No Line On the Horizon

Back in 2006, when Bono and the rest of U2 were set to record with Rick Rubin at Abbey Road Studios, the Irish singer suggested a new direction for the band was in the offing. "We're gonna continue to be a band, but maybe the rock will have to go; maybe the rock has to get a lot harder. But whatever it is, it's not gonna stay where it is.”

With that statement in mind No Line On the Horizon, the band’s new CD, offers one big surprise – nothing much has changed. The band decided to discontinue their efforts with Rubin who demanded a more structured approach to recording than the band’s usual freeform style of writing and transforming songs as they recorded. Instead, the band enlisted the help of producers from U2’s past, namely Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno with additional help from Steve Lillywhite. The band moved the recording sessions to Fez, Morocco where the team of musicians took in the influences of their environs, including bird calls in the open air recording atmosphere.

Despite the fact that both Lanois and Eno contributed to the communal writing process these songs are quintessentially U2. Perhaps it’s a testament to the originality of the band that their sound is so identifiable. The moment The Edge’s guitar meet’s Larry Mullen’s and Adam Clayton’s rhythmic beats you know you’re listening to U2. As for Bono, he possesses one of rock’s most distinctive voices. But that is also the hurdle to be cleared when attempting a change-up to the band’s sound. True, the boys have thrown in a bit of trance and African elements but these act as spice rather than setting a new direction. The first single from the record “Get On Your Boots,” is 3 minutes of hyper-rock in the mode of “Vertigo,” the first hit from their last album. From here U2 offers up a mix of epic anthems, ballads, and more rockers that, at times, sounds derivative of past U2 hits. “Breathe” borrows a theme from one of their earlier hits as Bono sings “these days are better than that,” highly suggestive of “Some Days are Better Than Others.”

Bono sheds his skin by writing in character, taking on the persona of a junkie in 2 songs (“Moment of Surrender” and “Unknown Caller”), a veteran in Afghanistan, and a traffic cop. The band shines on songs that take them to their base material – spirituality and love. “Magnificent” equates love with redemption and features some of the best known U2 tools of past records, including chiming guitar and vocal crescendos. “Fez – Being Born” acknowledges the Moroccan night life that helped inspire the recording.

Although No Line On the Horizon may not be as groundbreaking as promised it is still a worthy collection of songs that prove the staying power of U2. One might say they are the Rolling Stones of their generation.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix Host)