When No Line on the Horizon was still in the working stages, co-producer Daniel Lanois talked a lot of smack in the press about how U2 was pursuing an unprecedented sound. We gave them the benefit of the doubt, remembering how we almost got whiplash way back when they made the breakneck stylistic changeup between Rattle and Hum and Achtung Baby. Hell, we thought, those middle-aged multimillionaires might still have a surprise or two up their sleeves yet.
The bad news: Lanois seems to have gotten a little overexcited in his assessment of the band’s degree of groundbreaking. There’s little here that hasn’t been tried in one form or another on previous U2 albums, either from their latter-day "mature" phase or from their ’90s shape-shifting experimental period. If you’ve been hoping for some new, lemony-fresh-scent version of the Dublin rock gods, you’re in for a disappointment.
The good news: The bad news doesn’t really matter. Sure, "Get on Your Boots" is this year’s "Vertigo" or "Elevation," with a touch of "Numb" thrown in for good measure, and there’s a hint of "Walk On" in the title track. OK, maybe "Cedars of Lebanon" has got a little "Running to Stand Still" running through its veins. Get over it; these same four guys have been making music together for some 30 years now. It’s not easy being the biggest band in the world, you know.
Don’t you think the Beatles would have started repeating themselves if they’d remained together for half as long as U2 has? By this point, it’s within their rights to utilize pieces of their past in building a new present for themselves, as long as they don’t half-ass it and start turning out inferior remakes of their old tunes. That’s not what’s going on here, and if anything, No Line is ultimately a more visceral and memorable effort than either of the band’s other two 21st century offerings.