It's been three and a half years since the release of No Line On The Horizon and many of you, I'm sure, are eagerly awaiting the band's next full-length studio effort.
Here's what I want: a killer U2 half-album.
The first four songs of No Line -- the slow burn of the title track, the uplift of "Magnificent," the ambient overtones in "Moment Of Surrender," the echoes of Sufi music in "Unknown Caller" -- are all of a piece. Musically, if not also lyrically, they are a self-contained narrative; they take you from Point A to Point B. Even "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight" kind of works in this context: It serves as a coda, a sigh of relief after the emotional intensity of the previous couple of songs.
The album begins to lose the thread, though, with "Get On Your Boots." It's not that the remaining songs are bad. It's just that the latter half of No Line -- to me, anyway -- comes across as slightly haphazard, like the band knew what songs they wanted to include but really weren't sure how they all fit together.
This has happened before. The first half of All That You Can't Leave Behind is seamless. From the opening blast of "Beautiful Day" to the final, mournful chorus in "Kite," it is designed for maximum emotional impact: Joy leads inevitably to sorrow; elevation and liberation can only end in an overpowering sense of melancholy.
The second half? It's mostly just a collection of songs.
The Passengers album? Kind of the same thing. The first four tracks offer a mini-master class in form: the claustrophobic bullet train of "United Colours" followed by the neon-lit "Slug" and "Your Blue Room," and then by the robotic tension-and-release of "Always Forever Now." To this day, I can't tell you the running order of the other songs on the record.
And finally -- I'm just gonna say it -- in terms of musical flow, Side A of The Joshua Tree eats Side B for breakfast.
So if U2 are right now sitting in Dublin or the South of France or wherever fretting over the running order of the second side of the next record, here's my advice: Stop worrying and just give us that awesome Danger Mouse-produced half-album we know you already have. I, for one, can't wait to hear it.
Do you ever think to yourself, "That Bono is a great singer, but sometimes I wish he wouldn't use words"?
I'm not saying I don't like when he does use words, only that I find those instances where he doesn't oddly compelling. I could go on for hours about Bono's best wordless moments. In the interests of time, though, here are three of my favorites, all of them from recent years:
"Unknown Caller (Live From U2360)" -- "Unknown Caller" is my favorite track from No Line On The Horizon, so I was thrilled when this recording was announced as a bonus download from U2.com -- not having made the cut for the U22 members-only CD release. On the studio recording, a French horn provides a stately introduction to the searing guitar solo that closes the song. Live, this task fell to Terry Lawless on the Hammond organ and Bono on the ba-ba-ba's. The latter offers just the right mix of absurdity and naked yearning, as only Bono can do.
"I Believe In Father Christmas" -- Another one from the "Bono imitates a musical instrument" files. The original version of this progressive rock Christmas classic -- by Greg Lake of the rarely subtle Emerson, Lake & Palmer -- features strings and choirs and a final bit of bombast with trumpets, timpani and whatever else Lake could get his hands on. U2 go the opposite route, closing the song with only Edge's chiming guitar and Bono's subdued ba-ba-ba's. You can decide which is the more affecting.
"Gimme Shelter (with Mick Jagger, Fergie and will.i.am)" -- If you can get past the image of Jagger leering at Fergie -- who could almost be his granddaughter -- you'll find a stunning performance here, a vocal tour de force with Fergie taking on Merry Clayton's signature lines from the original recording. The final minutes of the song feature Jagger and Fergie facing off -- "It's just a shot away … It's just a kiss away" -- as Bono's "la-la-la" counterpoint comes bubbling up underneath. All of it makes for a spine-tingling performance, and my very favorite of Bono's wordless moments.