Monday, March 02, 2009

First Impressions

1. "No Line on the Horizon"
An excellent opener. U2 has for a while no been opening their albums with the first single, meaning that the new album's sound and feel has been introduced by a more radio-friendly song ("Beautiful Day," "Vertigo," "Discotheque"). Here, they revert to the Joshua Tree/Achtung Baby gambit of opening the album with a bit of a more challenging cut that more clearly lays out the album's sonic blueprint. I love how the driving two-chord guitar figure in the verses modulates down; it's a great mood setter, and I love how that insistent beats yields at the verses to a more open sound. And that "No, no line on the horizon" melody is a great bit of spare hook writing.

2 "Magnificent"
Every U2 album, it seems, has a song that at least nods to the "classic" U2 sound - ringing, helicopter guitars, driving bass and drums, impassioned vocals - and this is NLOTH's. I don't at this stage think this is going to crack the pantheon of favorite U2 songs, but it's a fine example of its type.

3. "Moment of Surrender"
The album's big ballad. Every U2 album has one, and this is one of the greats, no "One," but close. I absolutely am enchanted by the way Bono enters into it with a big bellow at the absolute top of his range - completely counter-intuitive, and very effective. There are some very nice gospel harmonies working here as well on the chorus, and the very churchy organ does a lot of work in the background to tie the song together.

4. "Unknown Caller"
There's a moment late in this song when the chords rise up step-wise and a regal french horn chimes in with a beautiful, uplifting quick burst of sound. 30 years in and U2 can still pull off the new. Some have called Bono's use of cell phone metaphors cheesy, but I think they work perfectly in the context of the song.

5. "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight"
A concentrated burst of pop power. The bouncy, up and down feel of the verses is just infectious, and I love the irrelevant feel to the lyrics. A more mature, successful attempt at what they tried with "The Sweetest Thing."

6. "Get On Your Boots"
Makes much more sense in the context of the album than it does as a single, kind of like "The Fly" did, even if it's less lasting and serious than that critical Achtung Baby track. The verses may be kind of forgettable, all Elvis Costello pastiche, but that chorus is inspired, with a sly chord progression that gives it the faintest hint of Middle Eastern exoticness.

7. "Stand Up Comedy"
A bounce-up-in-your-seat bit of mildly funky rock, kind of as if the Red Hot Chili Peppers tried to do a U2 song. "Stop trying to help God across the street like a little old lady" is a classic Bono song. U2 have tried songs with this kind of swaggering attitude before, but never as successfully.

8. "FEZ - Being Born"
The one song that could have worked on Zooropa, what with the ambient, clicks-and-whirrs opener that yields to a minor-key urgent U2 rock song. Some unidentifiable part of me absolutely loves the way that we hear the "Let me in the sound" refrain from "Get On Your Boots" echoed here as if its drifting in from another room.

9. "White As Snow"
I'm a big fan of taking classic melodies and recontextualizing them in rock songs, so I love this quiet, weary ballad, which takes the form of the melody from "O Come O Come Emmanuel" and repurposes it quite beautifully. The delicate, almost reluctant guitar lines are exquisite.

10. "Breathe"
One more big U2 rocker before the familiar hushed close. Big, meaty guitar and chiming piano lines mark this as U2 even as Bono's near-rapped vocals mark it as a detour. Those staccato verses shouldn't work, but they do. And the big-leap "These DAYS" of the chorus are just classic Bono.

11. "Cedars of Lebanon"
It's no "Love Is Blindness," but that old U2 trick of ending on a melancholy, subdued, somewhat pessimistic note still works well. It's that almost jazz-like drum beat that makes the song for me - this is musically more of a successor to "Please" than anything else.

Until Whenever

1 comment:

Roger Owen Green said...

Article about the failure of the first single: