So it’s been two years since U2’s No Line On The Horizon (NLOTH) came out and I had promised back then that I was going to write a review of this album. But I never did. I think it’s taken me this long to fully process my reaction to the album and I feel I can finally respond in a way that will do it justice. I liked it right away; I just wasn’t fully sure what I thought. Some U2 albums have taken a long time to sink in with me–All That You Can’t Leave Behind being a prime example–and while I liked NLOTH initially, I’ve come to like it more and more as time has passed and I’ve experienced (via the wonders of the internet) the first several legs of the 360 tour. I’ve also come to understand it better. Some of the songs I initially felt neutral about have sunk their roots into my soul where they’ve flowered into full-on love.
I think it’s a good sign when a U2 album sinks on you slowly–it means they went outside of the comfort zone of their familiar sound to give us something more experimental and new. NLOTH is a refreshing step forward for U2, the likes of which haven’t been seen since Pop. I think like Pop, the true brilliance of NLOTH will be recognized with time. Which unfortunately is not fast enough for a band that craves public approval as much as U2 does. I hope they continue on this vein of experimentation instead of retreating back to the old familiar on their next album. How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb was a fearful retreat and while I loved its familiarity when it first came out, the songs, for the most part, just haven’t stuck with me the way I’m sure the songs on NLOTH will.
I like my favorite bands to evolve. When art stagnates, both the artists and its fans become bored with it. An artist should always challenge him/herself. As Bono himself has said, “There’s a point where you realize you’re tip-toeing as an artist, and then you know you’re in the wrong place.” I wish U2 would listen to these wise words from their lead singer more often (even Bono would serve to remember them). I want U2 to go whatever direction excites them musically. I have no doubt whatsoever that I would follow.
No Line On The Horizon
I honestly did not like this song at all the first time I heard it and for quite a long time after. It wasn’t the words; I found something grating and annoying about the music. I routinely skipped it when playing the album. However, on the U2 forum I frequent, I was introduced to the B-side of the “Get On Your Boots” single which contains a version of this song called “No Line On The Horizon 2.” This version of the song has a more funky, un-U2-like guitar riff that gives it a stripped down, rustic sound. Then, in my whirlwind spree of downloading bootlegs from the 360 Tour, I happened upon a few live versions of the song–one full band and one acoustic (“busker style,” as Bono called it referring the act of street performing as it is called in Europe).
Needless to say, I like the song a lot now. And because of the other versions, I’ve come to appreciate the album version. I’m new to the party, so I haven’t had time to really grasp all the lyrics (as great as they are), but at a quick glance, it appears to be one of Bono’s slightly off-kilter love songs… But it could possibly be so much more that I’m missing. My favorite lines are: “Every night I have the same dream, I’m hatching some plot, scheming some scheme.”
I feel “Magnificent” is the antithesis to the much earlier “Out of Control” from U2’s first album, Boy. In “Out Of Control,” the young Bono, filled with some trepidation about his future and adulthood, says of his birth:
One dull morning
I woke the world with bawling
I was so sad
They were so glad.
In “Magnificent,” 50-year-old Bono paints a much happier image of his early life to describe his first cry from the womb as a “joyful noise.” “Magnificent” is the sublimation of maturity, of recognizing a calling fulfilled and acceptance. It is a song of praise whose receiver seems to be interchangeably God and U2’s audience:
I was born to sing for you
I didn’t have a choice
But to lift you up
And sing whatever song you wanted me to
“Magnificent” is definitely one of the joyous songs Bono has written in a long time and the music is so wonderfully uplifting. I loved this song from the moment I heard it on Letterman and I rushed to youtube to find more versions of it. It was the song that made me get excited about the NLOTH after I was slightly disappointed by the first single “Get On Your Boots.”
Moment Of Surrender
“Moment of Surrender” is a song about hitting rock bottom. I have a deep personal connection to this song because it was not drugs or alcohol abuse that brought me to my own “moment of surrender,” but grief. All the lyrics in this song so painfully describe those moments and how I felt when I thought the world was dissolving beneath my feet.
