Review: How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb
Four years, four years come to a head in under an hour. I wanted to love it, I wanted to love it instantly. And I did. Ringing guitars, soaring vocals, simple lyrics that mean truckloads, anthems, ballads, tears, laughter. It's taken a few days to get over the honeymoon period and look at the album in the eye rather than over its head. I still love it, but...
My Italian art teacher used to say, "Sempre ha un 'pero' in l'italiano." There's always a "but" in Italian. There's always a "but" in any language. And I say this because I love them, even though it may be tantamount to heresy in some circles. There is a "but" and the "but" is: Why, with the preposterous mess in the Cradle of Civilization, why does rock's most outspoken voice say nothing about it? He says nothing. The most obvious reference is in "Love and Peace or Else": "And the troops on the ground/ Are about to dig in/ I wonder where is the love?"
And I wonder where's the righteous anger? It's flaring in Edge's guitar, Adam's bass, and Larry's drums, but it's playing dodgeball in Bono's lyrics. The meanest he gets is in "Crumbs...": "With a mouth full of teeth/ You ate all your friends/ And you broke every heart thinking every heart mends." But it's absent in the rest of the album. "Love and Peace or Else", there's plenty of talk of love and peace, but not the or else. Or else what? Get on the soapbox, make an argument, rip into them, let them have it. This isn't the time to be subtle or full of double entendres. Say it now; once you used to scream it. Where is it now?
This omission leaves me feeling bereft. People all have their own definitions of what U2 is, what they want U2 to be, and it's true I may be falling victim to that. But from where I'm standing, I think they've written part of that rubric themselves. And a flagrant miscarriage of all kinds of justice that's been in the headlines now for years suddenly doesn't register a blip on the new U2 album. Why?
I know it isn't easy, but, Bono, you've done it before. I know you took a lot of flames for it once upon a time. But, Bono, they hated you, and they hated you because they knew you were *right*. Why the sudden shyness with keeping on being right? I know it's asking a lot but I wouldn't say anything about it if I didn't know you had the guts to do it again. It's asking you to put your head on the chopping block, but you've been there before and defeated them at their own game.
I don't want to seem like the jaded perpetually dissatisfied. But they've done it to themselves. They've set their own bar so high, the least we can do is call them on it. He's always had his two cents about everything (ever seen a picture of Bono with his mouth shut?... alright, maybe this one), why not *this* which has been the biggest story on the news for years now? Is it not close enough to home? Or is it Africa? Is he afraid of ticking off those who he's asking for money from? *sigh* Not to be dismissive to the Africans' plight, but the problem in Iraq is a real atomic bomb ready to detonate if nothing is done about it. If U2 doesn't step up to the plate and say something about it, who will? Who? They're alone on top of the musical heap. Everyone turns to them for marching orders, whether they admit it or not.
Are they victims of their own success? There's no one left to fight in the musical scene. They've beaten everyone at their own game. Competition breeds excellence. Is that what's happening here? Anyone spoiling for a fight? Radiohead? It could be that they're stuck in the damned if you do, damned if you don't corner and it isn't an easy place to be, but I'd think they, of all people, would have what it takes to stand there and take it.
I'm only saying this because I love them. Love is blind, and unconditional. I love the album. I love Bono. And it's only because I love them that I ask for more because I know he can give it. I'm not asking for an album from track one to the end to be an anti-Bush rant. But at least for one song, let 'em have it! "Love and Peace or Else"... missed opportunity.
That being said, let me get on with the actual Album Review before this becomes a rant. Too late? Oh, well.
"Vertigo" is the hook, the siren song calling you in. It means nothing and that's part of its charm. It's catchy and vigorous and they don't sound like a band that's almost 30 years old. I don't see what other people mean when they say they don't think it sounds like the rest of the album. I don't think it was supposed to. It's a good beginning and they run with it.
"Miracle Drug" I really don't like. It's my least favorite song. Actually, I don't like it at all. Edge's guitar's great, love Bono's voice. But the song itself doesn't hang together well, making it hard to say exactly what's wrong with it. Maybe it's lines like "I've had enough of romantic love/ Yeah I'd give it up, yeah I'd give it up." Really? Whatever for? And then there are words strangers to the U2 canon for good reason: science, medicine, reason. Cold, boring things that don't play to a rock band's strengths. They should have left this off.
"Sometimes..." This is going to explode live. I'm spoiled because I heard the SNL version first and was a little let down by the album version ("Live is where we live" said a wise man once). But there's nothing negative I or anyone can say about this. It's perfect. It's real.
"Love and Peace or Else" is soooo cool. It was the best surprise on the album to me. Knowing they were going to have to offset the title and lyrics like "Lay down your guns", they attached a mean bass and guitar and let it rip. As expounded upon earlier, I wish the lyrics had kept the pace with Edge's fury.
"City..." is made for a live hit. It has a tremendous sense of place and imagery rarely seen since "Where the Streets Have No Name". We know it's straight out of the U2-o-matic Anthem Maker, but we don't care.
"All Because of You" has Bono singing scales and Edge playing them and it's a great deal of fun. I don't recall a single lyric out of it, though.
"A Man and A Woman" is superlative because, like "Sometimes" it feels real. He knows what he's talking about. Once upon a time, Bono said the world didn't need him to write a love song, but it does. It needs love songs that aren't filler or cut from the same stencil. This one has lines like "And only true love can keep beauty innocent". Wow.
"Crumbs..." has all the right pieces though once again I wish it would have a little more teeth.
I had huge hopes for "One Step Closer". Thanks to Noel Gallagher, it's a great commentary on death and a great title, but unfortunately the sound's too complacent and too like something Springsteen would write (in a bad way). U2 isn't Springsteen nor do they need to be. This was the album's biggest disappointment to me. It sounds like it could be a grower and I wish it the best. I want to love it. Right now I don't even like it all that much.
"Original of the Species" immediately sounds fatherly in a not-nausea-inducing way, doesn't it? The line that sounds the most like it is "I'll give you everything you want/ Except the thing that you want..." Parents say they want to give their kids everything but then shy away when kids develop their own personalities and begin wanting their own things. I don't like thinking of Bono as a fatherly figure at all (leather pants *wink*) but this number steers just clear of being too much. He steers it away just in time. Love it.
"Yahweh" has a rolling sound that screams "end of album". I just wish it were a better end. I like the sentiments, I see where he's coming from. I just wish it were a little less... not quite sure what's wrong with this one either. "Fast Cars" makes a more interesting end, and with its Arabic-tinged music, it's spot-on.
When all's said, I adore the album. Bono's still got that voice and his delivery is perfect. Edge is a guitar-playing fiend. Larry and Adam actually grab some of the spotlight this time. They sound tight and crisp and still very much in the rat race not for their past accomplishments but with what they're doing here and now. I only wish they'd sent out a blistering love letter to seats of power in the world right now. That, after all, is what they do best, love it or hate it. How strongly people feel about it is testament to how effective it is, how relevant. He's said it himself: "Come on now show your soul/ You've been keeping your love under control/ Everywhere you go you shout it/ You don't have to be shy about it."