March 5, 2009 by MK
So, we’ve already lamented the fact that Rolling Stone sent U2 to the showers early with that obligatory 5-star review. But now that No Line on the Horizon has had a few official days to breathe, let’s put the MDL’s official review to web paper.
In short, it’s a mixed bag. No Line rings with promise but descends to such comedic lows that it’s hard to believe all the talent in the room (U2, Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois and Steve Lillywhite) couldn’t recognize the difference between transcendent (‘Magnificent’) and truly dreadful (‘Stand Up Comedy’). And the fact that perhaps the worst song on the album, “Get On Your Boots,” was chosen as the first single (let alone for album inclusion) is a stunning oversight. You mean to tell me that Brian Eno, a man of impeccable taste, listened to “Boots” and said, “This needs to be on the album guys” (Digression: I will say that the bridge of “Let me in the sound” is what the 80’s me would have called “rad”). Or that he heard Bono’s lyrics from “Stand Up Comedy” and didn’t want to smash the boards with a Louisville Slugger?
Stand up, this is comedy
The DNA lottery may have left you smart
But can you stand up to beauty, dictator of the heart
I can stand up for hope, faith, love
But while I’m getting over certainty
Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady
Now, I come from the school of Lyrics Don’t Matter but this is simply too much to stomach. It certainly doesn’t help that Bono’s vox are way up in the mix so there’s no eluding a line like, “I’ve got a submarine / You’ve got gasoline / I don’t wanna talk about wars between nations.”
But that’s the worst of it. The best of it does, in fact, soar. Opener “No Line on the Horizon” captures a “Where the Streets Have No Name” side 1/track 1 vibe. And the perfect follow-up is achieved with the Pop-esque anthem “Magnificent.” Tracks 3 and 4 remain sturdy enough to trick you into believing Rolling Stone’s 5-star review. And then the bottom drops out. As is their way, U2 frontloads the record with all the good songs, only to come up for air again with track 10’s ascending “Breathe.”
I hate to say it, but we’ve already heard this U2, and better. They’re called Coldplay. Especially when you consider that they took 5 years, aborted sessions with Rick Rubin, rounded up their powerhouse producing team and went back into the studio to record songs that they deemed too good not to put on the album, it’s a real disappointment. Imagine if they had blown it up and gone for this year’s model of Achtung Baby or at least the experimental near-success of Pop. But, they probably can’t anymore. That sense of career gambling is more than likely forever behind them. And that’s not the end of the world. They’re at least putting out records-to-be-taken-seriously after almost 30 years. It could be worse. A lot worse. Chris Cornell worse.
So, not 5 stars and not their worst album. The answer lies somewhere boringly in the middle. And U2 wasn’t meant to be in the middle.
Best Song: Magnificent
Worst Song: Stand Up Comedy
Final Score: 5 out of 10