Author Topic: The Three Themes of NLOTH  (Read 945 times)

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Offline jjcruiser

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The Three Themes of NLOTH
« on: February 18, 2009, 07:43:10 PM »
Here's my review of the album.  I've had about 12 hours to digest it and have listened to most of the songs 3 or 4 times; some of them (I'm looking at you Magnificent) about 10-12.  I'm not a professional so bear with my rambling (or don't bother).

First of all, I read somewhere that this was not a cohesive album.  Except for the fact it has a few similar loops and characteristics, I tend to agree.  But as I mentioned in another thread, I think cohesiveness is overrated.  Give me your best shot, guys, even if it's a scatter shot, rather than tight bursts that miss.  Even so, I feel like the songs fall into one of three themes:  (i) stadium-soarers; (ii) poprockys; and (iii) introspective-retrospection.

Second, I think this has some of the best melodies and guitars of anything since...uh...ever?  I don't know how they will hold up 5-10 years from now, but I seriously think it has some of the best melodies they've ever written.

Third, I feel a little let down by the production.  Specifically, I felt like the "whoa-ohh-aahs" are overdone.  Words, boys, preferably in English.  I also am stressed by the overdubbing/multitracking of Bono on the choruses.  I don't know if they got 17 Bono's to sing, or that's Edge, Larry, and Brian Eno joining him, but it's too much, and if you listen to the tracks it doesn't happen, you realize it was unnecessary.  This makes me think some of those tracks, like Unknown Caller, will sound a lot better live than on the album.  We'll see.  Those are really my only two general criticisms.  Nothing like Pop where I still get frustrated at the mix on Discotheque.  It's more subtle than that and doesn't ruin anything for me. 

Anyway, onto the specific songs:

I felt like the album starts off in full blown Joshua Tree-Achtung Baby stadium mode -- No Line and Magnificent should be played live in a stadium with 50,000 people yelling "Magnificent" or "No! Line!"  I love the soaring guitar, fast pace, and atmosphere of both songs. 

For me, No Line doesn't really take off until around the 2 minute mark, but the bridge is genius and makes the song for me.   Conversely, Magnificent is essentially "magic U2" from 30 seconds on until the end.  No one but Bono can sing about love and mean personal love of humanity and divine Love at the same time, mean it, and have it not sound stupid.  There's also some serious religious imagery in the lyrics of the chorus; very evocative of the wounds of Jesus I thought, but also somewhat about normal people caring about the world.  Bono said I think that he isn't writing as much about himself anymore.  I don't believe him.  Both these first songs felt like "stadium soarers" to me thematically.

Moment of Surrender is an odd amalgum of earthy rough vocals and almost-too-smooth bass and atmosphere.  I detect a steel guitar and organ in there I bet Lanois and Eno did.  They don't ruin the song for me but I could hav done with it a little more plain.  Overall, though, the lyrics are deeper and more compelling than any other track (for me at least).  Again, as usual, it could have multiple meanings, but the one that comes through strongest to me is the moment of redemption.  This was the first track of the second theme -- the introspective theme of quiet reflection.

Track four I have a hard time with.  To be honest, I don't like it.  It's not the cheesy lyrics ("download"?) but I just can't get my head around the melody.  This may change.  Some of my favorite songs started off that way for me (Dirty Day, Kite).  Right now I felt like it was out of place, not for its sound, but for the fact that I just didn't think it was that good.  I can't figure out where to classify this tune, but for now I'd put it with quiet reflection.

I'll Go Crazy is an instantly catchy poprocky tune.  If it reminds me of anything it's a much better version of Sweetest Thing, which I never liked.  I think the lyrics are a little deeper than they seem at first, and I think there's more interesting things in the chorus and at the end than one might catch at first.  I like Bono's voice a lot on this one because it sounds naked and human.  This is the first of the poprocky tunes, the third theme.

GOYB everyone's heard.  But I will say in the middle of the poprocky theme-songs, it fits a lot better and I enjoyed it a lot more than by itself.  I guess I thought it was a little challenging and too funky in the isolation of a single release, but in the middle of Crazy and Stand Up just feels like an eccentric uncle of the family rather than the wacko on the street corner.

Stand Up is more poprocky.  It may be more rock and less pop, but it's sure not stadium rock.   It reminds me of Pop thematically in that it's ironic and self-deprecating lyrically, but chuggers along like a classic rock tune.  I've heard Led Zepplin comparisons.  I think it's a little more disco than Zepplin, but there's worse things than to evoke Stand Up.  I enjoy the song a lot.  The line "Josephine be careful of small men with big ideas" is freakin brilliant and worth the price of admission to get to that point of the song.

FEZ is tough.  Toughest song on the album.  I don't know what it is thematically.  I like the sounds in it, but it's very Passengers-esque.  It's almost like three different songs (for three themes).  It starts very introspective-reflective, then gets somewhat stadiumrocky, and ends a little poprocky.  I've listened to it three times now, though, and I can't identify its melody at all.  I don't even know what the chorus is supposed to be.  A year from now this could be my favorite song.  Right now it's like the giant term paper I am nervous to try to start because it's so overwhelming.

White As Snow (and Cedars) sound, well, not identical, but like they come from the same place thematically (introspective-reflection) and almost the same place musically.  It's a nice place, but it's the same place Wake Up Dead Man, Grace, and the First Time came from.  And all those songs took me years to appreciate.  Right now, I'm there too.  I enjoy both okay, but they're not exciting, fun, catchy, or even melodic.  I'll stick them in the winefridge and pop the corks in a year or two when they've matured and I have too.

That leaves Breathe.  I read that Eno thinks this is U2's best song.  That doesn't surprise me, because I can hear his jarring plinky piano work all over it.  Other than that, I think it's a good song, not great, and very poprocky.  In a little while I might come to love it.  Right now I just like it, but I admit the chorus is already growing on me, and I had it in my head throughout the whole review.  My guess is either I come to love it, or the piano just drives me away.

Collectively, it's always hard to say the first day of an album, but I can say I am much more excited upon hearing it than I was upon hearing for the first few times either How To Dismantle or All That You Can't.  It's been a long time since I heard Pop or Zooropa or Achtung the first time, but my guess is I like this even better than Pop or Zooropa but not as much as Achtung.  I don't mind the three themes.  Sometimes cohesive albums are boring.  Once you've listened to The Wall so many times, it just becomes a collection of a few individual songs you like and you stop listening to it all together anyway.

Fundamentally though it doesn't matter:  It's new songs.  U2 won't be making them forever.  Maybe there's a few songs that don't capture the same magic they captured for me before, but most of them do, and that makes it a unique thing in my opinion.  I think the most beautiful things on earth, other than my wife of course, is music; and no one since Mozart has made music as beautiful as U2.  We live in a very privileged time in history to have this, and to be there when it's created.  I'm grateful.

Only other thing I will mention is that I was very grateful this came out today in particular, whether on purpose or not.  I had a very rough week.  I got in my car this morning though and put on Magnificent and just burst out laughing and crying at the same time, something I don't think I've done since I first heard All I Want Is You the first time.  So thank you U2 (and thank you Australian Universal Music for not being able to count).