It’s been over four years since U2 released their last proper studio album, the Grammy-winning How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. Their 2009 return to recording explores no new musical territory, as No Line on the Horizon is a poised, comfortable, record from a veteran group that has nothing left to prove. But at this point in their nearly 30-year career, what musical frontier has U2 not explored? No Line on the Horizon doesn’t aim to reinvent, but rather shrewdly expand upon the grandiose soundscapes U2 has explored for the last decade.
Bono has never sounded more confident, assertively projecting his trademark “whoa-ohs” during some of the record’s soaring crescendos (“Magnificent”) while subtly emoting during its quieter points (“Moments of Surrender”). As is typical with U2 records, a repeat listen will likely reveal complexities of some of the song’s soulful sensibilities (“White As Snow”) and moody arrangements (“Cedars of Lebanon”). The same applies for “Unknown Caller”, whose dramatic organs elevate the song from its droning, contemplative guitar riffs into an other-worldly state of spiritual sound.
The strum-along pop sounds of “I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” is easily the most accessible song on the record, which makes the decision to release the quirkily zany “Get On Your Boots” as the lead single rather unusual. Then again, when has U2 ever been typical? From Bono’s peculiar lyrical abstractions to juju men and St. John the Divine in “Breathe” to the entirely schizophrenic mash-up of sounds in “FEZ-Being Born,” U2 remains a band defiant of conventions, producing music that aims to please no one but themselves. And yet, U2 still inspires awe and hope like no other rock band in the universe; as No Line on the Horizon confidently reaffirms, U2’s iconic sound is still very much inspired.
No Line on the Horizon hits stores on Tuesday, Mar. 2. It can currently be streamed in its entirety on U2’s myspace page (http://www.myspace.com/u2).