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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