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"My talent if it's anything is my approach to the guitar by the use of effects, by non-acceptance of the usual approaches to the guitar." — Edge

@U2 Staff Gives Positive Review of New Album


Just as we did for U2's previous two albums, several @U2 staffers have written short, personal reviews of No Line On The Horizon. Those are presented here in alphabetical order.

What makes a U2 album great? I'm sure it has something to do with place. On their great ones -- No Line On The Horizon included -- they create a place in which I can dwell. I can go somewhere else and, through the songs' characters, be someone else and always learn something about myself while on one of U2's great sonic adventures.

This time, I'm moving deeper into a world of beauty, hope and love, but it is still a world where, honestly, there is so much gray. And yet, something exciting is swirling around here. There is the feeling that at any moment this place might be bathed in sunshine and I could help turn on the light. Grays and whites; dark and light: U2 is probing the connections here.

Some songs tell me gray hasn't seen white for quite awhile: "Moment of Surrender," "White as Snow" and "Cedars of Lebanon." Others tell me there has been a recent encounter between gray and white -- I'm thinking of "No Line On The Horizon," "Unknown Caller" and "FEZ-Being Born." While the rest burn with Damascus-road brilliance, chasing the dark away: "Magnificent," "I'll Go Crazy," "Get on Your Boots," "Stand Up Comedy" and "Breathe." (As I work on understanding why this album has a hold on me, maybe I should ask, as the characters on the hit TV series Lost are asking, not "where am I" but "when am I"? Am I closer to midnight or the dawning?)

Leave it to U2 to realize the potency of gray and let it flow through these songs, giving an expected shot of vitality to the whole album and myself.

-- Scott Calhoun

It's a brilliant album.

I am a U2 fan, but I'm not an automatic fan of all things U2. I haven't listened to a single track from How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb since the Vertigo tour. I am lukewarm about All That You Can't Leave Behind -- I love some of the songs, but as an album it feels uneven to me, disconnected from itself and certainly disconnected from me. And so I've been worried.

And here I am, back again in the church of U2, mad in love with No Line On The Horizon.

It reminds me structurally of War -- an album in two parts that takes me on a single, spiraling journey to a place that I can only describe as "deep inside." Deep inside U2, who are in my opinion truly stretching themselves musically for the first time since Pop, and finally -- finally! -- back to making deeply personal music that is also sometimes political, as opposed to tub-thumping numbers or the horror that is "Window in the Skies." And deep inside myself, too; these are songs I can connect with, soar with, cry to, move to. Songs I can love.

The base of the music is what I love best about U2: the strength and grace of the bass and drums, the guitar like soul in flight, the voice that is someone's heart turned into sound. And from this base, the album climbs into places like "Breathe" and "Cedars of Lebanon" that literally take my breath away. I've never been so astonished by the ending of an album before.

It's good to be in love again. It's brilliant.

-- Kelley Eskridge

How can something feel so dismal and dark, while at the same time burst with spontaneous, shining light? I really don't know -- but the answer lies within the sounds of No Line On The Horizon. The album can't be confined to one genre, style or mood; it's served up in layers, like a rich tiramisu. Each flavor is to be savored until the next one hits unexpectedly, providing us with simultaneous cravings and satisfaction.

So, what are the layers?

The crust, which can often be too bitter or thick, consists of "White as Snow," "Cedars of Lebanon" and "Moment of Surrender." Sorry boys, even "Hey Jude" didn't need to be seven minutes long.

The topping, often just ornamentation for the rest of the dessert, is represented here by the pretty-but-geeky "Unknown Caller" and the ridiculous falsettos in "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight."

The cake, where much of our treat finds its blissful fluff, is composed of "No Line On The Horizon," "Get On Your Boots" and "FEZ-Being Born." These all take a while to rise, but the payoff is well worth the wait.

And finally the cream -- what we save for the last bite because it's so unimaginably delicious -- can be found in the tour-opening-worthy sonic assaults of "Magnificent," the familiar-yet-fresh grooves of "Stand Up Comedy," and the brilliant, infectious "Breathe," which allows each instrument (including Bono's voice) to shine. Even with cockatoo lyrics.

-- Tassoula E. Kokkoris

The themes of love, hope and redemption are interwoven through the fabric of No Line On The Horizon. However, the 11 tracks are more like quilt pieces than one knitted blanket, leaving me yearning to have it wrap around myself like the past U2 albums have.

