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Music Review: U2 – No Line On The Horizon

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So I'm just gonna' be straight up honest here from the get-go, and say that I've got mixed feelings about this album. But then, I've had mixed feelings about U2 for a long time now.

Personally, I've just had a really difficult time reconciling all of the earnestness of Bono's efforts as a truly world-class altruist and politician — not to mention his lyrics — with his apparent megalomania and his messiah complex.

Glad-handing with presidents and popes aside, I've just always found it a bit tough to really believe in the idea of a streetwise rock-and-roll savior in wraparound sunglasses, and just lately dark eye-shadow, okay?

I guess it's that whole Jesus thing.

That said, No Line On The Horizon is a damn good album — though not necessarily the truly great entry in the U2 canon that some have been making it out to be. I'll give U2 credit for one thing, and that is the fact that they continue to make really great rock music in the old-fashioned sense that it used to be made — especially at this late point in their career. Unlike so many of their contemporaries, they continue to be relevant, and you simply can't dismiss that.

The reason this is a really good — just not quite great — U2 album, is because despite several stops (Pop) and starts (All You Can't Leave Behind) over the band's career this past decade or so, they remain smart enough to know what works. Which is also where the problem here lies. Listening to tracks like "Magnificent" and "Breathe," you get the feeling that U2 have become so good at this, that they could do it in their sleep.

Not that this a bad thing.

Those tracks work precisely because U2 still know how to craft great three – or four-minute anthemic rock songs at a time when few others do — especially when they've been around as long as these guys have. The elements are all there. Edge still has one of the most distinctive guitar sounds in rock, and it is wisely mixed way up front here. Bassist Adam Clayton is as rock steady as ever, and Larry Mullen remains one of rock's most underrated drummers.

But there is still a paint-by-numbers feeling here.

As good as this record this — and make no mistake, No Line On The Horizon is a damned good record — there is an inescapable feeling of calculation here. Which for me anyway, has always been sort of the unspoken problem with U2. For me, they have always been a band far too willing to shift with the wind.

When a departure like Pop seems to be called for, they deliver it. And when a "return to form" like All That You Can't Leave Behind is needed, they can likewise be counted on.

This is my main problem with No Line On The Horizon.

As good as it sounds blasting from the car stereo or the Bose speakers at home — and make no mistake, this album is meant to be cranked up real loud — it still sounds more like the collection of great U2 songs we know these guys can deliver on a dime, than the sort of bold new artistic breakthrough we were led to believe was coming as recently as last fall. And that's why I refuse to buy into all of the hype about this being the best U2 record since Achtung Baby, Joshua Tree, or (fill in the blank here).

Then again, maybe I just think too much.

After all, those supposedly bold new experimental new songs like "Winter" that were left off of this album are supposed to be coming this fall on a companion piece said to be called Songs Of Ascent.

Oooh…lofty-sounding title there, huh?

The bottom line is that U2 do what they do very well on No Line On The Horizon. No complaints there. I'm sure the stadium tour will do huge business, despite the $250 price for the top seats (that is, unless you can snag the budget-priced $55 field ticket next to the stage).

I give U2 all due credit just for the fact that they can continue to make records this good. But for all of Bono's messianic pretensions, this is definitively not anything that is going to change the game of how rock 'n' roll masterpieces are made. That said, it still kicks more ass than it really has any right to. And I suspect it will grow on me considerably the more I listen to it.

Maybe I just set too high a standard when it comes to these guys. And yes, I probably do think too much.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • kyle

    honestly…U2 has to be one of the most overrated bands in the history of rock music. They get such favorable media coverage for what?

  • http://scottpeterson.typepad.com/ scott

    They get such favorable media coverage for what?

    …for being one of the greatest bands in the history of rock and roll?

    They have their flaws, without question. Bono is a wildy uneven lyricist and even at his very best rarely truly rises to the level of the music. But when the music is as magnificent at U2’s at its finest, that’s not a fatal flaw.

    Nice review, Glen. I agree with just about all of it. Very good but not great album? Sure. But it’s nice to see a band out there who’s one of the masters and still trying.

  • http://www.themidnightcafe.org Mat Brewster

    Spot on Glen. I’ve gone back and forth a couple of times on it, but after several listens I find it to be a very good album, but it doesn’t come close to the level of genius I expect from them. Or I used to expect from them.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    …for being one of the greatest bands in the history of rock and roll?

    Yea,up to Joshua Tree and possibly Achtung… but after that it has all been down hill. Does being relevant, during a time when all the popular artists sound unoriginal,compressed & overly polished with studio magic, garnish any kind of credit? Really, releasing an album that sounds similar to what is destroying the airwaves and having it still sound a bit like a four piece because Bono could never bare to fire the people who helped him achieve such status doesn’t rate very high with me.

    The elements are all there. Edge still has one of the most distinctive guitar sounds in rock, and it is wisely mixed way up front here. Bassist Adam Clayton is as rock steady as ever, and Larry Mullen remains one of rock’s most underrated drummers.

    As for signature U2 songs, there is nothing on this album that really stands out as the above average playing/material that I know U2 could once do. But, I guess why push the envelope anymore when you can make Gazillions off of such overrated garbage.

    Speaking of overrated garbage, how can you be happy listening to anything through a pair of BOSE??

  • http://blogcritics.org Clarence Yu

    I just have to comment, because I have been trying so hard to like U2 after The Joshua Tree. Even bought all their albums but none since have gripped me. Bono is getting to be an irritant. He loves world peace and the end of poverty and yet he is a godly rock star too. You can’t mix that in rock and roll.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    What I am waiting for, and what I expect — perhaps unfairly — from U2 is that one album that is going to completely knock me on my ass from start to finish.

