Wall of Sound ATYCLB Review

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Wall of Sound, October 31, 2000

All That You Can't Leave Behind
Label: Interscope
Genre: Pop
File Under: A sort of homecoming
Rating: 84

by Gary Graff

For a while, it seemed as though U2 was -- quite deliberately -- moving further and further away from its beginnings as an earnest rock group, alternately poking fun at but perhaps also falling prey to the hype. Dating supermodels? Wearing personalized cowboy boots and orange jumpsuits? What happened to the four Irish moppets wearing stretch pants, sporting floppy 'dos, and singing about "Sunday Bloody Sunday"?

On this, U2's 12th album, the Irish rock heroes reposition themselves as modest troubadours merely making the music that's in their hearts. As frontman Bono sings on the second track, "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of," "I'm just trying to find a decent melody/ A song I can sing in my own company." Of course, U2 has never been a band of modest ambitions; it spent the '80s making music to change the world and the '90s making music to change itself Ø losing a bit of its audience and vaunted stature in the process.

Now, as the group starts its third decade, U2 has found what it's looking for is good music, songs that ring with melody and hooks Ø and meaning Ø while still weaving in some of the ambient and electronic textures it explored on releases such as Achtung Baby, Zooropa, and Pop. The result is a richly crafted and filler-free pop album on which each song sounds like an individual work, calling to mind mid-period Beatles titles such as Rubber Soul.

With the Edge's silvery guitar licks recalling U2's early trademarks, "Beautiful Day" soars with full, anthemic glory as Bono essays on the rewards of persevering through what appear to be hopeless situations. "Elevation" cranks with fuzzy guitar and industrial underpinnings, while the exuberantly layered "When I Look at the World" sounds like it's about to break into a jig at any point. U2 evokes the spirit of early '70s Van Morrison recordings in "Wild Honey," and vintage soul music is the touchstone for songs such as "Stuck in a Moment," "Walk On," and "Grace."

But what would initially appear to be gentle musings for "Peace on Earth" turn cynical as Bono mourns tragedy -- specifically a terrorist attack in Northern Ireland that killed 29 people. And the tone poem called "New York," whose looped beats and airy ambience make sure that U2 doesn't lose its avant-pop credentials, finds a narrator struggling "to figure out my mid-life crisis" but also exulting, amid Titanic imagery, that he's "still afloat." "The goal," Bono intones at another point of the album, "is elevation," and that's precisely what U2 achieves this time out.

Copyright © 2000 Wall of Sound/Go.com. All rights reserved.

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on October 31, 2000 5:31 AM.

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