After a decade of dance experiments, All That You Can’t Leave Behind was hailed upon release for being something of a return to U2’s straight rock sound. That should have been a good thing for longtime fans tired of sifting through remixes in search of a decent song. But while the album definitely sounded like the U2 of old, unfortunately it sounds a little too much like the U2 of old.
The boys are still masters of track sequencing, starting off with “Beautiful Day”, an okay single that somehow got swept up into post-9/11 patriotism. Dangling preposition aside, “Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” is up there with their best, something of a “Don’t Give Up” for the new millennium. “Elevation” is a fun one, even though the delivery of the words (“a MOLE/digging in a HOLE”) reminds us of an old Bloom County strip we’ll link to as soon as we can find it online. “Walk On” and “Kite” reach for that big stadium sound, the former another statement of support, and the latter an acknowledgement of the passage of time.
The rest of the album pretty much plummets from there. “In A Little While” takes a Hendrixian riff, the type Pearl Jam would use, and stretches it into little more than a demo. “Wild Honey” is another departure, a mostly acoustic duet for Bono and The Edge. “Peace On Earth” might have made it as a Christmas song, but the lyrics are too pointedly connected to a genocide to be a radio staple. Similarly, “When I Look At The World” is just too sappy. “New York” should have been left to Lou Reed, while “Grace”, the quiet finale, sounds more like a Daniel Lanois track (after all, he coproduced the album with Brian Eno) than a U2 composition.
Even if the boys were “normal” again, there’s still plenty of posing in everything that comes out of Bono’s mouth. His voice sounds weary on most of the tracks, and the lyrics just aren’t there. Maybe they were tired of trying to turn the music world on its ear. They certainly can’t be blamed for that. All That You Can’t Leave Behind fills the prescription just fine, and was rewarded with steady sales, sellout shows and raves from fans. But in the end, the album is just plain ordinary, and that’s something we never expected to say about U2.
U2 All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2000)—3