Plumbiferous Media

No Line on the Horizon – U2

Mar 1st 2009
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No Line on the Horizon - U2U2
No Line on the Horizon
Score: 44

U2. They really need no introduction, given that they’ve now released their twelfth studio album, No Line on the Horizon, which has received very favorable reviews, including a big 5/5 stars from Rolling Stone. So it’s a fairly natural assumption that after about 22 years, producing a very solid album should be within U2’s comfort zone, right? Sadly, not quite.

This is not to say that No Line on the Horizon is a bad album though. It is filled to the brim (perhaps overfilled?) with dense washes of sound that are mixed excellently – except for the drums, which often overpower the rest of the instruments and occasionally, for whatever reason, at points sound canned. Of course, U2 makes sure to let you know that the drums are, in fact, not canned, by including some absolutely miserable synthesized percussion in “Moment of Surrender” for comparison. In addition, U2 of all bands should realize that playing synthesized sounds back and forth from the left to right ear isn’t fun or interesting; it’s nauseating. But really, while the above may make the album sound as if it is absolutely miserable, the instrumentals are really, except for occasional marring, good, though there’s not much particularly new that is also worth a listen.

The vocals on No Line on the Horizon are nothing new for U2, and the distinctive strains of Bono’s voice are, as usual, a defining element of the album. The degree to which his voice follows the music (or rather, the music follows his voice) is quite profound, which both prevents the music from ever being jarring or, more importantly, distinguishable. Occasionally, it seems like No Line on the Horizon would have been much better off without the vocals, at least for a while. This is most notable on “FEZ-Being Born,” where a strong instrumental section is marred by the introduction of vocals. The vocal transitions are also sometimes ill-advised, as during the final track of No Line on the Horizon, “Cedars of Lebanon,” where an excellent combination of lyrics and vocals is interrupted by a sudden shift in tone.

Lyrically, No Line on the Horizon is no less typically U2, with a number of strong hooks and choruses. However, the album is marred by a number of weak lyrical sections. The lyrics are occasionally over-reliant on repetition (“Let me in the music” and “No line on the horizon” are two examples), though these are relatively short sections. “Everybody needs to cry or needs to spit” and “I’ll go crazy if I don’t go crazy tonight” are two odd and yet somewhat meaningful lines from the song of the latter title. However, it also must be noted that No Line on the Horizon is populated with lines such as “Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady” – more irritating than anything else. When the album is studded with lines like this – half platitude and half badly-considered allegory, the overall effect is not a positive one. Between the two categories, it’s essentially a wash. There are occasional notable lines scattered about, but the rest is at best merely decent and at worst awful.

The best part of No Line is everything without Bono. With only a few exceptions, Bono has ruined some truly amazing instrumental lines with his obviously optional strained voice (as found right around 1:00 of “No Line on the Horizon,” he can in fact, sing with a much more casual tone) that sounds completely out of place next to the far more pure guitar and bass. Really, the only time the straining has a positive effect in this album is to provide welcome distraction from any moment where the rest of the album is running weakly, for example, the beginning to “Moment of Surrender.” Other than this problem, most tracks do suffer from a problem with length. “Unknown Caller” wasn’t an amazing track in the first few minutes, and it certainly wasn’t by the six minute mark.

No Line on the Horizon has quite a few substantial issues stopping it from being a truly excellent album. There are a few smaller issues which could have been corrected, but to fix every issue with No Line on the Horizon would necessitate a new album altogether. The best that can really be said about No Line on the Horizon is that it’s a U2 album, and will therefore sell many thousands more copies than it’s worth. Between the often lacking lyrics, unnotable vocals (sorry, Bono), and synth-happy instrumentals, No Line on the Horizon is much less than it could have been, given U2’s track record.

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