    Their last several albums all have their moments — “Walk On” from All That You Can’t Leave Behind, “Original Of The Species” and “Yahweh” from Atomic Bomb, and “Breathe” from this new one all knock me out. But none of them have completely floored me the way that Achtung or even Boy did the first time that I heard them.

    Like I said, its probably unfair to set the bar that high for these guys considering both their age and their continuing relevance. But if Bono more or less wants to be the Messiah, then perhaps such expectations are appropriate after all.

    -Glen

  • JC Mosquito

    I’m not a huge fan of U2, but I like ’em enough to realize this: they’re probably the last great rock band in the traditional, classic, world-conquering, media savvy sense we’re going to see for a while, or maybe even ever again.

  • Bela

    Nothing will ever floor you the way those albums, AB & JT did. AB and the Joshua Tree are phenomenal moments in history, that can’t be replicated, ever.
    No Line On The Horizon, in my opinion comes so close that you won’t really know for some time, unless you reconize it now.
    My problem with your review is you seem to like the album but you have a problem liking it for the music that it is, as opposed to your feeling that Bono is a Messiah blah, blah and U2 should be able to produce flawless albums. Who has ever, in the history of music, done that. In most cases they are.
    Keep listening, then you may love this album on it’s own merits. Not something it will never be able too live up too.
    It’s right up there with AB as the next U2 Classic. Just feel it, instead of trying to critique it.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Thats just it Bela.

    I really want to love this record the way you do. But to put it in your words, I just don’t feel it the way I did some of their other classics.

    And when I wrote the review, I just put down those thoughts I was “feeling,” in kind of a stream of thought sort of way, rather than a more traditional critique. If I was critiquing the record the way I usually do, I would have gone more for the song by song approach. As in “Breathe” and “Magnificent” are the more rocking tracks, where “Cedars of Lebanon” and “Moment Of Surrender” are the more reflective songs, etc. etc.

    I love U2, and thats probably why I tend to set the bar a little high when it comes to this band. Like JC says, they really are the last great rock band. I really believe that.

    But for me there’s just no escaping that this is a three or four star album from a five star band. Sorry…

    -Glen

  • http://scottpeterson.typepad.com/ scott

    Glen, when’s the last time anyone put out an album that floored you like that?

    I’ve found lots of albums I’ve loved in the past ten years, but I’m not sure I’ve heard one that’s affected me in that way since…well, since I graduated college.

    I mean, even favorites like Bruce Springsteen. I’ll argue that his work this decade is very nearly as strong as anything he’s ever done, and that it’s unprecedented for a rock and roll artist to be still writing and performing at such an astonishingly high level thirty years down the road. And yet much as I love, say, Magic—and I do—the album hasn’t affected me the way, say, Born to Run or Tunnel of Love did.

    And I wonder if maybe it’s not the music, if maybe it’s me, if the same way our brains are wired to acquire language virtually effortlessly as a toddler, if we (or, I should obviously say, I) are wired such that music doesn’t have the same effect on us once we’re completely past adolescence.

    …not that my wife would say I am completely past adolescence…

  • http://scottpeterson.typepad.com/ scott

    One other thought on the new U2 album: while I don’t think it’s one of their finest releases, not by a long shot, I often think about the way elder statesmen are viewed in country and blues, and how simply carrying on the tradition in those genres is seen as being rather noble.

    That’s pretty much where U2 is now. They’ve been doing this for nearly thirty years, and if their work isn’t as stunning as it was, it’s still at a remarkably high level, higher than any comparable band in history with that much water under the bridge. So it’s not Achtung Baby. I’m not sure it’s even All That You Can’t Leave Behind. But it’s one hell of a lot better than anything the Stones have put out in the past twenty years.

    Although that may be setting the bar far too low…

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Believe it or not Scott, I still hear music that floors me on a fairly consistent basis. Radiohead’s In Rainbows floored me, as did Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky. Theres a little known British prog-rock band called Porcupine Tree that I was turned on to about a year or so ago, who floored me to the point that I ended up going broke buying up all of their back catalog (they have a shitload of albums too). Springsteen’s Magic isn’t Born To Run as you say, but it floored me as well over time…that one just really grew and grew on me. But no, not in the same immediate way that BTR, The River or Darkness did.

    So yeah, I think it is still possible to be floored by new music, although I will grant you that great albums aren’t released nearly as often as they were even twenty or even ten years ago.

    But back to the U2 argument for a minute.

    I do really like this new record, and I want to be clear about that. I also think that U2 are really the last of the really big, great rock bands (as JC said so well in the comment above). No Line may well grow on me over time too…stranger things have happened. But it just doesn’t blow me away the way I had hoped at this point.

    I place such high expectations on U2 because, as you say, they continue to produce music worthy of such expectation…unlike contemporaries like the Stones who have become more of a touring nostalgia act at this point.

    This album is no exception….it is really good. I just can’t escape that it feels so phoned in for lack of a better term. Granted though, U2 phoning it in still kicks the crap out of nearly everybody else.

    -Glen

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Dylan’s last record…Modern Times…now that one floored me real good.

    -Glen

  • http://scottpeterson.typepad.com/ scott

    This album is no exception….it is really good. I just can’t escape that it feels so phoned in for lack of a better term. Granted though, U2 phoning it in still kicks the crap out of nearly everybody else.

    Well, if the press is to be believed, this album was borne out of their own fear of becoming the sort of band that phones it in. And in the recent Rolling Stone cover story, they mentioned looking around at once great artists who’ve been unable to produce great work after a certain point and the terror that inspires in U2, wondering if/when that’ll happen to them as well.

    So here’s the thing I keep wondering: what if this album is the best we’re going to get out of U2 from here on out?

