by / February 16th, 2009 /

U2 – No Line On The Horizon

 2/5 Rating

(Interscope)

The commentators are saying that Ireland needs an Obama-like icon to lift us out of our current economic and social gloom; a figurehead to inspire celebration, to provide a pointer to a new and promising horizon. Well, wherever there’s a cause, there’s usually Bono and co. providing the timely, rousing, crowd-pleasing soundtrack. They’ve got the whole world in their hands, after all. Could U2’s 12th studio album be that flagship of hope, sailing us bravely away from these troubled waters?

Sadly, it just doesn’t sound that way. If anything, it’s as hesitant and directionless as the rest of us; in that sense, they’ve hit the zeitgeist square on the head. But, as an entity, No Line On The Horizon may be U2’s most disjointed album yet.

Perhaps too many songwriters and producers spoiled the broth (Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois have their hands in practically everything here); maybe jumping from studio to far-flung studio got in the way of continuity; or it could be that the world and all its woes provided Bono with too many distractions from the day job. Whatever the reason, this plays like a record without a real master plan.

It certainly begins positively enough. The title track cries ‘we are back’ from the rooftops with its cinematic bravura, kitsch 1960s’ piano, rumbling bassline and its shoulder-shimmying, air-punching rhythm, which distantly recalls -The Fly’; if only this had been the last Bond theme. Better still is track two, -Magnificent’, an archetypal U2 thriller/stomper with one of the best riffs The Edge has produced in aeons, complete with Chris Rea-like guitar solo. It’s a mighty opening brace, but it’s also the point at which the plot starts to lose its way.

The effortful -Moment Of Surrender’, at over seven minutes long, is a strained ballad with gospel aspirations that suffers badly from delusions of grandeur and cod-religious preaching. The similarly grandiose -Unknown Caller’ also thuds along under swathes of worthy lyrical emptiness: ‘On the edge of the known universe where I wanted to be/ I had driven to the scene of the accident / And I sat there waiting for me’. Quite.

There’s momentary respite on the Steve Lillywhite-produced -I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight’, a Joshua Tree-era standard where, despite his cringe-inducing falsetto, Bono gets almost charmingly self-deprecating: ‘The right to appear ridiculous is something I hold dear’. He repeats the trick on the otherwise banal -Stand Up Comedy’, with the line “Napoleon is in high heels/ Josephine, be careful of small men with big ideas”.

But it’s the album’s latter half where the big ideas fail to reach constructive conclusions, and where production appears to plug the staggering dearth of melody. First off, the clumsy and hasty lead single -Get On Your Boots’ is easily amongst U2’s most forgettable moments. However, far more aggravating is the presumed notion that the wearisome, Eno-centric filler -FEZ – Being Born’ is somehow overtly experimental. It’s certainly spacey and dreamy but it’s completely without context on this album. And, with Bono’s relentless “ohs” becoming more emphatic and, as a consequence, less meaningful, it raises more awkward questions than it wants to ask. -White As Snow’ takes a traditional melody into pleasantly explorative territory, with some success; but -Breathe’, the other Lillywhite production on here, is a messy piece of stadium-rock melodrama, which only menaces the listener into indifference.

Finally, ‘Cedars Of Lebanon’, a semi-spoken, Lanois-produced mood piece with obliquely political aspirations, falls prey to some woeful rhyming-dictionary couplets – who will fail to wince each time they hear ‘Now I’ve got a head like a lit cigarette/ Unholy clouds reflecting in a minaret’? As an album closer, it leaves something of a sour taste.

There’s no doubting that U2 devotees will still lap this album up and that it’ll fly off supermarket shelves like freshly baked doughnuts. But after a four-year wait, is this really the best record the world’s biggest band can make? If No Line On The Horizon had been the -difficult’ follow-up to an NME-hyped band’s over-achieving debut, we’d be gleefully dismantling their atomic career and waiting for them to bomb. The truth is (and -Magnificent’ proves the will is still there), U2 need to take a “never mind the bollocks” approach and rediscover their knack for memorable, timeless classics. At least until then, there’s no end of filled stadiums on the horizon.

Listen: Spotify | Bandcamp | Soundcloud | Youtube

  • hanky

    aaahhh, critics. People who can’t create so they must point out the flaws in those who can.

  • LOL at Hanky.

    Good measured review Johnnie.

  • Well said Hanky. Where do these people get off, pointing out the flaws in shit music? How dare they puncture Bono’s pomposity? I’d better tell that notoriously uncreative hack The Bug to quit reviewing records.

  • Paul Whelan

    aaahhh, blog comment-posters. People who say they don’t like people pointing out flaws in something that is a matter of opinion, and then, like snake eating its own tail, they point out flaws in something that is a matter of opinion.

