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Review: U2 No Line On The Horizon (Part 1)

I have been wanting to write an extended review of U2's new album. As I started writing, I discovered I had a lot more to say than one post could safely hold. As an act of mercy to the reader, I am dividing the review into several parts. Here is part one.

My first U2 album--and it was an album--was The Unforgettable Fire. I had heard songs off their previous record, War. You could hear the punk edge in Bono’s voice and The Edges’s guitar on War. But, Unforgettable Fire was a different animal. It was ethereal, impressionistic, full of dreams and stream of conscious lyricism, from the defiant In The Name Of Love to the powerful Bad. Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois had taken the boys from Dublin into uncharted waters, and I was hooked.

25 year later, U2 has seen lots of musical changes, experiments, dead-ends and improvisations. The wonderful illusion of U2 is that they shed styles. Instead, they maintain those previous music styles and recycle them over and over. There isn’t a type of song that U2 hasn’t done, no theme they haven’t explored or exploited. Bono, Edge, Larry and Adam have done it all.

No Line On The Horizon is U2’s 12th studio album. Once again, Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois are at the faders, along with longtime producer Steve Lillywhite. The rolling stone of styles and themes accumulated over the previous records combine to produce a sparkling, ambitious, if somewhat uneven effort.

I love listening to the “edge” of records. The background interests me: can you hear the room? How long does that echo or flange sustain? There is no shortage of ear sweetened goodies to listen out for on No Line, starting with the title track. The guitars at the start sound like sirens, trumpets calling out. The little quirky fuzz chord in the second verse that counterpoints the rhythm guitar.

Bono growls out, a world-weary soul facing the awesome power of nature and the seduction of the intellect:

I know a girl who's like the sea
I watch her changing every day for me

One day she's still, the next she swells
You can hear the universe in her sea shells


I know a girl with a hole in her heart
She said infinity is a great place to start

She said "Time is irrelevant, it's not linear"
Then she put her tongue in my ear

Nature is a dynamic force here. Bono’s view of the earth is not the mothering type. Nature is volatile, mutable and sexy. She takes just as much as she gives.

Ideas and experiences tickle our mind and our senses. A great idea can seduce like a skillful lover, and demand more of us than we’re willing to give. When we’re open to experience, thinking in new ways, our world changes and shifts--even the parts of our life we are so comfortable with:

Every night I have the same dream
I'm hatching some plot, scheming some scheme

I'm a traffic cop, rue du Marais
The sirens are wailing but it's me that wants to get away

Once we have seen the world differently, in all its beauty and sacredness, and its sublime, awesome terror, it’s hard to turn back. The truth of a thing is troubling, not soothing. But, there is an answer. The epiphany is in the chorus--No line on the horizon. There is no border, no edge. You will never reach a place where there is no awe, no wonder. Our perception of edges, of definite points of place and being are challenged by an endlessly encompassing, infinitely diverse world.

Next time: Magnificent and Moment of Surrender 

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