As with every U2 release, there are some stellar songs ("Magnificent," "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight" and "Moment of Surrender") mixed with a few that translate more as art pieces than album filler ("FEZ - Being Born" and "Cedars of Lebanon"). As a comparison, the album's 25-year-old sibling, The Unforgettable Fire, has a similar feel and scope -- a collection of postcards from many journeys with a few tracks that have stood the test of time and others that challenge music as an art form. Passengers this album certainly is not, and thankfully shows U2 in a more relaxed state where the band is freer to experiment again.

As with any experiment, the results may vary. While the music is among the best Larry, Adam and The Edge have put together with the help of Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, Bono's foray into writing in different characters has me struggling to find with which voice this album communicates. It's this inconsistency that does not put this in the realm of Achtung Baby or The Joshua Tree in terms of "classic album" status. However, based on what's currently on the radio, the substantive and challenging nature of the music is a refreshing alternative to the pop drivel being fed to us.

At least Bono was right: The Edge certainly is on fire on this album.

-- Sherry Lawrence

A group of guys, comfortable in their own skin, playing music they want to play. What does it mean for the listener? Are you drawn in? Do you connect by discovering bits of yourself in the lyrics?

Every track on NLOTH has something worth hearing, like Larry and Adam's disco undercurrent on "Magnificent," or "Moment of Surrender," where Bono's vocal stretches over the song like a membrane. Edge is at his best on tracks where he escapes himself, like "Stand Up Comedy," and "Get On Your Boots." The album stalls when the band recycles the usual bits. The "whoa oh oh ohs" and Edge's chiming start sounding stale to the point of distraction, yanking you out of the song as you're listening. It's disconcerting, but maybe that's the point. Voice and instruments are perfectly balanced on "Breathe," a quintessential U2 song. The drama of the U2-patented build up/crescendo/fade and Edge's wicked guitar work makes this the best track on the album.

U2 has made a career of distilling their feelings about the world outside, but where is the conflict, the darkness to balance the light? Are they too comfortable? What's left to sing about? Peace in Ireland? Check. Millions of lives saved daily in Africa? Check. I'm not sure I can glean much from "White as Snow" or "Cedars of Lebanon" to make me care. Bono is good at writing songs that are open enough to insert your own experience, thereby making them your own, but I don't know how to relate to these songs (except for "Breathe"), and in the end, the songs you carry around are the ones you relate to most.

-- Marylinn Maione

I love this album. I love that I can squeeze more out of this album the more I listen to it. I love its depth. I love that it's more than a collection of songs. I love that the sequence of songs tells a story. I love that there are no songs I want to skip. I love that there are some goofy Bono lyrics, along with some dreadful Bono lyrics, but there are a lot more great ones. I love the Moroccan influences, much heavier than most people seem to think; the chanting on several songs -- beautifully African, voices as an instrument.

I think this is U2's most unabashedly Christian album. I think these are songs written by men who feel free to be themselves, warts and all, not afraid to plant a flag in the ground and say, "This is who we are now. This is what we think and feel, what we know and believe."

No Line makes me happy, makes me think, makes me count my blessings, makes me sing. It plants melodies in my head and sets my heart sailing. It's not my favorite U2 album, but might be someday. I don't know where it ranks among U2 albums, and I don't think it matters. I just love this album, and I want to keep squeezing more out of it. It'll keep giving and giving.

-- Matt McGee

This album is perhaps too strange a beastie for mass consumption, full of sketches, abstracts and disjointed imagery. (Is Bono going for one bizarre animal reference per album? Mole, tortoise, cockatoo?) That said, I'm a fan. I love it when U2 go weird. Of late they haven't been weird enough.

Some songs are clunkers. The lyrics, when bad, are spectacularly so. But when the songs are good, they are very, very good. In these, words give way to ecstatic "Ohs" and the instruments pull back just when a lesser band would go into a deafening crescendo. "The final mark of greatness, I think, is emptiness," Bono said in '01. The best songs -- the first four on the album -- all yearn for silence.

Who do these songs address? Cathleen Falsani is surprised that critics read "I was born to sing for you" in "Magnificent" as a boast to Bono's audience. But the "you" in U2 songs has long been ambiguous. The list of suspects grows longer each album: Is "you" God, a woman, the individual listener, the audience en masse, Bono's bandmates, or Edge's guitar? The very structure of No Line's best songs reinforces the sense that the true answer is "all of the above." Take "Unknown Caller," where the singer is instructed to "Cease to speak/that I may speak." Who's saying this? God? Well, yeah. But who will shout these lines at him in the concerts? That's right ... we will. (And who speaks after the instruction, "Don't move or say a thing"? Edge's guitar.)

-- Angela Pancella


© @U2, 2009.