If the essences of words like boring, uninspired or average could somehow magically be converted directly into music, the outcome would certainly sound almost identical to the brand new U2 album No Line On The Horizon. The record is a lifeless collection of limp rhythms, perplexing lyrics and forgettable melodies.
The 12th official studio release by U2 represents an admitted attempt by the group to reinvent its sound. In an interview with CNN conducted by Denise Quan, Larry Mullen Jr., drummer and utility percussionist for the band, said, “It’s not an easy record, and it’s complex… I’m very pleased with it. I think it shakes it up a bit, and we need to do that.”
Mullen added, “We’ve had two albums — All That You Can’t Leave Behind and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb – and they were very U2 as U2. This album is a lot more experimental.”
While the album does represent a departure from the expected U2 sound, having an overall quite ethereal and at times almost meditative quality, saying the album “shakes” anything up is like saying that “Dora the Explorer” is a compelling dissection of the criminal mind.
Known for catchy melodies and driving rock-pop rhythms, U2 decided to abandon those qualities for a sound that could be characterized by its indistinctive and unmoving style. “Get On Your Boots,” the first song released for radio play by the group, features an almost indistinguishable melody, a generally synthesized, disjointed, over-produced sound, and lyrics as poetically insightful as “I got a submarine/ You got gasoline/ I don’t wanna talk about wars between nations.”
Other songs are amorphous blobs of sound. “Fez-Being Born” offers the listener no clearly defined structures, dramatic builds or tensions. The lyrical content, when not a muddled series of hard-to-differentiate words, is painfully obvious, simply narrating a birth as a metaphor for the experience of escaping to Fez. Rather than offering anything thought-provoking or engaging, the song washes over you like some passive and inoffensive wave of mediocrity.
But, since it’s still Bono singing and it’s still Edge playing, fanboys and ravenous groupies will of course find something to love about No Line On The Horizon. Whether they will invent great poetic meaning for the band’s ambiguous and lazy lyrics or proclaim the laid-back, inoffensive and entirely forgettable nature of almost every song on the album a triumphant shift in the U2 aesthetic is difficult to predict, but surely they will figure something out.
However, the album’s failure is not that it’s impossible to tolerate or understand. If or when you listen to the album, you will probably not be struck by how poorly it is put together. You will probably not start laughing over how horrible and ill-conceived the project is. The truth is you probably won’t think about it at all. The problem with the album is all the songs are so average and dull that it doesn’t engage the listener on any level.
The work’s redeemable quality is perhaps that it would make great napping music, if you enjoy a little atmosphere while you sleep, but even then, it might be just obtrusive, with enough clanging sounds and power chords to prevent you from getting a decent rest.
No Line On The Horizon may satisfy those who need their U2 fix, but everyone else will be disappointed. It’s not so bad that you’ll be upset. But it is so quintessentially mundane you probably will never find occasion to listen to the album after the first time, and that is the mark of a very weak record.
2 stars out of 5.