Et tu, U2?

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The Detroit Free Press, October 29, 2000

Et tu, U2?

Band betrays its innovative style for bland, simplistic fare.

by Brian McCollum

The thesaurus has been worn thin by awestruck reviewers during U2's 20-year career. But there's one not-so-flowery adjective that's been of little use until now:


U2's 10th studio album is a distillation of all the myriad sounds and styles the Irish quartet has explored over the years. Here you'll find the pealing guitars of Boy, the electronic flair of Pop, the spiritual yearning of The Joshua Tree embroidered together.

On one level, it works. Gone is the self-consciousness that dotted the band's latter-day work; listening to the new album, you get the feeling U2 has finally quit trying to make the next groundbreaking soul album, the next groundbreaking electronic album, the next groundbreaking ironic statement, or whatever latest artistic mission has caught Bono's fancy. Instead, All That You Can't Leave Behind functions, perhaps unwittingly, as U2's groundbreaking album of honesty.

Too bad, then, that the record's greatest potential strength is ultimately its greatest flaw: simplicity. In its quest to deliver something more straightforward -- to soberly remember that U2 is "just a rock 'n' roll band," as Bono recently said -- the quartet bogs down in a set of tracks that is overwhelmingly pedestrian.

There are flashes of triumph, most notably the leadoff track and first single, "Beautiful Day," a gloriously busy, layered song that recalls Bono's lyrically astute Achtung Baby days. "You're on the road but you've got no destination," he sings in the rough-hewn lower register that dominates the album's vocals. "You're in the mud, in the maze of her imagination." Elsewhere, songs like "Elevation" and "Kite" capture that song's mid-tempo sense of wonder, with guitarist the Edge, drummer Larry Mullen and bassist Adam Clayton performing as a cohesive rock ensemble for the first time in half a decade.

The album throbs with hopeful sentiment, albeit while occasionally crossing the line into bathos. Bono's eye-rolling "Peace on Earth" seems custom-built -- or custom-scribbled, more likely -- for an all-star sing-along at the next Amnesty International concert. Somebody get Elton John a lyric sheet.

And that's the heart of the problem: Despite colorful production from Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, most of these tracks gasp for air, because the songs around which they're built make for a lousy set of lungs. They're forgettable, hollow, trifling. Pick your word. You don't need a Roget's to tell you when something's bland.

Copyright © 2000 Detroit Free Press. All rights reserved.

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on October 29, 2000 4:59 AM.

Guitar-Driven U2 Gets Reacquainted With An Old Friend was the previous entry in this blog.

Irish Rockers Return, Gracefully, To Their Roots is the next entry in this blog.

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