U2 - No Line on the Horizon
It’s only that guy in the coma, buried deep in that underground bunker, with his earplugs in that doesn’t know enough to have an opinion on U2. And today, it’s more likely that your opinion of the band is informed as much from your opinion of Bono as much as their music. His shtick is fundamental; Bono the politician, campaigner, spokesperson, global patroniser or baby kisser can never be extricated from Bono the rock god.
To their credit, U2 have never traded on past glories. Despite astronomical successes, they have resisted revisiting and rehashing old masters. And be sure they have enough in their attic to keep busy for years. However, having gone through three intense periods of creative fertility – War, The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby – the band are at the point where U2 is more important than any new music they might make.
You get the feeling they know this and the result is as understated as anything they’ve done. Moments are ethereal and bewitching – ‘Cedars of Lebanon’, ‘Moment of Surrender’, ‘White as Snow’, ‘Breathe’ and the title track – the other half is riddled with U2 clichés. ‘I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight’ and ‘Stand up Comedy’ are as forced and corny as the title suggests, while ‘Get your Boots on’ is just, well … creepy. They sound like U2 trying really hard to be U2. And they miss the mark by miles.
The downbeat, reflective vibe is a welcome contrast to a preceding decade of stadia-levitating rock gargantuanness – which can get exhausting with all that fist pumping vacuity – but there’s an itching feeling that this is the beginning of the end for U2. They cannot outdo themselves in scale or ambition, they are the very zenith of rock music aspiration already. They can however plateau, Dylan-style and tour forever, or just quit and start that U2 donkey sanctuary we’ve been waiting for.
U2 were still attractive enough a proposition a couple of years back to sell iPods, but are they still fit to fill them? On evidence of this, yes, for now, but only as long as they can stop being so self-consciously U2.