Outside of two new songs on 2006’s U218 Singles compilation—one of which was a collaboration with Green Day; neither of which were very exciting—it was another five-year wait to the next U2 album. In the meantime there was the usual talk about how they’d finally got their old sound back. That wasn’t immediately apparent on No Line On The Horizon but there were enough echoes of their early albums to make it sound like, well, U2.
The title track explodes with a heavy beat and Mideastern touches, under Bono’s yell. “Magnificent” manages to cross the classic sound with the Achtung Baby era for a decent single. Despite all the accolades for its “universal” lyrical content, “Moment Of Surrender” simply takes too long to achieve the chorus. Much more effective, and working on the same theme, “Unknown Caller” nicely works in response vocals like the better parts of Zooropa; the extremely familiar Edge guitar sound helps too. “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” is a dumb pop song, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it sounds like it was written specifically for arena concerts.
By the same token, the lead single, “Get On Your Boots”, fills the same role as “Vertigo” did on the previous album, a catchy stomper designed to grab. They get almost funky on “Stand Up Comedy”, but complicate it with several changes that reduce it to not much. We get just a hint of experimentation on the moody intro of “Fez—Being Born”; the main part of the song succeeds by concentrating less on lyrics and more on sound. “White As Snow” takes its melody from a Christmas carol for an effective meditation on a soldier’s death. The mood is jarred by the hip rap speak in “Breathe”, before going quiet yet again on “Cedars Of Lebanon”, another reflection on war.
U2 come in like a lion and go out like a lamb on No Line On The Horizon, making for a slightly underwhelming listen. For the first time, each of the tracks gave writing credits to Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois instead of simple production; Steve Lillywhite is on hand for a few songs as well. They also insisted that they had another album’s worth of material they’d be putting out almost immediately; naturally, that did not happen. Meanwhile, the band tours and tours, and we wonder how long they can keep going.
U2 No Line On The Horizon (2009)—3