All That U2 Can Bring Along

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The Kansas City Star, October 26, 2000

All That U2 Can Bring Along

20-year-old band hasn't found just what it's looking for on new album

by Timothy Finn

Ever a humanist who loves the view from atop a big soapbox, Bono is reportedly making great strides on the international scene these days trying to convince Western governments to forgive big chunks of Third World debt.

But instead of just raging against the machinery, Bono is actually politicking, plying people in high places, including archconservatives like Sen. Jesse Helms, with his endearing rock-star charm.

Keep that in mind as you listen to "All That You Can't Leave Behind," the new U2 record, which sounds an awful lot like the band is making an installment on a debt of its own: another album, its 13th overall, to Island Records.

"You've to get yourself together/You're stuck in a moment and you can't get out of it," Bono sings lukewarmly in one of the many keep-your-chin-up rock ballads on this record, which breaks out of the doldrums only twice: during "Elevation," a groovy rocker with a techno accent, and "Wild Honey," a bouncy chunk of built-for-radio alternative pop. Otherwise, the record surfs rather easily over melodies and beats that never peak too high nor turn too abruptly.

And then there are the lyrics. Famous for asking heavy questions about God, especially the struggle between faith and the flesh, Bono these days sounds like he's tired of wrestling with heavyweights. Or maybe he's just too busy frying bigger fish -- writing movie scripts and doing official Vatican business for the pope -- to care.

On "All That," instead of appraising the half-fullness or -emptiness of the spiritual glass, Bono embraces the glass itself: "It's a beautiful day/Don't let it get away," and "Walk on, walk on/What you've got they can't deny it/Walk on, walk on, stay safe tonight ..."

Elsewhere, he pours several cups of warm milk from his vast supply of human kindness: He prays earnestly to Jesus for some world peace, eulogizes failing romances and disperses advice for those with broken spirits. But most of his poems lack brimstone and bombast, the lyrical excesses that gave his earlier songs resonance. I suspect that if you walked away, walked away today, Bono would care, but he might not bother to follow.

U2 has abandoned nearly all the studio gimmicks it applied so heavily to its previous three albums. Instead, old friends Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois and Steve Lillywhite strive foremost for clarity and austerity. Consequently, the Edge's role is profoundly inconspicuous, and the prevailing atmosphere feels familiar and routine, as if everyone followed the rough blueprints to a few earlier albums, especially "The Unforgettable Fire" and "The Joshua Tree."

Whatever the reason, U2, now 20 years old, sounds like it's not quite sure what it's looking for or whether it's in the mood for the hunt. "I'm just trying to find a melody," Bono sings early in the record, "a song I can sing in my own company." Maybe next time.

Copyright © 2000 The Kansas City Star. All rights reserved.

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on October 26, 2000 5:10 AM.

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