***** (Five stars)
The last time I bought a U2 album was over four years ago, "How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb." I remember thinking that it would probably be some kind of political statement album that rock bands seem to love to do. I was surprised to learn the album title was actually a reference to Bono's father. The album was fantastic and it struck a chord with me and I connected to U2's music in a way I never had before.
I've waited almost 5 years to hear a new U2 studio album. I was thrilled to see them open the Grammys this year. They performed a new song off their latest album: 'Get On Your Boots'. The performance was terrific and set a great tone for what I think was one of the greatest Grammy awards I can remember watching.
Before writing this review, I hit the net hard trying to get an idea of what A) the music community, B) self proclaimed die-hard U2 fans, and C) annoying music elitists in general were saying about the album. It's not that I lack confidence in my own opinions, it's just that I like to know what everyone else is saying. Reception overall has been a little cold. Rolling Stone gave them five of five stars. That is basically the holy grail of reviews. British magazines were significantly less enthusiastic about the latest release.
Is the album a breakthrough work, a bold step and a completely new direction? Of course not. This is their 12th album -- people love U2's sound and style. They took some bold risks, and for the most part they paid off.
In Breath, they change musical styles about 6 times in under five minutes. The edge unleashes a guitar solo that, frankly, a lot of us didn't know he still had in him. The song is a musical journey of sorts that as soon as it's over, you'll want back up and listen to it again. Don't. Because it happens to come before the greatest song on the album.
Cedars of Lebanon is something the like of which we've never had from U2 before. It is a surreal collision of epic poetry, melodic nonsense masquerading as a clean electric guitar riff that unless I'm mistaken never repeats, spoken word, and beautiful harmony.
Unknown caller is a beautiful ballad that could easily have been lifted from one of U2's earlier albums. It will remind you why you love the band that really can't seem to go wrong. There is experimentation here too, though. The song begins ever so softly. "Sunshine, sunshine," Bono begins in a high falsetto. Starting off what you are sure will be a soft sweet quite number. It's got organs, it's got horns (both metaphorically if we're comparing the song to an animal and actually if we're referring to those instruments you blow into). It's not what you expect, it hits as hard as Vertigo and has perfect pacing.
The band hasn't forgotten what made them great, neither should you. Amid a sea of too confident, over-produced, under-talented teenagers who owe their very existence to the Disney channel (cough, cough -- Jonas brothers -- cough), it's refreshing to hear something real and substantial, relevant and inspiring, from somewhere we've never failed to get it.