Last Tuesday U2 released their 12th studio album No Line On The Horizon. It isn't The Joshua Tree or Pop but it doesn't need to be. I could debate what the best U2 album is, but that's pointless. Personally, I like the trio of War (1983), The Joshua Tree (1987), and Achtung Baby (1991). All three are excellent, and this album shouldn't aspire for those heights, but it does stand on its own. It isn't as Rolling Stone raved "a 5-star masterpiece", nor is it as career low awful as Time makes it out to be. As U2 albums go it is solid, and representative of the stage the band currently is in. Now a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member, U2 has been around for a while and isn't going anywhere. However, before discussing the album I want to touch on an issue most usually associate with U2. Mainly, the idea of "Christian" lyrics by a "secular" band, and the whole idea of "Christian" bands and their purpose.
Many find deep religious conviction running throughout U2 lyrics, and in certain cases there is. Bono himself professes to be a Christian, and it isn't up to man to question that, since only God knows. Regardless, U2 is not a so-called "Christian" band, I've never heard their music on a Christian radio station. Apparently, many find their worldwide, largely secular, following as not representative of typical "Christian" bands. Even so, numerous songs have religious and biblical connotations. Among the most blatant: Where the Streets Have No Name, 40, Yahweh, and All Because of You. Yahweh, especially, because this is Jehovah the Jewish word for God. Additionally, the song sounds almost prayer-like and the lyrics clearly talk about the relationship between man and God. Yet, many still question U2 and their convictions, which seems judgemental in my opinion. If someone gets saved from one of these songs, are they not as useful as any from a "Christian" band? I find the notion of "Christian" bands rather ambiguous. Are the members of the bands Christians, is the music for Christians, is the music to glorify Christ, or perhaps all three? If the music is intended and marketed solely to Christians, then I feel someone is missing the point. Music should be for the widest possible audience. Making Christian music that only Christians listen to is great, but there's no ministry, no mission, no attempt to impact those who aren't already saved. A band doesn't have to sacrifice their musicianship to maintain their faith. Plenty of band mesh lyrics and instrumentation and are still definitively faithful to Christ. The goal of "Christian" bands should not be to get played on Christian radio. The goal should be to glorify God, and to be played on every radio station in their genre. People have enough to drag them down, the world needs the positive energy brought by those filled with love for their fellow man. Therefore, U2 in my opinion is heeding God's call on a much higher level than many so-called "Christian" bands. There's nothing wrong with wanting to be around Christians, and making music for them. However, you can't save those who don't need rescuing. The world thinks Christians want to isolate themselves, that they're 'holier-than-thou', and are uncultured and isolated. This wasn't Jesus, and it shouldn't be modern believers either. Go out and find those who need help and help them. This means you musicians. Quit playing for just Christians, don't compromise your faith, and get out there and impact the world. You aren't selling out if it's for God and not your wallet. My only question for you who wall yourself into the "Christian" music scene. Can you step outside your bubble and see the world, as Jesus did, not as the high and mighty above everyone else?
With the mini-rant over, I'll move on to the actual album review.
No Line On The Horizon is a solid album. It can be good, it isn't great, nor terrible. The title track gets the album started off on an upbeat note. Bono's distinctly recognizable voice creeps on, as does the guitar of the Edge. "Magnificent", the second track, is a real stand out. It finds Bono singing about God, with lines like "I was born to sing for you, I didn't have a choice but to lift you up." Overall, this may be the strongest song on the album. "Moment of Surrender" is rather long, clocking in at almost 7 and a half minutes, and seems to drag in spots. This song transitions into "Unknown Caller," another lengthy track at 6 minutes. Neither track is especially memorable or remarkable, as both move along as somewhat slower tempos. "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight," apart from having a stupid and ridiculous title, is a decent song. The lyrics "the right to appear ridiculous is something I hold dear" pretty much sum up Bono most of the time. Following comes the radio ready "Get on Your Boots." The song is a "Vertigo"-esque rocker, with similar breakdown in the verses. Bono's lyrics are still at times, somewhere between cryptic and nonsensical. Boots figures to figure into Grammy discussion for next year, and is extremely catchy. "Stand Up Comedy" features a groovy guitar line, and the simply awesome line "Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady." The tandem of Boots and Comedy is a good two track combo. "Comedy" also has some good Edge moments towards the end of the song. "FEZ-Being Born" is a sound collage, and rather bizarre. Sparse lyrics and generous amounts of keyboard make it atmospheric, but not one of the album's more memorable songs. The next song "White As Snow" starts out somberly with piano. In fact, the vocal melody is "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," which is a very powerful Christmas hymn. This songs is a late album highlight, as is the track which follows it. "Breathe" is one of the more enjoyable U2 songs in recent memory. Its midtempo pace is perfect, and Bono shows off his still impressive voice. The album ends with "Cedars of Lebanon." This song is not one of the better tracks, and the lyrics feel heavy even for the typical U2 album closer. Overall, No Line On The Horizon is a very listenable album, and additional listens reveal new flourishes and highlights. I found this as enjoyable as past U2 work, much in line with 2000's All That You Can't Leave Behind and 2004's How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. If several songs were pulled from each album, one truly great album could be produced. Possibly, even deserving a place among U2's big three. It isn't revolutionary, but it doesn't suck either. No Line On The Horizon is a fine effort from U2, and one of the early treats from 2009. I recommend a listen for the casual fan, and a buy for any fan of the band. This album gets 3.5 out of 5 stars. If you think U2 suck, give them another shot, and if you aren't a fan give them a try.