

Rather than send the album out with a soaring closing number, U2 mellows out with Cedars Of Lebanon. Bono does his best Lou Reed, speaking verses over a chill bassline. It's broken up by a haunting falsetto refrain ("Return... the call... to home") that practically evokes Sufjan Stevens. There's this bit of lyrical wisdom: "Choose your enemies carefully 'cos they will define you / Make them interesting 'cos in some ways they will mind you / They're not there in the beginning but when your story ends / Gonna last with you longer than your friends." And with that the album ends.

No Line On The Horizon is entirely pleasing, but rarely is it utterly thrilling. And given the standard set by the band and the clout of their production partners, we expected more. Ultimately, No Line On The Horizon is a solid upper-mid tier entry in U2's discography with three or four tracks that are truly great, and a couple that may floor you.

Download worthy: Unknown Caller / Fez - Being Born / White As Snow / Breathe