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Written by Mark Reed  
Monday, 08 November 2004
U2 drop the bomb. But is it a dud?

Of course. It’s no such thing. There’s no instructions on how to dismantle an atomic bomb. And there’s certainly no sense that this is anything other than business as usual for U2. It’s just like the last album, and the one before that. Four stonking singles, a couple of duffers, and some ace album tracks that show the pretenders how it’s really done.

This is not to say that it’s bad. By no means is this a bad record. But we’ve heard it all before. We heard it all before in 2000. And 1997. The sense of adventure, the sense of progression, the sense of trying something new that U2 had with every album until “pop”, : that’s gone. Here’s just some new U2 songs that sound like the 1991-era U2 remixing their earlier stuff. Or perhaps more accurately, it sounds like U2 doing an album of covers. Covers of songs youve never heard of, all written by people who want to sound like U2, but failing.

So, sure. There’s songs that even if you’ve never heard them before, they sound like you’ve heard them before. “City Of Blinding Light” (probably the third single), sounds like it could’ve been recorded anytime in the past decade. It’s fabulous though, a hymn to the beauty of electricity and to neon lights, but it’s nothing new. As is “All Because Of You”, which is The Fly getting Elevation, is again, nothing new.

The cliché is that there are no new ideas. Or, if there are new ideas, someone else has done them, and you just haven’t heard about them yet. And that new ideas are just old ideas in a slightly different way. But when U2 have made a career out of moving forward, and taking us with them, to find them treading water is a bit depressing. Part of it was their quantum leap of 1991, which saw them so far ahead of their contemporaries as to shame them into redundancy. Simple Minds, once the next big thing, the successors to the throne, were instantly outdated by Achtung Baby. (And one listen to Bon Jovi’s “Keep The Faith” will show how many bands tried desperately to follow and were left by the wayside). But with such great leaps, eventually the world catches up with you. And sometimes it leaves you behind.

OK. So onto the meat : you all should know “Vertigo” by now. The best lead-off single. The one that told us, just like the last time, that the new record was a RAWK record. It happened last time as well : we were promised the sound of four men in a room, making an unholy racket, and we got a record of four good rock tracks and some ace mid-tempo numbers. Same again.

Aside from the three aforementioned rock numbers, the rest of the record is, with a couple of exceptions, the type of grandoise balladry that has become U2’s trademark : the type of songs that Jamie Callum would sing in a few years time to look sensitive, the type of songs that send Coldplay and Keane away to study minor chord structures.

There’s no sense that U2 are an old band – or a young one. They’ve gone so far beyond such petty concerns as age, money, sex, that they’re almost ethereal. “Zooropa” was regarded by some critics as the first album that was post-sexual, for millionaires in a world where everyone wanted to fuck them, sex ceased to be an issue for the band, but now, in the state of being the world’s biggest band, U2, U2 are in many respects post-everything. They could do anything and people will lap it up. In many ways then, it’s to their commendation that they’ve done whatever they wanted, followed the muse, and done what all great artists do, be true to themselves.

But is it great art? Yes and no. What it is though, like every U2 record, is an immaculately crafted mystery that will take years to unravel and for it’s true worth to show. You could do a hell of a lot worse than this : sure, it’s just another U2 album, but Just Another U2 album is so much better than most band’s best work all at once.

You’ll buy this : everyone buys every U2 record in the end. I’ve got friends that hate U2, and even they buy the albums in the end. It’s what Henry Rollins calls “The Bono Moment”.

The question is, when?


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