  • http://scottpeterson.typepad.com/ scott

    Glen—

    Serious question: how many times have you played Modern Times since it was released and how many times did you play, say, Blood on the Tracks in the two and a half years after you first heard it?

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    It may well be the best they can do at this point. And that’s also probably good enough. Especially when you consider the fact that it’s so much better than what contemporaries like the Stones are doing at this point in their careers.

    But I don’t believe it. I think they’ve got another masterpiece in them. In that same RS article you quote, you can even see how Eno was frustrated with them because they were thinking more about singles than about the bigger picture.

    And thats really the heart of the matter isn’t it? How does a great band like U2 reconcile their art with the realities of commerce?

    If U2 can crack that particular egg, we may see that masterpiece just yet.

    -Glen

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Answer to your question: I play Modern Times all the freaking time. Even now. I think its AS GOOD as Blood On The Tracks, and in some ways even better. That weathered old croak in his voice, and those amazing lyrics from Thunder On The Mountain through Aint Talkin…that album is scary freaking great.

    I put Modern Times in my personal top 5 Dylan albums. Easily.

    -Glen

  • http://scottpeterson.typepad.com/ scott

    In that same RS article you quote, you can even see how Eno was frustrated with them because they were thinking more about singles than about the bigger picture.

    And thats really the heart of the matter isn’t it? How does a great band like U2 reconcile their art with the realities of commerce?

    Well, except that Bono was making clear that was the heart of his disagreement with Eno: he doesn’t see it as a battle of Art v Commerce, that he sees the single as the ultimate perfect for when it comes to art in rock and roll.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Touché!

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    …but how does that explain “Get On Your Boots”?

    -Glen

  • JC Mosquito

    The single as art? Beautiful Day.

    The single as indestructible artifact? Vertigo.

    The single as pure, distilled rock’n’roll? Desire.

    How many artists hit this Triple Crown? U2 doesn’t need to be successful at this point in their career – just the fact they’re still here should count for something.

    And for what it’s worth, I’d say same with the Stones.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/tall_writer Tall Writer

    A solid review! My favs were “Moment of Surrender” and “Breathe”.

  • http://immortalcritic.blogspot.com Neil

    I just reviewed the new U2 album and must say that i’m no fan but even by their grandiose standard “No Line on the Horizon” is a ridiculous failure. I don’t get why critics feel that have to justify the failings of the album, as if it isn’t clear that by them doing so it means they know it’s bad. The songwriting is pretensious, no track stands out and a lot are embarassing.

    I think it’s good that Bono soldiers on but that doesn’t mean he deserves a free pass from criticism…he is a musician afterall, not a world leader promoting peace. His duty is to produce rock music but his politics have long stopped influencing his music and now it’s the other way around, with the band now being too flawless to produce a flawed gem.

    I was listening to Radiohead’s “2+2=5″ earlier and thought how stunning it is and how Bono has not produced anything even remotely close since “The Joshua Tree”. In fact, what does it mean to be the purported ‘biggest’ rock band when Radiohead is clearly the best rock band for nearly fourteen years now and Animal Collective have dropped ’09’s best CD already with the monumental “Merriweather Post Pavillion”?

    I think fans must know when its okay to criticize their musicians instead of defending their sap with every fiber as if it matters life and death.

  • http://marksaleski.com MarkSaleski

    I don’t get why critics feel that have to justify the failings of the album, as if it isn’t clear that by them doing so it means they know it’s bad.

    does that mean if i write a negative review it means that the album is great?

    face it, people “give up” on bands all the time and no matter what the group puts out, somebody will say its crap.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    face it, people “give up” on bands all the time and no matter what the group puts out, somebody will say its crap.

    Well.. Critics can be fans writing the review because they love the band no matter what or they can be a critical listener writing a review that doesn’t just cover the supposed emotion of the material in front them.I mean there is no mention of the type equipment used or what technically draws the listener to the music,so, are all reviews based purely on a subjective level?

    Honestly, Mark, that’s all I ever get from you is this subjectivity rant. It’s real easy for people to get caught up in the idea that if the music is polished then it has to be good music. Sure, this could be a long enough argument but if your whole goal as a musician is to release music that is overly polished & really has no significant meaning beyond being catchy,trendy & accessible in order to generate sales then you really have no basis knocking people who can hear it for what it really is…CRAP! People who can study beyond the shallow “entertainment” factor of U2’s current “Pop” releases to figure out that this stuff doesn’t even come close to the brilliant work they did when Bono wasn’t so concerned with saving the world! When it really mattered to release a compilation of material that accurately reflected their emotions & their message. That the work wasn’t based purely upon the contract that they were/are bound to… I mean, come on, when does an artist ever admit that he/she produced this crap just to get by?!

  • http://marksaleski.com MarkSaleski

    and brian, all i ever get out of you is THAT BAND SUCKS!

    that and this supposed knowledge as to “why” the band sucks….because they’re purposefully making it slick, to sell, to save the world, etc. etc. etc.

    what..the..fuck..ever.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    and brian, all i ever get out of you is THAT BAND SUCKS!

    And that’s all you’ll get from me most of the time because the majority of the people on this site truly believe that it is just the personal interpretation of a band’s work that is significant. It couldn’t possibly be more than that because someone,like me, doesn’t have any scientific proof to back up many of the beliefs that I have.

    that and this supposed knowledge as to “why” the band sucks….because they’re purposefully making it slick, to sell, to save the world, etc. etc. etc.

    Ahh… Nope. I usually point out when something sounds a bit too polished for my liking or when you can hear a certain trend/formula being used in the mixing room(usually produced by the same engineer). This time I mentioned my opinion about “Bono the savior” because he’s pretty blatant about being a politician instead of a musician and it shows. Maybe, a lot of this “supposed” knowledge comes from years of critical listening instead of reducing everything down to just entertainment value…

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    To be fair, Mark, the Guppernator doesn’t think Dropkick Murphys suck.

