U2 - How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb
You know the drill by now. Every band claims that their new album is the best thing they've ever produced, normally managing to consign several classic albums to also-ran status. And U2 have never been an exception to that rule. Bono says that How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb is the album the band have waited 25 years to record. It's either a brave or foolhardy soul who would consign The Joshua Tree, Achtung Baby or 2000's career revitalising All That You Can't Leave Behind to history as casually as that, but as Bono has been described as being both during the course of his career, it's perhaps wise to take his words with a pinch of salt. Remember him describing 'The Tourist' as "the best thing (U2)'ve ever done..."
There may however be a ring of truth in his words, in that there are elements all U2's past albums evident here...the Edge has returned to the jangling, delayed guitar one-size-fits-all guitar riff that served him so well in the eighties. Some songs bear a passing resemblance to melodies from the Zoo TV/Zooropa era. Bono even pens a song for a departed parent, like 'I Will Follow', the first track from the very first album back in 1980.
A worrying portent is that the album is available in three editions, always a sign of trying to cover up musical shortcomings with swanky packaging (see Hail to the Thief by Radiohead), as was the fact they released the first song as a single. 'Vertigo' is a strange song for U2, harking back to the new-wave/punk days of the early 80's with a Portuguese count in and muted guitar chops. It's probably no coincidence that Steve Lilleywhite, who was at the helm of the first three albums returns, and gives much of the material a pared down feel. Overdubs have been kept to a minimum.
Probably the best song on the album is 'City of Blinding Lights', which apparently harks back to the band's early forays to London, and Bono missing his then girl-friend (now wife) Ali. B.B. King once described The Edge's guitar playing as being like four people playing at once, and the start of this song belies this observation, with a piano counter melody to the guitar line, similar to one at the start of 'Miracle Drug', which for the first time you hear it, enthrals you almost as much as that sombre, weighty organ intro to 'Where the Streets Have no Name'. It's just a shame that the song itself is such a let down. 'City of Blinding Lights' however takes off, and it's a fine line to tread, but it soars without sounding cheesy.
One of the other standout tracks is 'Crumbs from Your Table', written by the band during a heavy drinking session (and apparently Larry Mullen still can't remember a thing about its genesis), which earns its keep due to a particularly ruthless Edge guitar riff.
And as for the other songs? Well, I'm giving them time. I bear in mind that it took me a good fifteen years of listening to U2 before I got into them. It took me a while of listening to Achtung Baby before the beauty of the closing triptych of songs became apparent to me.
Having said that, I'm not actually sure that the songs that haven't grabbed me after a few listens ever will. 'One Step Closer', 'Original of the Species' and 'Yahweh' are all without any kind of distinguishing features. 'Yahweh' is a particularly ugly song, a clunker of the magnitude of 'The Playboy Mansion', and considering that 'Fast Cars' is only included as a bonus track, is intended to be the album closer. Compared to songs as powerful as 'Love is Blindness', 'Wake Up Dead Man' or 'The Ground Beneath Her Feet', it's a particularly light-weight close to an underwhelming album.
But what of 'Fast Cars'? Well, it is the source of the line that inspired the album's title, and is an acoustic-y Arabian tinged b-side. Really. Included as some kind of UK/European bonus track, its position at the end of the album makes you wonder that for four forty-four year olds to regain their youthful passion for music, they seem to have sacrificed their once sky-high quality control.
It's worth remembering that in the aftermath of the release of Boy, U2 came perilously close to being dropped by their record label. Maybe when he says that this is the album U2 have waited 25 years to make, he means a bad one....youth is wasted on the middle aged.
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