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11.20.2004

Album review: U2, "How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb" 

We saw glimpses of the new stylings of 21st Century U2 on the previous album, "All That You Can't Leave Behind," but with "How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb", U2 has truly ushered the genre of midlife-crisis rock.

Throughout the album Bono sings about his complex relationship with his recently deceased father, having children, insecurity and uncertainty, the poor and broken-hearted people of the world, God and women (confusing the latter two subjects often, as is his wont). The Edge supplies his trademark chiming, harmonic guitar tones at some points, sequences of plowing, bulldozer-like chords at others, and some nifty slide guitar work on a couple tracks. Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen lay down a perfect dance-pop groove on "Vertigo", but on the rest of the album the rhythms are pretty standard 4/4 rock rhythms, with the occasional faux-triple meter here and there.

From the anthems to the ballads to eveything else, the album is certainly well-crafted, but there really aren't a lot of truly catchy hooks or riffs to entice the listener. Devoted U2 fans will appreciate U2's craftsmanship, but casual listeners may not remain engaged quite long enough for the album's deeper, overarching themes to set in. Then again, I had similar sentiments about "All That You Can't Leave Behind" four years ago.

Here's the blow-by-blow:

Vertigo: Not much to say about this track that hasn't already been said. It's catchy and it shreds. I have no idea why Bono says "one...two...three...fourteen" in Spanish at the beginning. This one will probably open the shows on the new tour, like "Elevation" did last time.

Miracle Drug: This one's about a former schoolmate of Bono who was a paraplegic poet. Never woulda guessed from the lyrics, though. It has the anthemic feel that "Beautiful Day" had.

Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own: This one's a requiem for Bono's father (the line "you're the reason the opera is in me" is a giveaway -- Bob Hewson used to be an opera singer). However, for all of the tenderness and candor expressed in the lyrics, the song as a whole still sounds kind of formal and languid. I'm hoping it sounds better in concert than on the album. The Edge supplies a few guitar parts consisting entirely of harmonics.

Love And Peace Or Else: I'm not really sure why Bono still writes these sorts of songs. I thought the band had taken this sort of stuff as far as it could go on the "War" album.

City Of Blinding Lights: This one's a real gem. It nimbly scampers along during the verses, builds up in the bridge, "getting ready to leave the ground" and soars in a majestic chorus. The line "I've seen you walk unafraid" might be a nod to REM.

All Because Of You: The Edge goes wild. Bono, Adam and Larry also do something.

A Man And A Woman: Bono channels his inner Bob Marley here as he wails, "Little sister/don't you worry about a thing today" at the outset and pushes his falsetto at other spots. Adam Clayton lays down a slinky, seductive groove.

Crumbs From Your Table: This is Bono's plea for compassion and justice for the poor, downtrodden people of the world: "Would you deny for others/what you demand for yourself?"

One Step Closer: Noel Gallagher asked Bono if his father believed in God. Bono said his father was unsure. Gallagher then quipped, "well, he's one step closer to knowing." As might be expected, this is a slow, brooding, contemplative piece all the way through.

Original Of The Species: Three anthems in an album is overkill. And if Bono really wrote this song for the Edge's daughter, I'd advise Mr. Evans to get a restraining order for her.

Yahweh: Four anthems in an album is severe overkill. I like this one better than some of the others, though, because the verses are more upbeat and clever at times ("Take this shirt/polyester white trash made in nowhere/take this shirt/and make it clean"). Bono concludes with a prayer prayed repeatedly in the Bible and in contemporary worship music: "Take this heart/take this heart/take this heart/and make it break".

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