  • The Go To

    Surely Hanky’s criticism of criticism is oxymoronic?!no?

  • aaahhh, street teams. People who can’t write so they must point out the flaws in those who can.

  • Abdul

    I still don’t understand why people think popular music is a dirty concept. People want to be in a stadium to hear their music for a reason.

  • hanky

    who you calling a moron??

    ;D

  • Abdul – being popular isn’t a problem and U2 have earned it more than most but this just isn’t a very good record, believe me.

  • Good review but ‘Chris Rea-like guitar solos’? Really? The two songs I’ve heard so far, the abysmal ‘get on your boots’ and ‘no line on the horizon’ do not bode well. Looks like Bono’s lyrics are even more trite and nonsensical than usual.

  • Chris

    It’s getting glowing reviews – Q Magazine = 5/5…for one. I’ve read twenty reviews. One bad (this one), one 3/5, 18 4/5 or better. This album will do just fine. Thanks anyway though.

  • The songs I’ve heard from this record are awful so I’d be inclined to agree with a review like this rather than Q’s 5/5, to assure they get Bono and the boys turn up for the next Q awards & return for a front cover special in 2 years time.
    The single is embarrassing and seeing the band in the video is even more cringeworthy. I’m not going to be a U2 basher here (I’m not even a big fan) but I’d like to see them prove each album that they are worthy of how massive they are. This just makes me wish they’d retire. Old men trying to be young.

    Get on your Boots…. Get on your slippers more like.

  • Chris – I rate 2/5 as poor.

  • I’ve said it before and I’ll said many, many times again:
    SCREW Q MAGAZINE. What a sack of turds. They save their 5/5 ratings for the most vapid, pointless, lazy, turgid pap that piddles through their catflap. New U2 album a 5 star LP? Get stuffed! They’ve basically stopped insulting us and started cold-calling us in the middle of the night, sneering in our bleary faces.

    Q Magazine is the Noel Edmonds and Alan Partridge of music journalism. Hot Press is Q Magazine’s playground sidekick. Oh really, The Corrs? Cool, what else you got? The Frames? Wow! Paddy Casey? No way! U2? Liek awesomes.

    Anyone backing up an argument about music with a Q or Hot Press rating automatically loses both the argument and the right to participate in any subsequent arguments about music, forever. (Unless they’re arguing that Q or Hot Press should be floated out to sea with only Gavin Lambe Murphy for company.)

  • wow……….

  • Cesar

    This is the most silly, dumb, directionless,and lame review that I’ve read, the man writing this piece of garbage will be ridiculized in the months to come… ;))

  • rob

    this reviewer is just plain stupid….

  • dermot

    Having heard the album, I think that this State review is pretty much on the money.. There are a few flashes of them trying some new sounds out, and even if they don’t stray too far from the prototype U2-Eno sound I think that side of it is okay.. I’m astonished though at how bad Bono’s lyrics have gotten and how devoid of melodic ideas he sounds on this album.. It seems like the higher profile he has on the world stage, the more trivial and empty his songwriting becomes.

  • Matt

    Needs to be listened to multiple times, and then it becomes like Achtung Baby for 2008. Great album, poor review.

  • Matt

    Meant for 2009.

  • Bill

    Great album, poor review.
    The reviewer’s main point seem’s to be a personal dislike for Bono and what U2 have come to represent. So what if Bono is too pretentious or ambitous for your liking, why don’t you just concentrate on the music.
    This is there best album since Achtung Baby. The reason for this is the following; This is the only album since “Achtung” which has both the ambition and substance to match Achtung Baby (which is a milestone in U2 history). Zooropa and Pop had the ambition but not the substance. Whereas the last two, ATYCLB and HTDAAB, were U2 playing it safe, they were both quality album’s but just not very inventive or ambitous.
    NLOTH is the real deal. Inventiveness/ambition to match quality.
    It’s no wonder Rolling Stone gave it a 5 star review (the only other U2 album’s to get 5 star review’s were “The Joshua Tree” and
    “Achtung Baby”.
    So, Mr. Reviewer, please base your review’s on proper music research and not personal prejudice in future.

  • The “problem” with U2 for some has always been Bono’s behaviour outside of the studio. If they could get past that then they’d find a great album. Some argue that U2 need to justify being the biggest band in the world based on each album they release – probably a fair point. But respect for at least trying to something new again on this album, they didn’t have to.

    Anyway, the album needs a few listens. “Unknown Caller” is already one of my favorite U2 tracks ever.

  • David

    Sorry, everyone, but this review is SPOT on. I want to like the record, and instead I end up hoping they didn’t throw Rick Rubin’s phone number away, skip touring and get right back at it… at least Rubin wouldn’t sing all over the thing like Lanois.
    Too disjointed… too disconnected… and for God’s sake, Bono, just SING and stop speaking!

