This is good. It took a second listen, with headphones in the dark for it to really click, but this is one powerful mother.
The best way to describe the album in general, I think, is triumphant. In “Original of the Species” (what business does a song this brilliant, happy, and immediate have being second last?) during the last chorus, Bono goes a bit off of the melody, and yells “yeah.” It’s an impromptu, beautiful sort of moment we usually only get to hear in live renditions. The happiness and energy is leaping out of the song and becoming something more than just the lyrics, vocals, and instrumentation… and it’s a theme throughout the album. Where 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind had similarly joyful, well-crafted songs, on U2’s new album they speak more for themselves: by being a little less structured and polished, the spirit shines through (“I’m not broke but you can see the cracks/You can make me perfect again”-All Because of You).
There are a number of different producers all contributing to the album, but nonetheless it maintains a consistent tone. To me it sounds like something new for U2, but since past comparisons are what everyone likes to hear… the blues of rattle and hum, combined with the soar of ‘Gone’, the grunge of ‘Do You Feel Loved’ and the layers of Achtung Baby. But the earnestness of the early 80s that they tried (a little less successfully) to recapture on ATYCLB makes a strong showing here again. Every song sounds like it belongs within the spirit and framework of the album whether it’s the summery bass and melody of “A Man and A Woman”, or the industrial Blues of “Love and Peace or Else”, the heartache of second single “Sometimes You Can’t Make it On Your Own”
You’re going to hear a lot of people saying “this is U2 sounding like U2” or “doing what they do best,” and there’s some truth to that, but it’s also something they’ve not really done before. But it still feels fresh and is not simply a re-tread of past ideas. The overwhelming theme of the album (which I briefly touched on above) is what makes it intriguing: the songs are often joyful, triumphant… even the wistful pained songs have some type of bombast or anthemic ringing that makes them far more cathartic than depressing. And likewise even the happy songs often have lyrics that point to being confused, lost, or saddened. It might seem like a simple mishmashing of ideas and directionless, unthought-out songwriting, (this guy can’t decide whether he’s happy or depressed!) but that’s not what it is at all. It’s a picture of a man or woman facing the world, and all its troubles and tribulations, and deciding to take it in stride and stand up tall. To beg and plea, but with an underlying optimism that yes, everything *might* just work out right, and the knowledge everything might also blow up in our faces. It represents the thin line between the darkness and light that stands higher than either, because we can’t grow without both of them pushing at us. That tension runs through the whole album. This is often reflected in the lyrics, such as “A heart that hurts is a heart that beats” (you’re going to see this one quoted in almost every review, appropriately). And that’s where the triumph fits in: in revelling in the glory of the human soul.
And maybe it’s true that U2’s other albums have the same sorts of feelings running through them, but here it’s more direct. It smacks you in the face and makes you pay attention. There’s guitars coursing through it in all directions, there’s loudness, and there’s also not a weak moment on the whole album.
Favourite song so far: Original of the SpeciesPowered by Sidelines