If guitar orientated rock music is your ‘thang’, then you will love this album.
If guitar orientated rock music is your ‘thang’, then you will love this album.
U2 have balls. They have always had balls. Big balls.
‘Vertigo’ opens "How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb", U2’s eleventh album release and first long player since 2000’s "All That You Can’t Leave Behind." "Vertigo" is the all important lead single worldwide. After the enormous success of the last record, heralding their return to being simply a straight up 4 piece pop band, (albeit an iconic, stadium filling, straight up 4 piece pop band) and following on from their largely experimental output throughout the 1990’s, this album was eagerly expected before Christmas last year. The world and his wife expects. This is a big record for U2.
"Vertigo" is simply exhilarating. The intro’ has you involuntarily dusting of the air guitar, the riff punches you square in the face, bass and drums grabbing you by the throat and then Bono starts to torment with the lyric. You need to stomp and sing along. Has this song not always been here? Surely Edge has nicked that riff? Who gives a fuck, I haven’t bounced around the living room like this in years!! Not since Bono last had a mullet in fact! ‘Hello hello, Ola!’ Rawk with a capital AWK! Bono’s vocal here is akin to laughter, as if he knows he is somehow feeding a hunger that you didn’t know you had. With brutal, consummate skill U2 ‘s "Vertigo" pumps three minutes of full tilt, hi- octane, unholy joy into your ravished cerebellum. This is U2 getting physical. Its sounds fresh, its sounds new, yet it fits like an old glove. Appetite thoroughly whetted to salivation point, I can’t help but wonder what will follow?
"Miracle Drug" calms the mood instantly as Bono croons the first line, "I want to trip inside your head, spend a day there," and in short time more familiar U2 territory has been reached, this song probably dovetailing best with the material from "All That You Can’t Leave Behind." Lyrically and vocally Bono quickly establishes that he is on top form. "Miracle Drug" is confident U2 work, full of clench toothed insight and produces some of Bono’s most imaginative, tongue in cheek comments on his iconic position as champion of world peace, justice and economic freedom for Africa. The intriguing line, "Freedom has the scent like the top of a new born baby’s head" sounds profound in context. The band are evidently in rude health.
Furthermore, three songs in, it is clear that this, more than any other, is Edge’s U2 album. Obviously U2 would not be the band they are without all four essential ingredients. Larry Mullan and Adam Clayton, on their day a rhythm section beyond compare, are at their impeccable, no fuss best. Bono’s fantastic voice, intelligence and charisma are vital (who else could belt out U2 songs like Bono?) but here it is undoubtedly Edge who dominates the tempo and overall feel of this album, with "Vertigo" being very much a statement of intent. This is simply the rawest U2 album ever. There are slower songs, it has the trademark powerhouse ballads, it has the grandiose textured landscaped appeal of all their previous records, but it also has bollocks. Consistently the most imaginative guitar player of his generation [says you! : Ed],Edge has always been avant garde. He spent the nineties diligently trying to rediscover the guitar, then found out that it had been between his legs the entire time. Edge has mysteriously decided that rock music isn’t naff anymore and it was time to start slapping the plank again the way only he can. On "Atomic Bomb" he pulls out every trick in the book. Using an arsenal of gadgets and effects, heaps of distortion, the guitar sounds crash, swirl and pierce in a way they maybe haven’t since the days of "The Joshua Tree", "The Unforgettable Fire," and the much maligned "Rattle and Hum."
Bono is in excellent voice. No matter the style, each song is sung from the heart, every note given just the correct dose of emotional weight but it is Edge (rock n roll fire very much re-ignited in his belly) and his guitar that ultimately prove the most potent life force within this music. If guitar orientated rock music is your ‘thang’, then you will love this album.
The manic intro’ and the screaming lead break in "All Because of You" are awesome, pure garage band power. Not quite your typical guitar solo ‘fancy fretwork fiddly bits’ heroics per se, but then again, this is Edge we are talking about here. Larry, in particular seems most pleased with Edge’s renaissance as Pete Townsend! The motorcycle revving lead in "City of Blinding Lights" over Larry’s thunderous Ginger Baker style tub thumping is only one example of the pounding rock dynamic this "Atomic" musical liaison possesses. Menacingly, "Love and Peace or Else" rumbles into life in a barrage of fuzz and distortion. Adam’s bass throbs out the backbeat. Bono, adopting a sleazy preacher man persona, drags the tune to walking pace, lets it gain bluesy sweaty momentum, before handing control to Edge and that relentless guitar attack.
