I know U2's latest has been out for a few weeks now and this is a bit late in the day for me to share my thoughts, but there we are. I suppose the delay as I've made some jottings for this post and then put it on the back burner has given me time to give the album a proper listen. Of one thing I'm sure, making Get On Your Boots was the album's first single was a bit of a gaffe. The song has a good riff and unexpected twists and turns, but some of the words are a bit embarrassing for a "senior" band like U2. "Bossy boots" please. Thankfully the opening three tracks, are much better, No Line One The Horizon is a great start to the album. Magnificent is up there with Gloria as a spiritual anthem. Moment of Surrender is a thoughtful slow burner which climaxes in a molten Edge guitar solo.
Despite some nice sonic touches, Unknown Caller doesn't quite work. Rife with computer terminology, like, "reboot yourself" and "force quit and move to trash", the song would make good hold music on PC World's helpline. I suppose it's better than having to listen to Vivaldi's Four Seasons on an endless loop, but that's not saying much. On the plus side, what with all the technical support from Bono it would save callers having to hang on for three and a half hours before getting connected to an advisor. Even when they are not at their best U2 still have their uses.
As we've come to expect from U2, the album explores some big ideas. Faith, hope and love feature strongly, especially love. Magnificent proclaims, "Only love can leave such a mark, but only love can heal such a scar." Love marks and wounds us. Jacob was left limping after he wrestled with the Lord. But only love, the love of God can heal and restore broken human beings. I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight asks, "Is it true that perfect love casts out fear?", reflecting on 1 John 4:18. In a nice twist on the familiar refrain, "Stand up for your rights", Stand Up Comedy urges listeners to "Stand up for your love." The same song, with its talk of "getting over certainty" also reveals why U2 are the band of choice for the postevangelical set. But there is also a plea to let God be God, which may give the trendy Open Theists pause for thought, "Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady". Quite.
White As Snow is sung from the perspective of a soldier in Afghanistan and is full of biblical imagery. It is a meditation on the theme of forgiveness and cleansing from the defilement of sin in a war-torn world. How is forgiveness possible? Only through the "lamb as white as snow" Isaiah 1:18, 1 Peter 1:18 & 19.
Fez-Being Born captures something of the Turkish location of the early recording sessions. It begins with a Arab-influenced ambiance, complete with Turkish sounding noises-off. The slightly disorientating intro is suggestive of Radiohead's subversive classic, Kid A. But before too long the Edge's signature guitar chimes kick in to remind the listener that this is a U2 song after all. With a little more adventure the experimental flavour of the opening bars this could sustained throughout the track. Or was it the case that an Eno-inspired intro was simply tacked onto the beginning of what turns out to be a rather standard U2 track?
One or two criticisms aside, I have to say that the album is steadily growing on me. It has all the marks of the group's mature sound. New directions are hinted at, while the band remain true to themselves. No Line On The Horizon is a more coherent collection of songs than their last offering, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, which has some great tunes like Vertigo, Miracle Drug and Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own, but didn't really exceed the sum of its parts.
U2 haven't lost their sense of irony and NLOTH doesn't take itself too seriously. In Stand Up Comedy, Bono knowingly warns his Josephine to beware of Napoleonic "small men with big ideas". A touch of autobiography in there somewhere perhaps? But it's U2's very determination to explore big ideas that sets the band apart from their peers and wannabe rivals. You don't have to go down the road of having so-called U2charists in church to see that the band's use of biblical allusions and scriptural imagery can offer us an opportunity to reflect further on the message of love and forgiveness through the lamb as white as snow.