Heavy guitars, intense sound. Grinding at the bottom and soaring overhead. Bono is doing things with his voice that are new, elastic, exciting. He hasn't sounded this good since Achtung Baby, before he had health issues with his throat. I never thought we'd get to hear him way out here again -- he's pushing himself, hurtling himself into these songs. It's exhilarating.
U2 has never disappointed with an album's opening track, and this is no different -- the first song, No Line on the Horizon, is deceiving with a little electronic hum for its opening measure, and then an onslaught of Edge lets you know you have entered a U2 world of a different shape...
The sounds coming out of them in this record are new. The songs occasionally nod to the past -- Edge's chiming guitars… Bono's crying tenor …plus Eno's swirling atmospherics -- but only to make their present impact stronger... They are not the same band they were in the Eighties: Larry and Adam have become a powerhouse rhythm section that adds an earthiness and structural grandeur they never had in the old days.
The new album's first single, Get On Your Boots, is a funky attention-getter (just like Vertigo was for Atomic Bomb), an unorthodox sound for them ... But so is everything else on the new album! I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight could sit comfortably on All that You Can't Leave Behind, and maybe Stand Up Comedy could have come from Atomic Bomb. But everything else is at the Unforgettable Fire level of experimentation, and at the Achtung Baby level of substance. And I should add, at the Joshua Tree level of soul.
No Line on the Horizon is no small achievement. I can't help feeling things are different for them -- they actually added Eno and Lanois to the songwriting credits. Maybe that’s a belated acknowledgement of their longtime collaboration; maybe it’s a new way of being in the studio. In either case, U2 sounds like they have stretched, like they are new to themselves... like they are discovering new music within them, rather than honing sounds they've already learned. It's thrilling to hear.
And conceptually: these songs are challenging, and often powerfully impressionistic without being abstract... Bono the lyricist is on his game here. Much less cleverness, much greater poetic reach. The message of disorientation from the girl who's like a sea...always changing every day for me is not about feeling dizzy -- it's about how things in (H)er world are not measured according to the same gauges we are used to. "Time is irrelevant, it's not linear," then she put her tongue in my ear... Bono's tense protestations as he tries to figure her out give way to a low, unison chorus intoning, No line on the horizon, no line.
So just let go -- just let go! and you will be moved...