Tuesday, April 21, 2009

U2 - Magnificent

In Europe, it's pretty cool to not like U2 any more.

If it's not that they don't pay their taxes, it's Bono's preaching about poverty. If it's not that the "new stuff" they are trying isn't as good as the old U2, it's that the new stuff sounds too much like the old stuff. I guess when you reach the mega-pervasiveness that they now have, you are likely to get hung no matter what you do.

I've always found it a fascinating experience to slap on a new U2 album, and (almost invariably) end up a bit confused and disappointed as I go through it. It's not half as good as their last one is it? Naaah. There are flashes, but generally a bit too weird. Then I listen to it again. Yeah. Maybe it's got a song here and there... still loads of stuff I don't really get. Then I listen to it again. Huh. Maybe it's more like half and half - not at all the disaster I first thought. And again. Man. That track is actually pretty good isn't it? There's possibly only one or two dodgy ones on here. And then. Woaah. The whole thing is pretty amazing actually - and so on. Every time it happens this way - for me at least.

And while I like them doing new things which they've been tinkering with really ever since Achtung Baby - and many of the new things are the most interesting - there's still a part of me that hankers for that huge traditional U2 sound, the widescreen rock that nobody else can touch them at. I love it when they unashamedly seem like they're trying to write a deliberately big track. Usually, these are the moments that start out as the comfortably familiar 'flashes' of U2 in a first album listening, and end up almost too played out.

Well here's a flash of classic U2 from the latest album, No Line on the Horizon. Captured on Letterman in the States, it's pretty amazing I think.

There's something just brilliant about the whole presentation - how you get the feeling you're simultaneously watching an intimate gig to a handful of people, and at the same time witnessing something of epic proportions.

The music is really the amazing bit though... the guitar lines in the chorus sections (1:00 - 1:22 for example) are just stunning, and a fantastic counterpoint to the bassline. It's actually really clever the way the bass and the guitar between them imply and then fill in the chords.

And then the verses. Whatever you say about Bono, when he's singing he really does have an amazing voice. The arrangement helps - if you listen in the verses, the guitar is buried completely in the mix - and the Eno synths are just hovering over that solid thudding Mullen/Clayton bass end. It leaves so much space for the vocals. It also means when they hit the chorus and that guitar riff comes in, it really lifts the whole thing into the stratosphere. Another thing is when they hit the chorus and the guitar is back in, the vocal line goes way up in pitch - which means the vocal melody and the guitar aren't stepping on each others toes. It's amazingly well worked out: when the guitar is in the way, Bono is soaring over the top, and when he comes back down, the guitar makes space.

It goes all the way to the guitar solo - when that starts out, the guitar becomes the melodic top line - and Bono is filling in below with harmonies. All the way through the song, the bass and the drums provide the backdrop, and the guitar and vocals just weave in and out of each other.

And that's before you even start on the lyrics. While Bono has had his questionable lyrical moments, when he can avoid the trademark outrageous couplet he can come up with the goods.

"I was born, I was born to sing for you..."

What a band...

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