like a lot of internet punters, i have been fortunate enough to come across a copy of U2's latest effort, "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" (HTDAB). initial listenings of the album didn't impress me, although subsequent ones embedded 'Vertigo' into my mental muzac despite a certain meaninglessness to the lyrics - in other words it succeeded as a pop song. most of the songs fall into this category: fairly catchy, safe lyrically and musically and sounding like the U2 that we used to know and love.
although my initial impression was relatively harsh, i still stand behind what i've written (which i've included below) - the release is only impressive if you look at it in terms of the fact that U2 has been around for 25 years and is still making music people will flock to record stores to buy. i'm sure fans will love the album and pack stadiums to see the mythical four perform. they definitely deserve induction into the rock'n'roll hall of fame. that said, this recording doesn't do or say anything new. saying it is a rehash may be too harsh - it is more like a familiar revisitation packaged for commercial consumption.
i can't help but feel somewhat let down by this bland effort which to me pales against classics like "War" "Joshua Tree" and "Achtung Baby". it is also utterly straight-laced (and almost simplistic) compared to the self-reflexive, somewhat dangerous semi-arthouse pop of “Zooropa” and “Pop”. i’m sure bono could go into the complexities and nuances of his lyrics on HTDAB, but as a listener and long time fan, there is not enough to maintain my interest lyrically. then again it is easy for me to be critical being that it is not my album yielded from years of time and effort.
would i go to see U2 in concert given the chance? hell yes. their live performances rock, and they have a mountain of fantastic material to perform. case in point, they recently appeared on the american tv show "Satuday Night Live" and performed three songs on air to rapturous crowds (most perform two) - they played more, but they had to cut off the live feed at 1am. they are legendary musicians and are worth seeing if you have a chance.
that said, i still don't think i could part with the money to buy their latest record. some might say that i’m the one playing it safe by only listening to previous efforts. but i do it in order to maintain a sense of nostalgia about the band i grew up with - one with a rebel spirit and a certain amount of pomposity that embraced the personal and the mystical, the earthly and the divine, the serious and the self-ridiculing to create music that resonates with me. the stuff i hear now is more like rock echoes of the spirit that i used to enjoy so much: it is familiar but ultimately empty.
posted in blogcritics.org 19/11/04:
i have listened to the album a few times now and my opinion hasn't changed much even though i just caught myself humming the chorus to vertigo...i find that the sound is a polished return to the original U2 sound a la "Boy" with hints of "War" and "Joshua Tree". that said, i found nothing quite as stunning or exciting as on the earlier efforts.
bono's vox sounds a bit strained most of the time and his lyrics don't have that same exciting insightful thoughtfulness as some of the classic U2 tracks. it's almost like they have sold out and are trying very hard to be "U2-ish" in order to prove they haven't lost their soul as a band. most of their lyrics amount to fairly clichéd platitudes about love, god and the world. gone are the statements about politics, the stories of people they knew, and the country they grew up in - in short their sincerity.
pretty music aside, the blandness of the songs makes me indifferent about this effort, which i'm sure will still garner the enthusiasm of fans who really want to like the album and thus get a ton of airplay. i mean, this is 'U-bloody-2' we're talking about, and we are only mere mortals.
don't get me wrong, i really like the musical aspect of the album - it's very clear and cohesive, drawing on the roots of the band's spirit. it's just they lyrics and bono's voice which bother me. although i've had trouble adjusting to all the changes the band have gone through in their lengthy evolution, i've had to respect their drive for some artistic expression, always pushing the boundaries of what they had known and what their fans would tolerate. but this "return" to U2 roots misses lyrically to the same extent that it hits musically. i found nothing soulful, profound, or even vaguely interesting - just a bunch of U2-like songs that wash over me like flotsam and are quickly forgotten.
i think the lyrics of the song "One Step Closer" pretty much sum up where the band is at this point:
"i'm on an island in a busy intersection/ i can't go forward now/ can't turn back/ can't see the future/ it's getting away from me / just watch the taillights glowing/ one step closer to knowing..."
i think we are one step closer to knowing they are only going through the motions.