Author Topic: U2 conjures a gleam of heaven  (Read 1032 times)

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U2 conjures a gleam of heaven
« on: March 02, 2009, 04:21:30 PM »
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This record would be good to play in a car. Not just any car — a fast, luxurious, beautifully engineered German sedan.

That's okay, isn't it? We all like to ride in cars like that, where you only have to touch the climate controls to feel like the master of the universe. It's kind of that way with U2's latest album, in which every guitar note, every cymbal splash, every wail from Bono's throat is (to borrow the title from one of the tracks) magnificent. This is what the good life sounds like, people, and it costs way less than a Mercedes S-class.

Of course Bono's not always singing about good times and the high life. Some sort of bad history is implied by the lyrics of Moment of Surrender (It's not if I believe in love/If love believes in me"). But we see the suffering protagonist just when he seems to be having a religious experience of all-encompassing love, and what better life is there than that? I defy anyone to listen to the organ in this tune without thinking of a church.

In fact, all the way through this record I kept asking myself: If U2 made an album of songs on overtly religious subjects, would it sound any different than this?

Some kind of spiritual elevation seems to be going on in every song, though the means of release into a higher state are often purely technical. The sounds have such a heavenly gleam, and their distribution is so magically spacious, that even twaddle ("only a heart could be as white as snow") can seem profound. Your feeling about U2 in its present incarnation depends upon whether you hear this transformation as genuine, or as a trick of inflationary rhetoric.

Me, I like rhetorical games. It's sort of fun to loll about in these tracks, to get lost in the towering cozy warmth of Bono's voice and the Edge's guitar, to vibrate in sympathy with the band's delicious chordal thrumming. The single Get on Your Boots has a good restless kick to it — a rare thing on this disc. But in general I think that this kind of music is the reason punk was invented. It mostly feels rather pompous and self-important.

I say that with no disrepect to Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, who produced the record, co-wrote some of the songs and built the magic sound-world from which U2 is once again preparing to take over the world. Talents that Lanois and Eno use to powerful effect in their own work have been drafted for a project that at times feels close to self-parody.

"The right to be ridiculous is one I hold dear," Bono sings. Who would deny him that right?