U2 Enters A New Era With Recording

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The Houston Chronicle, November 2, 2000

U2 Enters A New Era With Recording

by Michael D. Clark

A glance at the cover of U2's new album, All That You Can't Leave Behind, makes it clear that the Irish supergroup is ushering in an era of refrain. The black-and-white snapshot of Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. stranded and confused in Paris' Charles De Gaulle airport is a vast departure from the slickness of recent albums. Zooropa and Pop danced with computer-enhanced images that mimicked the digitally manipulated bend of the music.

For All That You Can't Leave Behind, there are no fancy embellishments or airbrushed cheekbones pixeled with color. The fuzzy, off-center photo is just four guys and one guitar wondering where to go next.

It's left to interpretation what All That You Can't Leave Behind defines. One reading might imply a return to musical elements that made U2 the world's biggest rock group in the '80s.

After stripping away the superstar parodies, fly glasses, shopping carts and computer static of a progressive '90s, all U2 couldn't leave behind was the political and emotional philosophizing couched in rousing anthems that brought the band its greatest success.

The new songs welcome back the sonic possibilities of the Edge's guitar and the exploration of early American rock 'n' roll that propelled 1984's The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree three years later, an album that sold 15 million copies.

There are hints of technology laced through All That You Can't Leave Behind, like a compromise for the generation that came to love U2 in the '90s. On the first single, Beautiful Day, the keyboard samples are there, but aren't running the show as they often did on Achtung Baby through the last studio album, 1997's Pop.

Only Elevation has the large electronic bass fuzz and synthesizer fills by Brian Eno that sound left over from that era. Mixed with the rest of the album's vulnerability and raw power, it sounds robotic and stilted. Technology is put to use better on New York. The processed drum loops help explain the wonderful modern chaos of the Big Apple.

Bono's harmonies with the Edge are shades of an even younger and more politically-minded U2 . Beautiful Day is as warm and engaging as past single One. The difference is that here it is one of the harder rockers. On Achtung Baby, One was the token ballad.

Besides the scholarly confidence of Bono's voice, the most welcome return is Edge's guitar leads, which primed past hits like Pride (In the Name of Love) and Where the Streets Have No Name. The jangling, echoey notes opening the chorus of Beautiful Day are the familiar chimes of a town square church bell.

The cut-loose strings on Walk On will sound like revelry to U2 soldiers nostalgic for I Will Follow or New Year's Day. There are other looks back at the band's pro-active anti-war past. Peace on Earth is a sequel to Sunday Bloody Sunday sung by the activist who has given all he can.

The revolutionary question of "How long must we sing this song?" has been replaced with the solemn, "To tell the ones who hear no sound, whose sons are living in the ground, Peace on Earth."

It's obvious that U2 has had its fill of an admitted self-indulgence with high life and consumer culture. It again seems transfixed by audience response and the roots of rock 'n' roll. Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of has shimmering, puddle-skipping chords wonderfully woven with snippets of choir harmonies.

And it's easy to imagine a stadium singing, "Tell me, tell me. What's wrong with me," with Bono on When I Look at the World, like past sing-alongs I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For or 40. Next to a simple little tune like In a Little While, so obviously influenced by Ben E. King's R&B classic Stand By Me, it makes the prospects of U2 's upcoming tour very exciting. The members of U2 have been anti-authority warriors, drifters searching for the American experience and satirists leading the march for a greedy and manipulative future. All That You Can't Leave Behind starts a fourth era for the band.

They now stand where the veteran Rolling Stones did around Tattoo You or the bearded Beatles did at Abbey Road. In those instances one prospered and the other splintered.

It will be interesting to see if U2 can continue to find what it's looking for.

Grade: A

Copyright © 2000 Houston Chronicle. All rights reserved.

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on November 2, 2000 5:06 AM.

U2 Saves The Best For Last POP All That You Can't Leave Behind was the previous entry in this blog.

U2 Leaves the Baggage, Retains Brilliance is the next entry in this blog.

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