Former pop ironists reinvent themselves once again, this time in the cunning guise of a rock'n'roll band

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Music365, October 27, 2000

Former pop ironists reinvent themselves once again, this time in the cunning guise of a rock'n'roll band

by Stephen Dowling

The last time we saw U2 it was at the controls of the dance colossus of Pop, the album that spawned the tour that took even their propensity for over-the-top touring into overdrive. But while U2 lovers might have been able to take their heroes' cold, hard industrialism ('Achtung Baby') or their wry, consumer-culture, globalisation-baiting irony ('Zooropa'), they were far from pleased with the world's most stadium of stadium bands embracing the bleep brigade. 'Pop' it seemed, looked like a mid-life crisis from a band who'd seemingly survived all that adversity and 'Rattle 'N' Hum'could throw at them.

So, as the Popmart tour died down, as Radiohead officially became the Best Band Ever, Oasis shuddered and imploded, Fatboy Slim gave the rock/dance crossover a much needed makeover and David Bowie started making good records again, U2 locked themselves in the studio and got back to what it is they do best: Rock'n'roll, with its heart on its sleeve, roaring hope and desperation.

All That You Can't Leave Behind is an album every bit as good as 1991's career-enlivening 'Achtung Baby'. But where the latter shrouded its songs in a hard, post-Cold War industrialism set against the backdrop of a newly-reunified Germany, this new album is characterised by its sheer warmth. With Bono turning to Jubilee 2000 and a hundred other good causes to exercise his political muscles, here he's preoccupied with the search for hope love and happiness, of universal truths in a busy, bustling world.

More than once the lyrics shoot from conveying human emotion to snapshots of the world from space -- "See the world in green and blue/See China right in front of you/See the canyons broken by cloud/See the tuna fleets clearing the sea out" Bono sings in the ambient breathing space in the middle of the glorious 'Beautiful Day' - as if the band are orbiting the Earth, spying on all below. "Stuck In A Moment You Can't Get Out Of' floats on a gospel backing vocal that the U2 of 'Rattle 'N' Hum' would have murdered. 'Walk On' meanwhile is their own 'Champagne Supernova' a song that constantly feels like it's going to break out into hysterical guitars at any moment but always manages to stay just the right side of dignified.

Perhaps it's old-fashioned, but U2 have made an album that sounds like U2 again. Only better. It's as if 'Achtung Baby' is being sung round a campfire, drunk on cheap red wine. Occasional deft touches like Larry Mullen's hip hop drum beats on 'In A Little While' are restrained while The Edge's guitar seems reborn, the sudden explosion in the middle of 'New York' breath-taking, as is the scratchy guitar and sonar bleeps at the start of 'Elevation'.

That a band can rack up their twentieth year together and still make a record as effortless as this makes you wonder whether rock'n'roll is dead after all.

Copyright © 2000 Music365. All rights reserved.

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on October 27, 2000 5:12 AM.

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