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Go to U2 internet sites, they're murder. I mean, where is this sycophancy, can I ask someone? -- Bono

Explosive Sounds From U2

The Western Australian
A copy of U2's eleventh studio album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, was pinched out of the Edge's bag while the Irish megastars were doing a photo shoot earlier this year. So, you can understand their label, Island, and parent company Universal being a tad cautious with the finished product.

A copy was hand-delivered last Monday to Universal Music Australia's Sydney HQ in the Rocks by Island U.K.'s international marketing manager Chris Dwyer for an exclusive listening party. As a red light flashed outside the boardroom, mobile phones were confiscated as one of the company's staff half-jokingly patted us down for recording devices.

The CD was theatrically brought to the boardroom by another staffer dressed in a radiation suit, the message being that U2 have delivered their most explosive album in years. The fake bombs and missiles positioned around the room drove home the point.

So, what's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb like? Well, keeping in mind that I've only heard it once -- on the day after the ARIAs -- bloody good.

The album opens up at full throttle with first single "Vertigo"; pure, fist-pumping riffage built for speed and fun, much like "Elevation" from 2000's All That You Can't Leave Behind. Apple's latest iPod commercials will borrow the song; the first time U2 have licensed their music for an advertisement.

The most obvious feature of Atomic Bomb is the proud return of the Edge's clanging guitar; a trademark of classic albums The Unforgettable Fire (1984) and The Joshua Tree (1987).

This sound is apparent on the rumbling "City of Blinding Lights" and highlight "Crumbs From Your Table," a song about the AIDS crisis.

Aside from politics, the album dwells on the death of Bono's father in 2001. The singer recently told Q Magazine that he was the titular bomb emotionally dismantled by the loss. "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own" and the excellent "One Step Closer" are specifically about the late Bob Hewson.

Love ballads "Original of the Species" and "A Man and a Woman" sit neatly next to those spiritual numbers. The album closes with "Yahweh" -- the Hebrew word for God -- a song about Jerusalem that manages to be catchy as hell while pondering another big issue.

Bono says the main theme of the album is the "journey from fear into faith."

Chris Thomas (Sex Pistols, Pulp) worked on How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb for a year before being replaced by long-time collaborator Steve Lillywhite, who helms seven tracks. All That You... co-producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois team up for the fuzzed-out stomp of "Peace and Love or Else," while Thomas, Flood, Jacknife Lee and Nellee Hooper also contributed in the studio. Despite the many hands, Atomic Bomb doesn't feel forced or over stylised. Bono's lyrics are disarming and his vocals fresh. Some songs lose the listener at the mid-point but usually have a killer hook or lyric to bring you back in for the finale.

Making a U2 album is never an easy task. When asked how he knows when the record is finished, bass Adam Clayton deadpanned: "When it's in the shops."

Atomic Bomb hits record stores on November 21, preceding a huge 2005 for U2. They start their world tour in Miami next March and the smart money is on them dropping into Australia next October.

© West Australian Newspapers Ltd., 2004.