    Although that’s probably because they could beat him up.

    😉

  • zingzing

    i last got excited about a u2 album with pop. i was a little disappointed then. but i think it’s time for a reevaluation of that album… it’s never going to be a great album, but stuff like “miami” is really strange, “discoteque” is quite a production “do you feel loved” is a great pop tune, etc, etc. there’s an column over at stylus magazine called “playing god,” where they cover zooropa and pop, cutting and pasting songs from each into something coherent… “poopropa,” they call it. either way, put pop on again; i guarantee it’s better than you remember. there’s a few stinkers, but there’s plenty of strange, strange music for something that sold so many copies.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Whether you believe it or not – There are people out there that actually give a shit about music,i.e; the quality of the instruments used,the recording process,like, the audio format & how many tracks were laid,etc. Were not in it for the money or the fame and are just truly passionate about the art which, by the looks of it, is the minority.

    I will never just stand by and never voice my opinion…even if it is “This band Sucks” because all the critic said was,” This band is Great”!

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Agree with you about Pop – it’s not half bad, considering it’s widely regarded (even by the band themselves) as U2’s worst album. There’s some good stuff on there. ‘Discotheque’ has a guitar riff to die for. ‘Mofo’ is good too, in an odd urban sort of way.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Although that’s probably because they[DKM] could beat him up.

    Yup… You got me. I’m a complete wuss…

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    …And I fold when the band is close to me in geographical location just like you guys do when it is in the vicinity of your wallet.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    LOL

  • http://everythingisamess.wordpress.com Tom Johnson

    When all is said and done, I really think Atomic Bomb will be proclaimed the worst U2 album, unless they manage to come up with a bigger stinker than that one. Pop is a pretty cool album. Daring, weird, awkward, and fun.

    That the work wasn’t based purely upon the contract that they were/are bound to… I mean, come on, when does an artist ever admit that he/she produced this crap just to get by?!

    Do you really think U2 is bound to a contract anymore now than they used to be? Don’t kid yourself – the music they made in the early 80s was put out under a LOT more pressure from their label than anything they put out now. This band is now free to do whatever they feel like, whenever they feel like it. If their label doesn’t like it, U2 can go anywhere else they want to, and they know it.

    Guppus, you are passionate, I’ll give you that. That’s cool – more people need to be passionate about things. Mostly, you are passionate about instrumental prowess, and you find evidence of that in the kind of music that most people don’t care so much for. And that’s cool too. U2 is not the kind of music that is going to show that off, even if they do happen to have a couple of great musicians in the band (The Edge and Larry Mullen Jr.) You have to realize that most people are not passionate about instrumental prowess and instead care about feeling the passion from the general music of the band, and U2 pulls that off over and over again. Everyone knows the saying “can’t see the forest for the trees.” You don’t feel the passion of U2’s music because you’re a “can’t see the forest for the trees” type, and that’s cool because you’re focusing on details, but try not to get upset when most people are “can’t see the trees for the forest” types. I, and several others, like Mark, I believe, straddle the two, appreciating them from both angles. I don’t see anything wrong with that. I wish more people did appreciate the individual “trees” more than the “forest” whole, but most people just want music to be something powerful and moving, and more often than not, it doesn’t require really great musicianship to get that effect.

  • zingzing

    tom, you are opening up the biggest damn can of worms you’ve ever seen, and you don’t even know you have the damn can opener in your hands. i do not envy you.

  • http://marksaleski.com MarkSaleski

    Maybe, a lot of this “supposed” knowledge comes from years of critical listening instead of reducing everything down to just entertainment value…

    and that’s fine, because it works for you. but it doesn’t for me. i’m sorry if my subjective approach bothers you but, hey, it’s all that i’ve got. my brain is not wired to say that ‘this’ is “better” than ‘that’. i just don’t think that way.

  • http://marksaleski.com MarkSaleski

    ah, we’ve opened the can before. it’s fun!

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Can of Worms… Guppy… Ahha, I get it now! *LMAO*

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    my brain is not wired to say that ‘this’ is “better” than ‘that’. i just don’t think that way.

    Dunno about you, but my brain is wired to say that drinking a pint of Kilkenny is better than having my fingers chopped off one by one with a blunt hacksaw. But that’s just me.

  • http://marksaleski.com MarkSaleski

    how about a sharp hacksaw?

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    No, no, Mark, it has to be blunt. Since this is the Music section, think of my comment as an analogy of listening to a Dire Straits album vs. listening to a Britney Spears album.

    Now where did I put that BMG Black & Decker catalog?

  • http://everythingisamess.wordpress.com Tom Johnson

    Not only do I know I have the can opener, I’ve got another can, ready to open . . . a can of whuppass. I’ve also got a big pile o’ “don’t give a shit.”

    And, by the way, I like the (intentional or not) misspelling up there of “Poopropa.” I actually had a disc combining the two albums into one for a while, until I realized that I just liked too much of Pop too much to do that.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    but most people just want music to be something powerful and moving, and more often than not, it doesn’t require really great musicianship to get that effect.

    Yup…The masses are easily led but that doesn’t meant it doesn’t take great musicianship to create a timeless piece of music. Maybe, there’s a correlation between that mentality and the decline of CD sales..Do you think?? Sure, everybody wants to blame it on the illegal d/l’ing but I think it’s because of inferior musicianship, the lack of integrity in the mixing room & the ultimate desire to exploit something for the quick buck. Oh and then there’s the “I just want to enjoy the music not think about it” theory.

    There’s your can of Worms…You want mustard with that?

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Not only do I know I have the can opener, I’ve got another can, ready to open . . . a can of whuppass.