"Origin of the Species," supposedly written about Edge’s daughter, is a chic pop song, with a soaring melody heavy with orchestrated strings, yet the riff retains a primitive feel with the bass line and drums adding epic solidity. "Crumbs From Your Table," a curious retro’ piece that sounds kinda’ like Mature U2, a la 2004, covering Green U2 from the early eighties, is sandwiched between the slowest numbers on the disc, "A Man and a Woman" and "One Step Closer." The former is a slightly obvious but deeply meaningful ballad, dealing with and celebrating the eternal battle of the sexes, while "One Step Closer" (maybe the hidden gem here!) is deliciously gentle in nature with a gospel like quality. Moreover, on both tracks, Bono’s astounding vocal finally takes the spotlight. He may spend a lot of his time talking to asshole politicians, you may be of the opinion he spends an equal amount of time up his own arse, but as a singer, songwriter and lyricist, it is difficult to find fault with how this man uses his talents.
When needed he can be unerringly forceful. He can be bitter and twisted but in turn, eerie and sometimes balmily soothing, sometimes frighteningly tender. His performances are driven, always delivered with soul and verve and always …..believable. It may have taken Edge to bully him into it, maybe the band dynamic during recording was just right, maybe its down to the loss of his father, but anyway you look at it, Bono has produced some of his finest work on "How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb."
The album closes with the curiously named "Yahweh", not as tempestuous as the "Vertigo" opener but equally invigorating nonetheless. It has a super climatic ending as befits the album. If you listen close you may just hear elements of "Joshua Tree " like strumming going on during the final dramatic moments.
U2 have undoubtedly made some major additions to their already obese songbook with this record. As this goes to print "How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb" has already hit No 1 in the Billboard album charts. Projected 4 million sales worldwide in the 10 weeks post release before 2005 have been easily reached. While the US market gets the wonderful "All Because of You" as the next single, the rest of the world gets "Sometimes You can’t Make It On Your Own." This song, track three in the running order, along with "Vertigo" are undoubtedly the stand out ‘U2’ standards on this album. "Vertigo" could be loosely compared to "Desire" from 1987’s Rattle and Hum. Lead single, same high impact, in your face raw vibe. "Sometimes…’" is like "One" in its intensity, with that heartfelt, soul laid bare Bono vocal piercing through Edge’s tapestry of guitar sounds. A beautifully polished composition not unlike "Stuck In a Moment (You Can’t Get Out Off), from 2000.
"Sometimes…’" was written in the period leading up to the death of Bono’s father and is a lament, a release of grief, a celebration of life in memories. Bono sang this song at his father’s funeral. Here more than any other track on the album you can feel U2’s sense of community permeating through the music, the band clearly understanding the meaning and significance this endeavour has to their friend and band leader. It is climatic and epic. This song will surely be a highlight of all the live shows, I can already see lighters being raised all around Europe’s big venue’s this summer when they tour. If they do another Live Aid and need something like The Cars’ "Drive" from 1985 to play over some highly emotive VT of starving African children, then "Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own" is the song. The plaintive line, "a house doesn’t make a home, don’t leave me here alone" would have the phone pledge lines jammed!
Reassuringly Steve Lilywhite takes the reins with main production responsibilities and of course U2 again enlist the help of old pals like Flood, Daniel Lanois and Nellie Hooper to get that unique feel that ultimately each U2 album inevitably has. They use the same Hanover Quay, Dublin studio. They employ the same trusty people who skilfully use that studio like an well honed, if elaborate instrument, aware the songs are crafted in that space and in that moment when chords fall together and melodies follow. Collectively they always seem to capture that moment perfectly.
Always using the past to look to the future, U2 have never made the same album twice. Twenty five years into their career they have made an album that sounds as if they are all 25 again!
Words : Bill McMullan