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'No Line' Review

Nick Moore reviews U2's latest album "No Line on the Horizon."

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Rarely does an album cover represent its musical contents as well as the bleak stretch of colorless desert that fronts U2's new disc, No Line on the Horizon. Its first few songs fail to break the tonal languor represented so well by the dreary cover, sounding at times like imitations-both of their former hits as well as their younger musical peers'. Struggling for identity, it's spurred along by some very 21st-century production, while at the same time taking shelter in the comfort of time-tested techniques.

The first minute of "FEZ-Being Born" and various interludes throughout this song sound more likely to be found on an experimental Animal Collective album than one of middle-aged stadium rock. This electronic undercurrent runs throughout the album, slowly building a pile of synthesizer-generated refuse, only to be power-washed clean by a wailing guitar that interrupts constantly.

Picking up the pace plays more to the band's strengths, allowing guitarist The Edge to fill the sonic space with his signature ringing guitar lines. "I'll Go Crazy if I Don't Go Crazy Tonight" is a raucous delight despite its silly chorus, while the jangling, sloppy lead riff on "Stand Up Comedy" gives it a SoCal garage rock feel that almost works but comes off as generic. It's like picturing Bono sporting vintage wayfarers instead of his trademark yellow tinted, oh-so-edgy shades: It looks good on some people, but for him it just doesn't fit.

For a man who's as outspoken about world issues and political abuses as Bono, his No Line lyrics are so inane that it seems like some sort of self-satire. Replacing the earnest simplicity of their greatest lyrical efforts-unpretentious and thoughtful songs like "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and "With or Without You"-are line after line of vague, self-conscious references to some unintelligible existential crisis. Doesn't he care about Africa or something? Occasionally writing a song about an actual topic, like his love for himself and Africans, for example, or maybe about how cool it is to wear sunglasses 24/7- perhaps even telling a story-would make U2 sound a bit more engaged in their music.

When not straining for lyrical profundity, Bono's party-oriented lyrics help reinforce this sense of disingenuous songwriting. Bono revels in recounting the parties and sleepless nights in which he apparently still takes part. The synthy beat buried in "Get On Your Boots" bears an uncanny resemblance to that Kylie Minogue hit of yesteryear, "Can't Get You Out of My Head." It's an incoherent pastiche of Euro-pop and hard-rock riffs, topped by Bono's embarrassing ode to boots.

In a stark contrast, "White as Snow" makes the best use of U2's newfound studio freedom. A sparse ballad, it exhibits the subtler side of The Edge's picking. He rolls out notes like a distorted take on flamenco. Like many of their past hits, the track contains a carefully choreographed build-up of rhythmic speed and energy, punctuating its crescendo with an elegant keyboard solo. The meticulous care granted in the last few songs prove U2's enduring capacity for music that's personal and powerful, while highlighting the insincerity of the album's first half.

It's the oldest dilemma in music: how to expand artistically and stay relevant without losing the signature elements. After more than 30 years together, U2 have proven themselves remarkably adept at reconciling these dodgy career challenges. Trying to combine a new sound with old methods is a formidable task, but with No Line, it seems that the worst place to be is in the middle.

Sport vintage wayfarers with Nick at [email protected]

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