“Time won’t take the boy out of this man,” declares Bono on ‘City of Blinding Lights’, one of the numerous highlights on U2’s stellar new album. And he might just be right.
With its jangling guitars and keyboard melodies from 1983’s ‘War’ album, the song burns with the rampant energy of boys hungry for success. But, the passion and vintage sounds battle it out with the finesse and skill you get from a group of fortysomething men who’ve enjoyed that success for near on two decades.
And that approach – the tussle between the young and the old – characterises the sound of ‘How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb’. The Dublin foursome’s eleventh studio album, it’s far better than you’d ever expect from a band that’s been together for a quarter century – rivaling their best work: ‘Achtung Baby’, ‘The Joshua Tree’ and ‘War’.
While lacking the innovation of these offerings, continuing the voyage of nostalgia begun by 2000’s ‘All That You Can?t Leave Behind’, ‘Bomb’ virtually explodes with exuberance and confidence. Oh, and it features some of the group’s best songs, seemingly constructed to bring about global domination of airwaves and stadiums.
Unashamedly commercial, all the tricks have been hauled out and polished to a bright sheen: the huge sing-along choruses, The Edge’s chiming guitar, the soaring melodies that burrow their way into your head with all the subtlety of a power drill.
It’s the approach that’s already hurtled the ballsy ‘Vertigo’ into the global conscience – not bad for one of the album’s weakest tracks.
Instantly accessible, it’s less rewarding after repeated listenings (try an average of once a day for the past month), but most of the album holds up remarkably well to such consistent scrutiny.
Take ‘Original of the Species’, building up from a quiet keyboard-led ballad to a graceful, stirring climax, a la ‘With or Without You’, and some clearly autobiographical lyrics (“Some people got way too much confidence baby”).
The confidence continues on ‘All Because of You’ (“I like the sound of my own voice,” confesses Bono, unsurprisingly) and ‘Love and Peace or Else’, both driven by uncharacteristically scorching guitar heroing from The Edge and a slight return to the politically flavoured lyrics of old.
But, the Bono of 2004 has chosen to weld the politics with the personal; song themes address both global and personal issues. The spectacular ‘Miracle Drug’ takes in science, relationships, religion and politics (“Freedom has a scent, like the top of a newborn baby?s head”) while the equally anthemic ‘Crumbs from your Table’ tells of the the gap between people in a relationship – and the first and third world.
It’s his most personal lyrics that work best though, with ‘One Step Closer to Knowing’, a fragile ballad inspired by his father’s death (“I’m across the road from hope”).
Understated and beautiful as it is, though, the song’s no match for the magnificent ‘Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own’. Recapturing the power of ‘One’, it’s a remarkable tribute to his dad (“You’re the reason why the opera’s in me”) and, like ‘City of Blinding Lights’, a reminder that, with their zeal and elegance still intact, U2 are men with the fervour of boys. And they’re still the biggest band in the world.
- This article originally appeared on iafrica.com.