Saturday, February 21, 2009

First Listen Diary: No Line on the Horizon

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Now playing: U2 - Magnificent
via FoxyTunes

I'm lying in my bed in an apartment in Guadalajara, somewhere in an increasingly hot and dry north-central Mexico, listening to the new U2 album through tinny laptop speakers. Bono and co. have made the songs available for streaming on their website or on their myspace page, though you can't buy it in stores for another ten days. Rather than write up a full review, I wrote a diary of my reactions to each song.

1. "No Line on the Horizon." Wow. Who is singing this song? It sounds like Bono, but it doesn’t, and then it does again! "I know a girl / she's like the sea / I watch her changing / every day for me..." I can't believe it: My boys are back, back to their old selves, which is to say, back to the future, back to pushing out into the deep and exploring the new and the numinous, with that old familiar feeling of cutting through the jungle with a machete, no turning back, map or no map, we are on the move.

2. "Magnificent." YES! This, this, THIS is why I fell in love with this band some ten years ago now (man, I'm getting old)... This album gets it in a way the last one didn’t (even though I loved many moments on the last album)...it was more of a surf along the surface, with great tunes and melody, but, as Chris says, this album is "spookier." Chris notices, with a sly smile, that Bono just sang “my first cry / it was a joyful noise…” Sly references to Bible verses? Check. (See? Chris gets it, too.) And why am I dancing? Oh right, it's because the underlying music shakes and shimmies like CRAZY...

3. "Moment of Surrender." “Playing with the fire till the fire played with me” – second image of reversal. “It’s not that I believe in love it’s that love believes in me” – third image of reversal. Is there a band that gets grace better than these guys? On the page, these lines sound clever, but Bono sings them in such a way that…oh, I don’t know. You’ll just have to hear them for yourself.

4. "Unknown Caller." There's a line from the best bio of U2 in which someone says of them, after their crazy Zoo TV period, that "they are soul singers now." It took a while, but they actually sound like soul singers on this album. I really didn't expect that... And this song - I read that it was about a guy "in an altered state whose phone suddenly starts giving him random text messages." Except that the song is less throwaway than that: the words start innocuously enough – “rise up, respect yourself” and then “force quit and move to trash.” Just like in ZooTV/Achtung, words fly at us until they lose meaning…and then, here, they begin to gain some again? We're definitely back in that uncertain territory again. I may have to write a sequel to my twenty-five-page essay I wrote as a freshman in college (again, some - it can't be, can it? - ten years ago now...)... This album really is the true follow-up to Achtung. (Adam, go get that album - it's the one you need to prepare for this album. Then maybe Zooropa. I'm just saying.)

5. "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight." Ok, I thought this song would be like Elevation, but instead it’s a soul song! What?!?! “We’ll shout into the darkness…”

6. "Get On Your Boots. "“Let me in the sound!” We’ve been pushing through the darkness and come up against a glass wall. What do we do? Bust it open with a microphone stand!!!!

7. "Stand Up Comedy." Wait – did they just say “stop helping God across the street like a little old lady?” I love this album. And this song. “STAND UP FOR YOUR LOVE.” Heck yes.

8. "FEZ - Being Born." What is this, the Unforgettable Fire?

9. "White as Snow." I don’t like that this song is called “White as Snow.” We’ve all been trying to get away from the white=good, black=bad imagery lately, for obvious reasons. Although the image here actually appears to be about how the desert looks like snow (the Joshua Tree? the Middle East?). I think. And having clarified that, I will now say the coolest thing about this song: THE TUNE IS FROM “O COME, O COME, EMMANUEL.” MY FAVORITE ADVENT SONG AND MAYBE MY FAVORITE HYMN EVER!!! There’s also something about a crescent moon and boys going hunting in the woods…the images on this album are amazing.

10. "Breathe." Can we make a rule now that only Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois can produce U2 albums? My goodness, the production on this album is so much better than the last one. What is Bono singing? Are these verses and choruses or just random lines? There’s something about “St. John the Divine…” Freaking amazing. I love it.

11. "Cedars of Lebanon." What, no chit-chat with the divine? Nope, as Chris says, this album is "spookier." It’s like ending the album with Wake Up Dead Man. "Squeeze a complicated life into a simple headline…" Complexities and complicatedness....ah, how I've missed you in my U2 albums. ATYCLB didn't seem to need them, but HTDAAB needed just a bit more...and now this album has them in spades.

Time to play it again.

1 comment:

From Michigan with Love said...

I needed to listen to it 5 times before I read your thoughts...you are just as brilliant my friend! I got Achtung Baby a month or so ahead of this one and I am glad I did! This has just been an incredible experience being led into such an amazing band by two brilliant and amazing souls (got to give Jon props!!!) Thank you for your time and dedication! :-)