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One of the things I love about music is that it is still magic. And part of that magic is its ability to turn into something else in a given moment. -- Bono

Shiny, Happy People

Jerusalem Post
What goes around comes around. After passionate, spiritual firebrands U2 spent the last decade distancing themselves from their past via devilish alter egos, electronica, and Andy Warhol-laced pop-art irony, Bono and friends have pushed the envelope further by reinventing themselves as... passionate, spiritual firebrands.

Granted the fire is on a lower flame, but All That You Can't Leave Behind leaves behind the giant lemons and garish rock-star trappings, and focuses on the songs. As Bono sings in the relaxed, hummable "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get out Of," "I'm just trying to find a decent melody, a song I can sing in my own company."

He not only succeeds beyond expectations with that minor ambition, but the Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen go one step beyond, providing their strongest set of songs since 1987's The Joshua Tree.

They sound like a band who have had the weight of the earth lifted from their shoulders, and dare I say, bubbly and even happy.

"Beautiful Day" is classic shimmering U2, uplifting and inspiring, propelled by Mullen's thumping beat and Edge's trademark jackhammer guitar. But don't think that they're merely repeating past formula. Tempered by age and wisdom, the band no longer attempts to batter the listener into submission with its righteous fervor. Subtlety is the key here, with songs like the sunny "Wild Honey" and "Kite" sounding like an earnest folk-rock combo, not unlike the R.E.M. of their Out of Mind/Automatic For the People period. The band's down-to-earth buoyancy and simple clarity will instantly elicit a smile. "In a Little While" will break that smile into a grin, as the band hunkers down on a seductive Al Green groove behind one of Bono's most soulful vocals ever.

The album provides one new anthem, the majestic "Walk On" that encapsulates all of U2's strengths into four sublime minutes. And the plaintive intensity of "Peace on Earth" finds Bono doing more with less, economically making his point without bluster.

Longtime collaborators Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois create just the right mix of electronic embellishment without smothering the organic quartet interaction. Whether it be the trashy garage rock of "Elevation" or the hymn-like album closer "Grace," All That You Can't Leave Behind is U2 stripped to its essence, keeping only the exquisiteness that can't be left behind.

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