I was punching in the numbers
At the ATM machine
I could see in the reflection
A face staring back at me
There was a day in December of 2001 when I was joylessly Christmas shopping in the Coventry area on the east side of Cleveland. I remember walking down the street, feeling like a ghost as happy people easily moved about around me–“I did not notice the passers-by / And they did not notice me”–and I kept checking the store windows to see if I still existed. “Moment of Surrender” always jogs that memory in my mind and the feelings of disassociation, absence, and utter sadness that come with it, reminding me once again what it feels like when you find yourself slipping away.
The last verse is the most powerful, suggesting redemption through suffering, and, I suppose, by following the path of Christ. For me, it was a simple path of faith–of wanting to be alive again and realizing I couldn’t go on any other way–and taking the painful first steps to believe in life and fight for it. Of course, along the way, the people around you chose not to look at your suffering because they can’t deal with it. Perhaps they can’t handle it. But they too would like to see it end.
I was speeding on the subway
Through the stations of the cross
Every eye looking every other way
Counting down ’til the pain will stop
It’s no surprise that the band closes their 360 shows with this song. I’m sure when I witness it live, I will be brought to tears.
This song gets a lot of flack on the fan forums for it’s simple lyrics in which God speaks to the song’s narrator (a character, not the lead singer) using computer terminology–“reboot yourself,” “force quit and move to trash,” “password, you, enter here”–but this is precisely why I love this song. It’s a brilliant, timely metaphor. Bono has always been fascinated by modern technology, it’s uses, and it’s effect on us as a society. Remember ZooTV, people? Bono’s cover of Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love”? The suggestion that television distorts reality which was the underlying theme of the movie The Million Dollar Hotel (for which Bono wrote the concept)? And, once again, a cover of “Satellite of Love” in the soundtrack for the same movie? God using technological language to pull the song’s narrator out of the depths of depression is just so fitting. It’s a modern day psalm.
I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight
“I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” (Crazy Tonight) should probably have been the first single for NLOTH. It’s catchy and something that would grab the casual listener in the likes of “Vertigo” and “Beautiful Day.” That’s not to diminish the quality of this song; in fact, I love it so much it’s the ringtone on my cell phone (which also attests to its upbeat tempo). On the 360 Tour, U2 have further enhanced this song by performing a club-like dance remix that appears to be the highlight of the show as the band really lets loose, strutting on the catwalk and moving to the music as they play their instruments. Even Larry leaves his hiding spot from the drum kit to beat a bongo drum as he walks the cat walk.
I have joked that Crazy Tonight is the soundtrack to my experiences climbing hills on my bike: “It’s not a hill it’s a mountain / As you start out the climb.” In all honesty, this is a song is the manic side of any depressive bout. “Look for me, I’ll be shouting / We’re going to make it all the way to the light / And I know I’ll go crazy if I don’t go crazy tonight.” This song makes me feel like life is filled with an endless stream of possibilities. Every challenge starts out as a mountain when you look at it from the bottom, but if you climb anyway, it eventually gets easier. This philosophy has certainly held true for my life.
Get On Your Boots
“Get On Your Boots” is another song I did not like initially when it was released as a single ahead of the album. I’m not sure what it was or why. Perhaps I was expecting a more U2-sound like the previous HTDAAB album (and shame on me for it). The heavy guitar, so uncharacteristic of The Edge’s style, threw me off or something. But I admit that when it was pointed out to me that the song praises the less aggressive characteristics of femininity, implying that men have screwed up human history with war and destruction, I started to like it. How can I argue with feminist lyrics? Bono woos me with his respect for women.
Since purchasing the album, I’ve grown to like the song a lot more, including the heavy guitar and bassline I originally unsure about. The style of this song is similar to a new, unreleased song played on the 360 Tour called “Glastonbury.” Surprisingly, “Get On Your Boots” is in the top 25 songs by number of plays in iTunes. So I guess I got over my initial determination of it.