    Bring it on…Beeotch!! I’ve got a whole f*cking keg just waiting to be punctured!

  • http://marksaleski.com MarkSaleski

    The masses are easily led but that doesn’t meant it doesn’t take great musicianship to create a timeless piece of music.

    i think it takes a great musical idea to create a timeless piece of music. great musicianship is an independent thing.

    or, in formal logic whooey, great musicianship is a sufficient, but not necessary condition.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    or, in formal logic whooey, great musicianship is a sufficient, but not necessary condition.

    So, then how are you able to accurately communicate that great idea if your musicianship isn’t important?

  • http://marksaleski.com MarkSaleski

    are you implying that there are no simple yet great musical ideas? i don’t mean to answer a question with another but that’s exactly my point: that there are great musical ideas, some of ’em simple, some of ’em complex.

  • http://everythingisamess.wordpress.com Tom Johnson

    Brian, not everyone wants music that requires thinking about it to enjoy it – you know, intense concentration – nor knowledge of music theory, etc. to understand it. Your interests are on a whole different level because of that, and that’s fine. Just don’t expect that to be the norm because it’s not. And don’t try and say that the majority of people are wrong, because they’re not. Until recently, no one gave a crap about musical abilities – they just listened and enjoyed the music that was being played for them. It’s only since music started being recorded, sold, and bought, that anyone started arguments about who was better. Before that, it was simply another form of entertainment and, for the majority of people, that’s all it still is. The craft, I guess, is something that goes ignored by most people, but has become the dominant focus of the music for some relatively small genres. But, again, don’t expect most people to care about that. They just want to be entertained. I don’t really let that bother me anymore. There’s plenty of great music out there that entertains me in my own particular way. I don’t see the need to get all up in arms when someone likes something I don’t find particularly noteworthy. You’re not going to sway anyone over to your side no matter how long or loud you argue your points.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    No, I’m saying that maybe those “great” musical ideas were simple because the people didn’t know how to express themselves any better. If music is a language,which I firmly believe, then you can continue to babble on like a 3 year old because you become complacent or you can progress and push yourself to become better.

  • http://marksaleski.com MarkSaleski

    ok, define “better”. i know you like this idea of progression, but that’s only one way to look at things.

    in the meantime, i’ll use Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music For Airports as an example. i think it was a brilliant idea, but it’s constructed out of fairly minimal materials.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    And don’t try and say that the majority of people are wrong, because they’re not.

    I think it’s pretty evident that they are!

    Look, I’m not looking to sway anyone any which way. But, that doesn’t mean that I’m gonna move to your side because you have the majority vote.

    Again, if that’s the consensus then they can keep producing that shallow schlock and stay complacent with their cheap thrills. And those same people will continue to look at the amazing works that break through from time to time like their out of this world because they don’t understand the concepts at work.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    in the meantime, i’ll use Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music For Airports as an example. i think it was a brilliant idea, but it’s constructed out of fairly minimal materials.

    And I’ll take Akira Jimbo because he actually progressed the ability of a single instrument. He turned an instrument that was reliant on other instruments into a solo instrument. With his technique, which you can learn, you no longer have to play with other people.

  • http://everythingisamess.wordpress.com Tom Johnson

    We’re not really on different “sides,” Brian.

    I’m not a top-40 listener, but I’ll defend their right to listen to that stuff because the market works both ways. If people really wanted music with depth, the market would have to provide it. They don’t want it because they don’t care, and so the music industry is filled with artists who put out light fluff. And it always has been – look back at the charts from the past 50+ years and tell me that there’s significantly better music there than today. There isn’t. It’s almost all dreck, with a few bright spots here and there, just like today, and that’s all we remember. I’ll even argue that we have much, much better choices for artistically significant music today than ever before. Who cares if the top 40 listeners are missing out? The independent bands that are focusing on fans that really care are going to do fine because they have their niche, and if they don’t outstretch that niche, they’ll remain fine. (You know, the “long tail”/”1000 true fans” strategies.) It’s only when they get into the top 40 arena that things go awry, where they try to reach as many listeners as possible that they screw it all up. Top 40 listeners are not listening to music for any artistic, spiritual meaning. They listen for fun, for relaxation, or for something in the background. Ignore ’em and you’ll be a whole lot happier.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Tom.. I understand the music industry & the top 40 listener. That wasn’t my argument…My argument is that Musicianship is the cornerstone of all Great music.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Top 40 listeners are not listening to music for any artistic, spiritual meaning. They listen for fun, for relaxation, or for something in the background.

    Yea..sure, when people are spewing on how brilliant Kanye West is… Give me a break.

  • http://marksaleski.com MarkSaleski

    .My argument is that Musicianship is the cornerstone of all Great music.

    and i’m glad that works for ya. there are, however, a bunch of other attributes that can make something great.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    there are, however, a bunch of other attributes that can make something great.

    I’m not denying that there are other attributes. The people in this thread seem to think that there is some magical way of creating valuable art without understanding the essence of that art.And, I will always feel that in order to combine those other attributes in a brilliant way, whether it be soul,heart,etc.. , that you have to have a strong foundation in musicianship. Honestly, it’s not about what works for me…It’s an appreciation & respect of what worked for the artists who made the music that pushed me as a musician & as a music lover!

  • http://londoninbrokenc.blogspot.com Aaron McMullan

    Excellent review Glen – I haven’t heard this yet, but i dare say I will afore long. I do have to say, though – Pop is bloody wonderful.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    guppy, get over yourself. your reasons for liking music aren’t any more valid than anyone else’s.

