The Independent ATYCLB Review

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The Independent (London), October 27, 2000


by Andy Gill

HAVING SPENT the majority of the past decade searching for ways to rejuvenate the jaded stadium-rock formula - as much for their own benefit as that of their audience - U2, with All That You Can't Leave Behind, seem to have reneged on their courageous experimental tendencies. It's the opposite route to that taken by Radiohead with Kid A: gone are the Krautrock riffs, the left-field disco excursions, the ambient noodlings and the juddering big-beat cataracts; in their place are a dozen songs whose relatively straightforward guitar-rock shapes and readily hummable tunes could easily have come from their Joshua Tree heyday.

Retained as producers, Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno have integrated the latter's synthesiser parts more solidly within the song structures, while emphasising the soul quotient in songs such as "In a Little While" and "Grace". And after the gaudy colours and splashy design of their last three albums, even the monotone cover photo - an Anton Corbijn shot of the band lingering in the cavernous vastness of Charles de Gaulle airport - recalls The Joshua Tree's "classic" style, albeit emphasising the internal rather than the external. In that respect, it's a fairly accurate indication of the album's lyrical contents, which find Bono (and occasionally The Edge) struggling to achieve a satisfying congruence between inner being and the world outside.

As with most spiritual quests, it entails a rejection of materialism, with track after track advocating the discarding of unnecessary baggage: "What you don't have, you don't need it now" ("Beautiful Day"); "You can never get enough of what you don't really need now" ("Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of"); "The only baggage you can bring/ Is all that you can't leave behind" ("All That You Can't Leave Behind"). Like others plunging headlong into midlife crisis, Bono seems most concerned about taking stock and moving on with a lighter load to carry - in view of which, the enthusiastic acknowledgement of "New York" as the siren lure of decadence might best be characterised as the open-topped sports car with which the middle-aged and pony-tailed cling to their fading youth. A similar sense of regretful yearning pervades "Kite", in which Bono sniffs the changes in the air and muses about whether he wasted the opportunities afforded by being "The last of the rock stars... in the time when new media/ Was the big idea".

But for all its ponderings on the past, All That You Can't Leave Behind still sounds like the work of a band committed to the future - and in tracks such as "Wild Honey", "Stuck in a Moment..." and the obvious Christmas single "Peace on Earth", one still capable of writing songs destined to become standards.

Copyright © 2000 The Independent (London). All rights reserved.

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on October 27, 2000 5:06 AM.

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