It’s easy to mock and question the sincerity of U2 with lead singer Bono’s globe-trotting efforts to save the world, the band’s use of Christian themes and imagery running through their entire discography and their frequent title as “the biggest band in the world.” Whether U2 is worthy of their massive popularity should not be the issue. The band’s music should speak for itself, and U2’s newest album “No Line On the Horizon” doesn’t just speak, it shouts in unique and beautiful ways.
“No Line On the Horizon” is a sonically layered album with a remarkable compositional architecture. Even on the opening title track, guitars roar in the foreground while the drums can be heard in an unusual middle location. This is more than just adjusting the volume on each recorded instrument at different moments in the song, but instead these are complex spatial relationships that envelop the listener at the same time. Albums like this one are the reason avid music fans are willing to invest in high quality headphones or speakers. One of the three co-producers on the album is Brian Eno, one of the most forward-thinking and famous producers in the history of popular music. Eno’s touch is apparent on most of the tracks here, making the album sound more like a world of pleasing and surprising sounds rather than simply four guys rocking out in a studio.
Many of the songs on “No Line On the Horizon” thematically revolve around the longing for human connection that is an inherent part of the human condition. The gorgeous guitar solos on songs like “Moment of Surrender” and “Breathe” seem to yearn for human touch and emotional links themselves. One theory as to why U2 is so popular is the hopeful optimism and advocacy of solidarity that has run through the band’s entire history, and these ideals can be heard on a song like “White As Snow” with its subtle pleas for forgiveness. The only outright failure out of the 12 songs here is the sloppy “Get Your Boots On,” which sounds like U2 trying to do another version of their messy hit “Vertigo” while channeling Death From Above 1979. The muddled and wildly uneven tone of “Get Your Boots On” does not fit at all on this thoughtful and complicated record. Besides that song, the new album proves that U2 may deserve their acclaim and title of “the biggest band in the world.”