  • zingzing

    CAN OF WORMS! UGLY HEAD! CAN OF WORMS!

    guppy: ” Maybe, there’s a correlation between that mentality and the decline of CD sales..Do you think?? Sure, everybody wants to blame it on the illegal d/l’ing but I think it’s because of inferior musicianship, the lack of integrity in the mixing room & the ultimate desire to exploit something for the quick buck.”

    nah, it’s illegal downloading. all that other stuff has been around since the beginning of recorded music.

    “The people in this thread seem to think that there is some magical way of creating valuable art without understanding the essence of that art.”

    the magic is the essence. you can break music down into numbers if you want, but building it back up from that is very difficult.

    mark, ambie[notsleepingpills]nt 1 might not be your best example. that one actually took some clever thought and arranging (and robert wyatt).

    discreet music, from a few years earlier, might be a better choice: it’s two melodic flute noises of differing lengths, put to tape, sent through a graphic equalizer, echoed, sent back to another tape, then looped back into the first one. after eno set up the system, it proceeded to record itself, always the same, but always changing.

    that’s a great musical idea that took NO instrumental prowess whatsoever. in fact, an instrument was never even touched. (that said, eno knew what he was doing, although it was probably more instinctual than it was learned.)

  • zingzing

    the point of that is that eno had an IDEA of an idea, not of a song. it wasn’t about getting what was in his head out onto tape. it was seeing what the tape would do to what was in his head.

    he had some knowledge of how it would sound, i’m sure, but no clear idea of how it was going to develop, how long it would be, where the changes would occur, etc. and before he could make any of those decisions, he left the room. generative music, they call it.

  • http://www.marksaleski.com MarkSaleski

    yeah zing, that’s really more of what i meant. maybe you should just comment for me from now on. thanx.

  • http://www.marksaleski.com MarkSaleski

    mark, ambie[notsleepingpills]nt 1 might not

    stop it! that record is like Philip Glass, but slowed waaaay down.

    after a while, you see god.

    no wait, that was Black Sabbath…at 78 speed. shoot, i’m forgetting my musical/comedic history.

  • zingzing

    yeah, well, philip glass needs to be shot dead for being boring.

    i like ambie[boing]nt 1… i like ambie[boing]nt 4 better…

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    guppy, get over yourself. your reasons for liking music aren’t any more valid than anyone else’s.

    Leave it up to El Bicho to make a statement that has nothing to do with the argument… *Uh-Duh*

    My reasons for “liking” music have nothing to do with my theory that it takes great musicianship to create great music.

    you can break music down into numbers if you want, but building it back up from that is very difficult.

    Yea, of course it’s difficult, but it can be done & is usually done by people who have technical prowess. For example, you should check out Blotted Science or Spastic Ink or Akira Jimbo.

    the magic is the essence.
    Sure thing… It’s magic to the people who can’t grasp the concept. Your point about Brian Eno doesn’t invalidate my argument & the fact that he was a Keyboard & Synthesizer musician first in a structured band proves that someone with a foundation in musicianship can only boost one’s ability to experiment. I submit to you Les Paul’s recording innovations[never mind his experience as a musician which led him to build one of the first electric guitars] prior to Eno’s “generative” work as proof. I also suggest listening to Fantomas’ first CD to hear what it sounds like when you can communicate experimentation between band members.

    the point of that is that eno had an IDEA of an idea, not of a song.

    It could’ve been a song once he mastered the concept at hand which was playing a note or group of notes by utilizing recording equipment. Michael Manring experimented with his Bass playing until he (& John Zon) created the Hyper Bass. It’s very well likely that Brian Eno could come up with a new way of making music but that still doesn’t leave out the foundation of musicianship.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Agree with you about Pop – it’s not half bad, considering it’s widely regarded (even by the band themselves) as U2’s worst album.

    Pretty sure the band’s said October was their worst. Not 100% sure though. Pop is wicked.

  • zingzing

    “Your point about Brian Eno doesn’t invalidate my argument & the fact that he was a Keyboard & Synthesizer musician first in a structured band proves that someone with a foundation in musicianship can only boost one’s ability to experiment.”

    true. he played in a band. (and quite a good band at that… and he had a couple of solo albums out at this point, which used a mixture of studio virtuosos and non-musicians.) but he was no virtuoso, or anywhere close. in fact, he said that he “doesn’t think of [himself] as a musician.” he was an idea man, first and foremost.

    “It could’ve been a song once he mastered the concept at hand which was playing a note or group of notes by utilizing recording equipment. ”

    it is a song. always was.

    “Yea, of course it’s difficult, but it can be done & is usually done by people who have technical prowess.”

    i’d say it’s done far more often by people who don’t break it down that way.

    “Sure thing… It’s magic to the people who can’t grasp the concept.”

    that’s like saying you have to think about the movement of blood and the conception of life when you decide what to do with a naked woman.

    “I also suggest listening to Fantomas’ first CD to hear what it sounds like when you can communicate experimentation between band members.”

    we’ve gone over this before. i like fantomas. that said, i also like harry pussy, whose drummer/singer only started playing drums and singing two weeks before their first gig. they had quite a mental telepathy thing going on that was quite separate from their (lack of) “technical prowess,” and they managed to create music that was 1) ahead of its time and 2) visceral as all hell.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Zing, you don’t have to be a virtuoso to understand the importance of musical education. You don’t have to be a virtuoso to strive for mastery of a particular instrument. Nor do you have to be a virtuoso to experiment.

    it is a song. always was.

    Zing-the point of that is that eno had an IDEA of an idea, not of a song.

    Huh??

    As for Harry Pussy… It’s hard for me to see any kind of musical merit. The same for Mike Patton’s “Adult Theme for Voice”. I found them both entertaining but it didn’t open any doors in my opinion. It is very easy to dismiss material like that,But, you couldn’t do that with classical,jazz,etc..

  • zingzing

    guppy: “Zing-the point of that is that eno had an IDEA of an idea, not of a song.