Stand Up Comedy
Bono himself takes a lot of flack–and, often, is the victim of undeserved hatred–from fans and non-fans alike because he is so vocal politically and socially. But Bono is the first one to take a hard look at himself. “Stand Up Comedy” is one of those songs in which Bono mocks his own influence and bids us to make up our own minds about those things we chose to stand up for:
I can stand up for hope, faith, love
But while I’m getting over certainty
Stop helping God across the road
Like a little old lady
And, of course, you can’t exclude my favorite line from the song: “Stand up to rock stars / Napoleon is in high heels / Josephine beware of small men with big ideas.” I love that Bono can make fun of himself in this way; it shows he’s incredibly self-aware and not the egomaniac that his haters believe him to be. I love this song lyrically from its self-awareness to its hippy-dippy messages–“God is love. And love is evolution’s very best day!” And the kick-ass guitar riff, reminiscent of Led Zeppelin, is a very bold sound for U2.
Lyrically, “FEZ-Being Born” is probably the least interesting to me on the whole album. That does not mean it’s a song I don’t enjoy. It’s kind of an ambient sound that hearkens to the songs on my second favorite album, The Unforgettable Fire, and Original Soundtracks I (U2 and Brian Eno project from which “Miss Sarajevo” comes). With FEZ-Being Born, the music is the experience. I enjoy the flowy sound along with Bono’s vocal noises–those melodious “oh”‘s where his voice is like an additional instrument in the song. I also love the repeats of “Let me in the sound,” which is my favorite lyric in “Get On Your Boots” as well because it describes that feeling of loving the joyful noise so much you want to live within and between it.
White As Snow
“White As Snow” is admittedly another song that took awhile for me to appreciate. Every time Bono sung the line, “Only the lamb as white as snow,” I kept hearing the melody for “Mary Had A Little Lamb” which kind of made the song seem silly to me. I admit that I used to skip this song as well. But after hearing the new, unreleased songs “North Star” and “Every Breaking Wave” on the 360 Tour bootlegs and videos on youtube, I decided that I should be giving all slow ballads a fair shake. The lyrics in “White As Snow” are beautiful–how can a poet not love: “Now this dry ground, it bears no fruit at all /Only poppies laugh under the crescent moon”? I’m not sure what the song’s about, necessarily, but I’m enjoying it much more now.
After the heaviness that is “White As Snow, ” and other earlier songs such as “Moment of Surrender,” “Breathe” is literally a breath of fresh air between sobs of heartache and gasps of joy. I’ve said before that I think this is one of U2’s greatest songs–it’s on my top ten list, slowly climbing to the top most space. The song makes me feel like I’ve just had a good cry, I’ve come to terms with something I’ve been struggling to overcome, and I’m ready to find aspects of life to embrace, to love. To sing this song out loud frees my spirit. If I’m in an abysmal mood, “Breathe” brings me back out and makes me want to embrace life. But it’s not easy to embrace life, it’s not easy to love and the song speaks loudly to that with the choice of words, “Every day, I have to find the courage to walk out into the street with arms out.” “Breathe” speaks to the part of me that finds solace, healing, and peace in music. And the part of me that struggles always the find the beauty in every experience.
Cedars Of Lebanon
Sadly, I admit that “Cedars Of Lebanon” is my least favorite track on NLOTH. I know that I should like it–it’s about a reporter in the Middle East who is recording the horrors of the war. But for some reason, it just didn’t grab me. I suspect it’s not the lyrics so much as the music. It just doesn’t connect with me. However, an unreleased song written during the NLOTH sessions called “Winter,” which appears on the soundtrack for the movie Brothers, I like a lot better. The original version of “Winter” (not the version that appears on the Brothers soundtrack) has a great combination of music, lyrics, and an emotional performance by Bono with an ending that sounds as though tears were falling from the singer’s eyes as he sang them. “Winter” is from the perspective of a young solider who grows up fighting in the Middle East and the lyrics paint pictures of scenery that must appeal to me more poetically. I feel bad that “Cedars of Lebanon” just doesn’t stir me as much as “Winter” because “Cedars” is a fan favorite. But like the song “Grace” on All That You Can’t Leave Behind, I struggle to appreciate “Cedars of Lebanon.” The music and the lyrics have to grab me equally, I guess. And that’s what “Winter” does, but I can see why they might not have chosen to include it on NLOTH since “White As Snow” and “Winter” both kind of have wintery titles…