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Dotmusic, October 31, 2000


by Ben Gilbert

To put it more accurately and adapt that post-modern adage for U2's ninth album, everything you've read is wrong. Because, despite the almost universal hyperbole that has greeted 'All That You Can't Leave Behind', this is no masterpiece. Certainly not by U2's stratospheric standards.

Over three years since the erratically brilliant 'Pop' and with the 'dark' neo-industrial resurrection of 'Achtung Baby' - the band's peak - almost a decade old, it would appear U2 have shot straight through Heaven and missed God's parking space, such is the lightweight understatement of this record. Rightly, Bono and the boys have been elevated to a magnificently grandiose position, but too much of 'All That You...' rolls past like a spanking red carpet, limped on by leaden-footed royalty.

The album does have its share of inspirational moments. Bombastic single 'Beautiful Day', kicks things off, an unashamedly soaring chorus making up for the suspicion of not much else going on. The marvellously plaintive 'Peace On Earth' somehow sidesteps sycophantic, bilious schmaltz, as Bono chokes on lines such as "Jesus can you take the time, to throw a drowning man a line", while the howling, guitar chainsaw 'Elevation' is expertly adrenalised U2. As affecting is the arch chest-beating and chiming axe envelopes of 'Walk On', a transcendent return to U2's glorious, already legendary past.

And herein lies the crux in many of the thoughts recently committed to print: that U2 have ditched the experimentation and clawing grasps at the zeitgeist, to return to their more straightforward roots. However, the flat landscape of 'All That You...' is not one that this writer recognises. There is little of the widescreen drama of old, a sense of danger, unpredictability, burning devotion, whatever. Call it U2's ability to take the listener by the throat and drag them to the water's edge. Too often, guitars are clean and precise, rhythms safe and rudimentary, the atmospherics staid and the production vacuously pretty.

The worst culprits are the mildly engaging meanderings of 'In A little While', an overblown but underfed 'Kite' and the loose country plod of 'Wild Honey', none of which would dare to feed from the rich man's table of so much of U2's death-defying career. Even the gleaming ambience of much of 'New York' becomes clumsily frenetic and messy, a poor relative of 'Pop's 'Miami'.

Lyrically, Bono, as always, has his moments, but more for foolish aberrations than wild poetic perception. This reaches an absolute nadir - of Gallagherian proportions - on the otherwise fizzing frenzy of 'Elevation', when the "" treadmill is wheeled-out like a corpse. And that's saying nothing of a mole couplet that no amount of drugs/Third World debt/meetings with The Pope can excuse. He is, though, forgiven, simply for a disarming line in 'Peace On Earth' - "where I grew up, there weren't many trees. Where there was, we'd tear them down. And use them on our enemies".

But such inspiration is, sadly, diluted and as for the decision to include 'The Ground Beneath Her Feet' - originally featured on 'The Million Dollar Hotel' soundtrack - as a bonus track, to, like, sell more records? The word insult springs to mind.

I guess we'll just have to look forward to the stage pyrotechnics of the gargantuan live shows to cover-up the cracks. Have U2 used a lemon yet? Because they've just released one.


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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on October 31, 2000 5:00 AM.

Yes, U2 Can Go Home Again was the previous entry in this blog.

U2 Leaves Little Behind is the next entry in this blog.

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