    Huh??”

    what’s not to get? eno had an idea of an idea, not of a song. the song created itself out of the idea. therefore, it was a song, but eno didn’t set about to write a song, he formulated an idea and let the song write itself.

    guppy: “you don’t have to be a virtuoso to understand the importance of musical education. You don’t have to be a virtuoso to strive for mastery of a particular instrument. Nor do you have to be a virtuoso to experiment. ”

    well, for once we agree, although i’m not sure i agree that the second part is all that important. jad fair (of half japanese) never learned how to tune a guitar, much less play a chord, yet he is responsible for some incredible music. musical education is important in some ways, but music can be made without it. it depends on what you are doing. the last part of your statement i whole-heartedly agree with.

    “As for Harry Pussy… It’s hard for me to see any kind of musical merit.”

    while i find it extremely visceral and, when they lock into a slippery groove, which they often do, incredibly beautiful. it’s also ugly as hell, which is a lovely thing. they were doing something no one had done at the time, at least not on purpose (or with such a sense of purpose).

    “… it didn’t open any doors in my opinion. It is very easy to dismiss material like that,But, you couldn’t do that with classical,jazz,etc..”

    there’s plenty of jazz and classical that doesn’t open any doors.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    what’s not to get? eno had an idea of an idea, not of a song. the song created itself out of the idea. therefore, it was a song, but eno didn’t set about to write a song, he formulated an idea and let the song write itself.

    You mean he was experimenting… It may have been just an idea but it was in the spirit of music.

    jad fair (of half japanese) never learned how to tune a guitar, much less play a chord, yet he is responsible for some incredible music.

    Well, then our definition of incredible is way different .. Plus, I would probably find his music to be limited as well.

    they were doing something no one had done at the time, at least not on purpose (or with such a sense of purpose).

    Accidental is great & I myself have stumbled upon accidents when I play but I always try to figure out how I created that segway so I can enjoy doing it again on purpose…

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Wow! What the f happened here? My computer goes on the fritz for a couple days and my nearly month old u2 review goes comments crazy. I have no idea of what the thread is into or about, as i’m writing from an online coffee shop and my 15 mins are nearly up here (my computer is in the shop).

    But thanx for all the comments…i think…

    -Glen

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Glen, this is what we do when you’re not looking.

    :-)

  • zingzing

    “You mean he was experimenting… It may have been just an idea but it was in the spirit of music.”

    true, but it was made in a way that removed himself (and his preconceptions about how it should go) from the process. the original point is that one doesn’t have to have instrumental prowess in order to make (great) music; eno wasn’t even there when the music was created… no one was.

    “Plus, I would probably find [jad fair’s] music to be limited as well.”

    and i find it free of the restrictions one would normally place on making music. it’s anything but limited. anything is possible when you remove the impediments of doing something the “correct” way. he’s finding his own way, which is usually the best way. i suggest the “horrible ep,” which is short, cacophonous and a wondrous combination of punk’s restricted pallate with free jazz’s openness.

    “Accidental is great & I myself have stumbled upon accidents when I play but I always try to figure out how I created that segway so I can enjoy doing it again on purpose…”

    like science, or a bob ross painting, music moves forward based on accidental discovery.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    eno wasn’t even there when the music was created… no one was.

    So then what’s the point…Artificial Intelligence?! Where’s the joy if no one is around? Where’s the stimulation to keep going with the idea and watch it evolve into something else.

    the original point is that one doesn’t have to have instrumental prowess in order to make (great) music

    Yea…”Great” music to who? Those who have a limited capacity to understand anything further.

    anything is possible when you remove the impediments of doing something the “correct” way.
    True..Electric Blues on the guitar wasn’t, at first, the correct way to play the guitar but now we have people teaching it because it is very important to get foundation down.

    Imho, anything is possible if you know how to get back to a “correct” way. Going off the path isn’t my concern, it’s having the musicianship to come back and make a statement. I hear a lot of people on this board complain of foolish wankery,meaning, they only do it because they know they can. I feel the same way about this supposed “experimental” shit. But, is that all they know how to do?

    like science, or a bob ross painting, music moves forward based on accidental discovery.

    True, but it still takes knowledge to know when you’ve [accidentally] discovered something. You still have to know what you are looking at. A three year old can scribble but he doesn’t know what a Rembrandt is when you show it to him. There are scientists who would’ve never figured out certain molecules they accidentally discovered if they didn’t know how to identify a molecule…

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Oh.. I just want to say that you guys(Mark,Zing,Glen) make some valid points. I always get caught up in my thoughts and the spirit of the debate that I never show my appreciation for your intelligent discourse. Thank You…

  • http://marksaleski.com MarkSaleski

    i am now imagining bob ross painting while listening to Harry Pussy.

    that’s just wrong.

    maybe that’s what killed him.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    *Oops* & Dr. Dreadful (Mouwahahaha) for the comic relief.

    Glen, this is what we do when you’re not looking.

    Seriously, some funny shit.

    Sorry to hear your computer is giving you crap, Glen… Tigerdirect.com – Go There!

  • http://marksaleski.com MarkSaleski

    But, is that all they know how to do?

    mostly, no. but that’s a common misconception in the free jazz world. guys like Lester Bowie could play ‘tradition’ or ‘regular’ jazz, but chose not to. same for Ornette and many others.

