The Financial Times ATYCLB Review

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The Financial Times (London), October 28, 2000


by Ludovic Hunter Tilney

Just over a decade ago U2 reigned as the pomp rockers supreme. They had stirring anthems, earnest lyrics and an ability to fill stadiums world-wide with their fans. Then came a drastic change of image: the Irish quartet, suddenly showing a fondness for leather trousers and wraparound shades, decided to reinvent themselves as an ironic, post-modern pop band. Album titles became increasingly snappy - Achtung Baby, Zooropa and most recently Pop - while voguish DJs were employed to pep up the sound. Playing live, they delivered a virtual symposium on rock music as spectacle - employing such Spinal Tap-like props as a giant lemon.

Despite producing a few good songs, U2 were never terribly convincing in this ultra-chic, self-reflexive mode. And a glance at their ponderously titled new album, All That You Can't Leave Behind, shows that they have chosen to abandon it. Produced by long-term collaborators Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, U2 have stripped their music back to its essentials: guitarist The Edge has had his trademark chiming riffs restored to centre stage, and the emphasis is once more on melody rather than po-mo trickery.

Opening track "Beautiful Day" sets the stage with its muscular bass-line, slashing guitars and Eno-operated synthesisers, all of which signal a return to the epic soundscapes heard on U2's great 1980s albums, The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree. Singer Bono underscores the grandiosity by conflating personal and global perspectives in his lyrics ("See the world in green and blue/ See China right in front of you"), while his yearning voice nicely complements the sweeping tune.

U2 have a great aptitude for this type of bombast, but they have also learnt to temper it with well-judged changes in tone. "Kite" has a lightly countrified edge that sits surprisingly well with Bono's almost operatic excesses ("I'm a man, I'm not a child," the 40-year-old vocalist pointlessly bellows at one stage). And the marvellous "Stuck In A Moment You Can't Get Out Of" has an explicitly soulful feel, reprised rather more self-consciously on "In a Little While".

The buzzing guitars and jaunty beats on "Elevation" are the only reminder of U2's experiments in dance-rock fusion during the 1990s, and perversely is also one of the album's best tracks. "Grace", another high point, brings Brian

Eno's influence to the fore: ambient synthesiser chords swish along beautifully to Bono's tenderly expressed lyrics. But the vocalist commits some appalling gaffes elsewhere: "Peace on Earth" is a string of mawkish cliches, (set to equally drippy music), while "New York" ranks as one of the silliest songs of the year. Attempting, remarkably, to imitate both Lou Reed and Frank Sinatra, Bono here delivers a toe-curling series of lyrical banalities.

These aberrations aside, the album finds U2 sounding all the better for quitting their ironic phase. The music is confident and forceful, and if the earnest tone occasionally grates - well, so it did in their heyday too. If the long-threatened 1980s revival kicks off, they may even find themselves becoming fashionable - by default - which really would be ironic.

Copyright © 2000 Financial Times. All rights reserved.

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on October 28, 2000 5:02 AM.

Even For A U2 fan, It's Slow, Flat And Missing The Spark was the previous entry in this blog.

U2 Comes Back from the Future is the next entry in this blog.

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