  • I’ve no big problem with U2 & haven’t heard this album but this is a pretty well written review in fairness, it isn’t dismissing it straight out or throwing it away because Bono seems to be omnipotent. It even wants to like it, but gives a reasoned explanation why it doesn’t, no Pitchfork-type pissing chimp gimmicks. http://www.pitchforkmedia.com/article/record_review/38853

    I wish people would come up with a better argument than the ‘This writer’s super lameo dumb’ line of defence when they read a review that they don’t agree with. On the Record seems to get it a lot in the comments.

    Also I’m pretty sure anyone trying to pass off ‘ridiculized’ as a word will be mock for months to come…

  • ReaderMeetAuthor

    “Also I’m pretty sure anyone trying to pass off ‘ridiculized’ as a word will be mocked for months to come…”

    Well, if nothing else, at least we on this side of the Atlantic have learned a new ‘word’ thanks to U2…

  • Johnnie’s review is spot-on but, as always, U2 fans just can’t handle reviews which paint their idols in unflattering colours

    http://www.irishtimes.com/blogs/ontherecord/2009/02/23/u2-no-line-on-the-horizon/

  • colm ó colm

    why are U2 known as the biggest/best rock band in the world? i cant comprehend it

  • Allan

    In my opinion…cough..cough!! Eno and Lanois have totally screwed this album up.

    Bono should have just sang over “here comes the warm jets”

    What happened to the post punk band that u2 claim to be. They need to get their boots on and kick each other up the arse for producing such tripe…

    Bill: get a grip achtung baby was a great album. NLOTH is forgetable!

    AstonishingSodApe: Is spot on about Q magazine, they don’t know there arshole from there earhole when it comes to music.

  • Hi Allan,

    I don’t necessarily think think it’s a case of Q Mag (etc…) not knowing their arsehole fro their earhole, but more to do with the fact they themselves represent the modern equivalent dinosaur rock music.

    It’s not particularly unusual that many of publications that have praised this album have something of a ‘elder’ readership and as such U2 may fit quite nicely with the tastes of their core audience.

    Without being crude, what percentage of Q’s readership is under the age of 25 or 30?

  • Ed

    Jonhnnie Craig you will be eating your words in a few months if not weeks. Expectations are high for the Best Band on the Planet. So listen a few more times. I felt the same when I first heard the songs. I even didn’t like “Get on your boots” but now its one of my favorites. All the songs sound like classics to me. I believe this will be the Album of this decade as Joshua was for the 80’s and Achtung was for the 90’s. Its been a long 18 year wait for another perfect album of theirs!!!

  • *vomit*

  • Party Girl

    Opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one.

  • Speak for yourself party girl!

  • Dessie Farrell

    Q magazine reviewed my album – Dessie and the dessies and gave it 4/5. My album was pure sh**e. Where does that leave u2. Phil Collins is the best.

  • Anders

    Cripes – you leps have got an even bigger cultural cringe than we thick aussies!

    Come on, the album s just not that bad! Well, except for the loathsome Get Your Boots On (big no-no: line about ‘sexy boots’..vomit ..and the fragmented, pro-tooled arrangement).
    Sounded like some of their best to me…or in a very long while. BTW I am NOT a big fan and have no records (!), but can tell at the drop of a hat this is a pretty good album, and will be seen as one of their very best in their career. Just could lose the sexy boots.

    Noboby cares that much about bono’s external antics, maybe it just seems more embarassing if you’re irish? Loosen up – he can still sing well and the band made a good record this time…so what?

  • Anders

    Cripes – you leps have got an even bigger cultural cringe than we thick aussies!

    Come on, the album s just not that bad! Well, except for the loathsome Get Your Boots On (big no-no: line about ‘sexy boots’..vomit ..and the fragmented, pro-tooled arrangement).
    Sounded like some of their best to me…or in a very long while. BTW I am NOT a big fan and have no records (!), but can tell at the drop of a hat this is a pretty good album, and will be seen as one of their very best in their career. Just could lose the sexy boots.

    Nobody cares that much about bono’s external antics, well only crtics – maybe it just seems more embarassing if you’re irish? Loosen up – he can still sing well and the band made a good record this time…so what?

  • The album is, by all accounts, average, which is to say that it’s not bad per se. But coming from U2, I expected something more than an album that I just listen to and go “Eh. Not bad.”

  • Paul

    This is U2’s best album since Achtung Baby! It’s got everything an album from U2 should; a great variety of songs, amazing lyrics, atmospheric music, thought provoking lyrics, songs that can be interpreted in many ways, the list goes on!

    10/10