How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, ISLAND
Friday 19 November 2004
There's something entirely appropriate about Bono appearing once again on the Band Aid single, singing the same line as before, since U2 seem to be stuck in some
Time's Arrow-style situation, trapped in a bend of time arcing back towards their origin.
There's something entirely appropriate about Bono appearing once again on the Band Aid single, singing the same line as before, since U2 seem to be stuck in some Time's Arrow-style situation, trapped in a bend of time arcing back towards their origin.
With 2000's All That You Can't Leave Behind, the band in effect turned their back on their Nineties period of sonic exploration, and delivered a more solid, classic-U2 album, studded with strong, memorable cuts such as "Wild Honey", "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out of", and "Beautiful Day". Now, with How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, the backwards process continues even further: Steve Lillywhite returns as head producer in place of Eno and Lanois, and the album's sound seems to have reverted to something more like their pre- Joshua Tree style. As Bono notes in "All Because of You": "I just arrived; I'm at the door/ Of the place I started out from."
But, crucially, there's nothing here anywhere near as memorable as the aforementioned tracks from the last album. The closest Atomic Bomb gets is the single "Vertigo", and even that sounds like an artificial euphoria - as if the band were deliberately trying to rediscover the drive of their earlier career. All of a sudden, U2 sound tired and washed-out, aping their own former glories in half-cocked anthemic hogwash like "City of Blinding Lights" and "Original of the Species", songs full of facile rhetorical tropes such as: "I want the lot of what you got/ And I want nothing that you're not".
Even the lyrics, it seems, are stuck in some Ouroboros-like circularity, devouring themselves in an orgy of self-negation. "City of Blinding Lights", for instance, opens with Bono observing cryptically, "The more you see, the less you know", and concludes later with the even more cryptic, "The more you know, the less you feel". Which leaves us... where, exactly?
The general drift this time round is more personal than political, with several songs pleading for forgiveness or reconciliation: even when, in "Love and Peace or Else", Bono asks "all your daughters of Zion, all your Abraham sons" to "lay down your guns", he actually turns out to be fretting over some romantic split, rather than the political conflict that immediately springs to mind. None of which would matter a jot, of course, if the music sparked the lyrics to life with the band's characteristic spirit and élan. But the familiar Edge arpeggios sound weary, and it's a dull U2 album indeed on which the most notable musical strategy is the flamencoid chording of "Fast Cars".
No, it simply isn't happening this time. Instead, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb just offers a new benchmark of mediocrity.
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