Q Magazine wrote, “Good Lord, it’s a masterpiece”. Oh well. For all that’s worth, for better or worse, this 12th U2 studio album has offered the audience a listening journey that is rarely seen these days – from the music and lyrics to the visual experience. What would this album be if U2 was to stick with producer Rick Rubin’s back to basics approach, I could only imagine. I in especially love Rubin’s recent work with Metallica’s “Death Magnetic”, Dixie Chicks’s “Taking The Long Way”, and Red Hot Chili Peppers’s “Stadium Arcadium” – just to name a few. These are major success, beyond commercial. And if U2 has decided to abandon the collaboration with Rick Rubin, one could only expect this album to be nothing but greatness.
But is it?
Some are quick to love it; some love it not. Some are not impressed with the lyrics; some spend much time deciphering the theme – song by song – and even theorize how the last song takes us back to the first. Some don’t get the film “Linear” by Anton Corbijn that features all the songs from the album and more; some do. Some think this is an original piece of work; some disagree. Some say that it is a far cry from being experimental; some swear by it. To be frank, even for the not-as-good U2 albums, they are still way better than the majority of records in the market, past and present. I doubt if the fans could ever agree on the best U2 albums ever made. Or for those who like this new album, we debate on which track works and which doesn’t.
Why this diverse reception from the fan base?
It has got to be a testimony of the artwork diversity U2 produces over the year. Here is my personal listening journey with “No Line On The Horizon”. Like any of my “tier 1 artists”, I bought the album when it’s out, without sampling the songs.
At first listen, yes, it’s good old Bono’s characteristic over-the-top-passion-filled vocals. Then I noticed the prominent bass line played by Adam Clayton, something I haven’t quite noticed since the days of “With Or Without You”. Nice! By the third song, I noticed The Edge playing solo. That’s a surprise because I don’t recall to hear him plays in that style often. By the time I have completed a first listen, I was much impressed by the drums variation Larry Mullen Jr. has poured in each and every song. I think our drummer would like this album based on the fact that each song is presented differently.
But something seemed missing. I wished that the choruses were more memorable than the verses. Somehow the less-than-impressive kind of rhyming lyrics like “submarine” and “gasoline”, “restart” and “re-boot” got stuck in my head. Yes, there are outstanding tracks such as “Magnificent” and “Moment of Surrender”, “Get On Your Boots” and “Cedars of Lebanon” that I would listen to them again and again. But no, not every song I could fall head over heels with immediately.
After a couple of days of trying to comprehend U2’s latest work, I started to examine the printed lyrics (very nice booklet that comes with the CD by the way). Very impressive piece of work. Subtle reference to religion, little or no reference to politics, and much on humanity. Words like “This shitty world sometimes produces a rose” or “[Your enemy] gonna last with you longer than your friend” talk to me. And then I spent 3 hours downloading the film that comes with the album. Very artistic film. It’s not your usual MTV nor Hollywood production. Simple, yes. But if my band could make videos like these, I would be more than happy.
My initial impression on what’s missing remains, though much diminished the more I listen to it. Could this be a masterpiece? It is certainly an outstanding piece of artwork. I tried listening to other albums at HMV today and the rest seem so bland. I tend to agree with Q Magazine and Rolling Stone, “No Line On The Horizon” is their best album since “Achtung Baby”.
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