Wednesday, March 25, 2009

No Line On The Horizon - U2

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.
Also, see Byron's thoughtful posts here and here and Michael's majestic rant here.


Anonymous said...

A sad day and sadly a bad example to others. After years living with rock music I was converted and got rid of my collection just like those Ephesians 9Acts 19) burned their spell books.
These men (U2) do not provide any food for God's people.
Sorry but this gets to me. U2 are not good at doctrine.

Exiled Preacher said...

I'm afraid I don't agree with you there, anon. As the review indicated, I don't give a blanket endorsement to U2. This is an area where Christians have liberty of conscience.

Joe Williams said...

Guy, the beauty of blogging about albums is that they can be listened to at length and reviewed thoughtfully without any deadline, so no need to apologise for it being 'a little late'! There are many old albums that I plan to review at somepoint on my blog.

Good to know there is some deeper stuff on there - I'd only heard a couple of the popier tracks, and I defintely prefer epic U2 to pop U2.

(ps, didn't appreciate the Vivaldi dig! Don't care how many times you hear T4S, he's a truly great composer!)

David Mackereth said...


With the first post above, I too am concerned at the effects of contemporary music an its evident anti-God and anti-Jesus Christ thrust.

I understand that the Rolling Stones recorded an album entitled "Their Satanic Majesties Request" which contained a track "Sympathy for the Devil" which has since been re-recorded by U2.

That makes U2 a very long way from being in any sense a Christian band.

Even if it were a matter of personal conscience, which I don't accept, such a position still has to be justified from Scripture. How would you justify it?

In matters of personal conscience we have to be conivnced from the Scriptures.

Even if you think it is a matter of personal conscience, you have gone beyond the personal by publically writng about this on your blog. You have become a teacher and promoter of such things. You are certainly setting an example by doing such things. So again I would ask for the biblical justification?

I speak as one who has had many dealings with young people whose lives have been deeply influenced and corrupted by the kind of music that they listen to. This includes U2. I can only be very concerned to think that Christians go to such music for entertainment.

Kind regards in the Lord Jesus.


Alan Richardson said...

I like some U2 music, but struggle to separate Bono the musician from Bono the activist.

You refer to U2's appeal to the emergents, and you are spot on. I've seen so much of this that it has turned me off of U2. Perhaps that's not entirely fair, but I don't think U2 is innocent in the matter.

Exiled Preacher said...

Hi Alan,

As I see it, if Christians can listen to Wagner despite his use of pagan themes and stories (not to mention his proto-Fascism) and if good Protestants can happily listen to a Mozart Requiem, then I can't see the problem with believers liking U2 if the music is to their taste. As the review made clear, I don't endorse all that they stand for, but there are some great songs on this new album.

Alan Richardson said...

This is more of a self-reflection, but if the shoe fits...

Do we hold actors to the same standards as musicians? If we are willing to avoid the works of certain bands and singers because of their politics, morality or theology, are we willing to do the same with actors?

Are we appalled by, say, Sean Penn, but still manage to watch his movies? How about Cruise, Clooney, Nicholson?

Point: I think it's easier to be critical of artists we don't particularly enjoy. I think we are much more magnanimous with those we like.

Exiled Preacher said...

Hi Alan,

I think that this is where the Reformed doctrine of common grace comes into its own. All human cutlure is part of God's world that was made very good, but has now been corrupted by sin. The Lord in his mercy continues to shower his good gifts upon our fallen world. Music is one of them.