    Yea…”Great” music to who? Those who have a limited capacity to understand anything further.

    and that’s the one point we keep circling around: great. process music can produce some cool stuff. so can other forms of experimentation. all along i’ve said that i don’t think musicianship is a necessary component of it (though it generally doesn’t hurt). now, whether the stuff is “great” is purely the opinion of the ears chambers being tickled.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    all along i’ve said that i don’t think musicianship is a necessary component of it

    And, that is what we disagree on. and that’s fine.
    I feel musicianship is a crucial factor in music/experimentation.

    but that’s a common misconception in the free jazz world

    Yet, you still have to know something about Jazz to play “Free Jazz”

  • zingzing

    “So then what’s the point…Artificial Intelligence?! Where’s the joy if no one is around? Where’s the stimulation to keep going with the idea and watch it evolve into something else.”

    you’re kidding, right? “where’s the joy?” well, after he decided it had gone on long enough, he went back in the room, rewound the tape and listened to it. then he heard what had been created from his idea. it evolved in ways he wasn’t quite expecting.

    there’s lots of this kind of music. it’s called process music. you set up an event, or series of events, and see what comes of it.

    “Yea…”Great” music to who? Those who have a limited capacity to understand anything further. ”

    well, it’s certainly different than the music you listen to, apparently. this type of music is, sometimes, easy to put into the background, but it also rewards close attention. what you’re investigating is pure sound. you’re way off base with that statement… even if it was a question. i really have no idea how you come to such a conclusion. this is music that CAN’T be written down. it can’t be learned. it’s all about chance operations and fuzzy math. i’m coming to believe that it’s you who doesn’t understand THIS type of music…

    “I hear a lot of people on this board complain of foolish wankery,meaning, they only do it because they know they can. I feel the same way about this supposed “experimental” shit. But, is that all they know how to do?”

    you know that cuts both ways, right? some people can do just about anything on a guitar, but they don’t. some people can only do the thing they do, but you know what? that’s what they do. if it’s good, it’s good.

    “True, but it still takes knowledge to know when you’ve [accidentally] discovered something.”

    not necessarily. that’s the great thing about recorded music. once you create fire, it’s there, no matter if you freeze to death in the middle of the night.

  • zingzing

    mark: “maybe that’s what killed him.”

    nope. cancer. sorry.

    “all along i’ve said that i don’t think musicianship is a necessary component of it (though it generally doesn’t hurt).”

    but sometimes it does hurt. sometimes, as the become more instrumentally competent, bands or artists lose that ability to solve problems in their own way because there isn’t a problem anymore… they know how to get that sound out of their heads and onto tape. whereas before, they had to drag it out, kicking and screaming with originality.

    this isn’t always the case, of course, but it is for a lot of bands.

  • zingzing

    that’s “as THEY become more instrumentally competent…”

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    well, after he decided it had gone on long enough, he went back in the room, rewound the tape and listened to it.

    Wow..Man!! If I could have only figured that shit out,dude. Such fucking brilliance! Ya know, if you go outside and record the cars that go by there’s a good possibility when you play it back that it will evolve in to a total waste of my fucking time! Yea, let’s listen to a fucking modem communicate with another modem…What else can we do that’s completely retarded?!

    Ya know, I try to give you guys credit for a decent conversation about music and then Zing tries to insult my intelligence with this BULLSHIT! No wonder why Mr. Eno doesn’t consider himself a musician anymore because what he is doing is a fucking joke and if you wanna keep smoking whatever it is that he smokes…Go right ahead!

    See ya, I’ve got better things to do…

  • zingzing

    bi-polar much? just answering the question… wasn’t insulting your intelligence, you just didn’t seem to understand the point. still don’t, i guess… it’s not a random recording. it’s still controlled sound. just controlled at one end instead of the other.

    really, you need to sit back, relax and reread what was written. i can’t believe that THAT’S where you decided to get all insulted…

  • http://marksaleski.com MarkSaleski

    wow brian, i didn’t think that was insulting at all. if you’d like to throw process music out the window, then fine. but geezuz, relax man.

    as a matter of fact, you CAN listen to something decided non-musical and transform it into music. Steve Reich has done it plenty of times. say it’s crap if you will, but it’s certainly valid.

  • zingzing

    i had to, like, open the bruise up to let the bruise blood come out to show them.

  • Jordan Richardson

    What else can we do that’s completely retarded?!

    Spend a lifetime bitching about what is and what isn’t metal?

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    “My reasons for “liking” music have nothing to do with my theory that it takes great musicianship to create great music.”

    That’s what it takes to create great music to you. Leave it up to Guppus to have no idea what he’s arguing about… *Uh-Duh*

    btw, Bono has always been concerned with saving the world, so it sounds like you weren’t paying attention or forgot. See you guys next summer when you have the same discussion.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Spend a lifetime bitching about what is and what isn’t metal?

    Shame,Shame Jordan! But, I guess it’s alright considering your reviews are just as cheap!

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    That’s what it takes to create great music to you. Leave it up to Guppus to have no idea what he’s arguing about… *Uh-Duh*

    Well, El Bicho, I’m glad you don’t understand.
    But, I wouldn’t waste my time with you on a serious discussion like this anyways…Shoo McFly,Shoo!

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    You are close to being right this time, Guppus. I don’t understand how you think you are having a serious discussion considering how many times you’ve gone over these same points about music. Sorry to burst your bubble.

  • Jordan Richardson

    I guess it’s alright considering your reviews are just as cheap!

    Reer, kitty has claws!

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    I don’t understand how you think you are having a serious discussion considering how many times you’ve gone over these same points about music.

    Well, besides the countless times that you thought you were doing something useful with your negative comments towards me, you still haven’t proven my theory wrong. Nor would you ever have enough of my respect to be one of my peers anyways…So, what I should have said was that I really don’t care if you understand or not. AND, that I really don’t give a flying fuck what you think about anything! So, from here on out, your comments will no longer be validated with my the time it takes for me to reply!

    In other words.. Piss Off!

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Reer, kitty has claws!

    *Smirk*… What was that sound that Tom(from Tom&Jerry) used to make with his claws when he was mad??