"This is the stuff that in the end makes us what we are. It's the stuff that you can't leave behind, the personality of the band, the way we interact with each other."
-- Edge, on All That You Can't Leave Behind
Special Report: U2 Album Playback, London
October 13, 2004
It's the 27th floor of London's Centre Point -- one of the city's tallest structures. Security is tight with the insistence that all potential recording devices are left in lockers on the ground floor. The room is decked out like a nightclub with low, red lighting and speakers mounted in every direction. It's the U2 playback. No expense spared.
Manager Paul McGuinness introduces the record to a small number gathered from national press. Tomorrow, the whole affair will be repeated for regional press and on Thursday, for TV and Radio.
McGuiness starts by talking about the band's label. "It's odd to be on such good terms with the record company. Of course, there's always a little pushing and shoving, but it's great to have all the records in one place and not be squabbling with former labels over best ofs. The people at Island are the smartest in the business and the most fascinating thing over the last 25 years is that they continue to do their best work."
On U2 and the forthcoming album, he says, "The band have become more and more ambitious. Yes, the albums get longer and longer to make."
He continues, "London is the centre of the musical world, mostly because of the paranoia it induces and the savage criticism. We are as scared of that as we always were."
How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb -- Preview:
On first listen, this is an entirely different record to 2000's All That You Can't Leave Behind, in fact, there appears to be no natural progression between the two. The relative calm, assured and complete tones of the former album have been usurped by a more consistently upbeat slab of work. The majority of tracks on HTDAAB swagger with uptempo melodies and adventurous guitar lines, probably resembling something more similar to 1997's Pop.
And, as is typical of a U2 album on first listen, the melodies and song structures are not entirely discernible. No doubt a few plays will correct that, but for the time being, only "Miracle Drug," "Love and Peace or Else," "All Because of You" and "Original of the Species," are the instantly accessible tracks.
The others: "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own," "City of Blinding Lights," "A Man and a Woman," "Crumbs On Your Table," "One Step Closer" and "Yahweh" appear to have almost confused, ramshackle song structures that demand more patience from the listener. Undoubtedly these will become the album's masterpieces.
While HTDAAB is standard U2 fodder, it is more appealing that the band has not settled for a remake of ATYCLB and has instead created something that could be described as a cacophony of the best in U2 sounds, and how they vary: HTDAAB incorporates shreds of so many brilliant and familiar moments from the past -- Bono's urgent vocals from War re-surface, the atmospherics of The Unforgettable Fire are ever-present, the adventure of Achtung Baby and the dirty distortion of Pop all seem to have been wrapped up, dismantled, and wrapped up again in that intricate bomb that is U2's distinct sound.
Track by track:
First single. U2 return the glory days of the early '80s when it was all confidence and style over content. The riff from October's "Two Hearts Beat As One" used in the middle eight will excite the most ardent U2 fans.
Edge digs up the guitar sound that is synonymous with The Joshua Tree, while the ending has the rousing drums that first appeared on U2's slight foray into hard rock on "Exit." Begins downtempo, but in true U2 fashion, rouses before too long.
Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own:
Slow ballad that again, invokes sounds more familiar on The Joshua Tree's "Where the Streets Have No Name." An honest, heartfelt ballad that drops rather unexpectedly to a sinister minor key two thirds of the way in.
Love and Peace or Else:
Bono and Edge's love of Bowie and Stooges, plus Larry Mullen's continued Ramones influence is plastered all over this track. Reminiscent of "Mofo" on Pop, it flaunts distorted basslines and dampened drums, yet manages to be simultaneously progressive.
City of Blinding Lights:
Sounds as though it is a lost track from 20 years ago that could have appeared on The Unforgettable Fire -- this is mainly owed to the production that seems to have Daniel Lanois written all over it. Not a particularly obvious song, but one that has the potential to be a U2 classic.
All Because of You:
This is undoubtedly one of the most obvious and accessible tracks on the album. It arrives with a warning bell sound and proceeds to kick in like Pop's "Discotheque." Pure swagger and rock 'n' roll. U2 at their finest.
A Man and a Woman:
The vocals on this sound as though they were recorded in 1983 for War. How Bono has managed to pull this off after ageing 20 years is beyond belief. The combination of this and the acoustic guitar sends flashbacks of War's "Drowning Man," however, the incredibly slick production serves to remind us that this is, after all, 2004.
Crumbs From Your Table:
Maybe one of the slightly weaker songs, this is modern U2 which is almost as adventurous as Achtung Baby and at times, sounds a little like "Mysterious Ways." The breakdown at the end, however, is stunning.
One Step Closer:
Very traditional downtempo, atmospheric classic U2 number.
Original of the Species:
Very accessible, pop melody that isn't too far removed, in some senses from mid-career Beatles. It's a love ballad that could have featured on All You Can't Leave Behind.
Huge chiming guitars, incredibly uptempo song that seems to be calling out for the ancient Hebrew God.
Features arabic style drumming that gives way to marriachi rhythms. Excellent energetic song and unusual for U2 to complete an album on an upbeat note.
In the meantime, the band has lent its music for advertisment purposes for the first time today. Vertigo is the backing track for the latest iPod advert, which also features the band playing in Apple silhouette style. To watch the two minute advert, log on to: www.apple.com/itunes/u2/.
Â© Music Week, 2004.