Where The Genres Have No Name

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Sonicnet, November 1, 2000

Where The Genres Have No Name

By Tony Fletcher

To understand why U2's tenth studio album, All That You Can't Leave Behind, is such a triumph, it's important to understand when they've failed. Twice in its twenty-year career, the Irish quartet has ventured into a creative cul-de-sac of its own devise: first in 1988, with the excessive self-glorification of Rattle and Hum, and, just about a decade later, with 1997's so-ironic-they-forgot-to-put-good-songs-on-it disaster, Pop.

But then U2 has never done things quietly, and their admirable willingness to make mistakes in public is matched only by the group's desire to learn from the experience. After Rattle and Hum, U2 reinvented (and learned to laugh at) itself with the industrial-electronic chic of Achtung Baby. And now, after the misfired mischief of Pop, the group has honed back in on the heart of all great music: the song.

There's a temptation to think that U2 has come full circle — that Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen have boxed up the sequencers and the samplers, burned the neon and the satin, and returned to being the four piece rock band that formed in 1978. But All That You Can't Leave Behind has its share of electronic textures, drum loops and distinctly "now" sounds, too. Play it next to 1987's The Joshua Tree and it's obvious which album is from the 21st century. But the one surviving irony of Pop is that the title could have been saved for now, as All That You Can't Leave Behind is the one full of likely hits.

"Beautiful Day"'s introductory piano chords, synthesized strings and drum loops offer immediate confirmation that Bono and co. haven't abandoned their electronic experiments, yet the vocal harmonies and the Edge's chiming guitars take us all the way back to their first such cry of optimism, 1980's "I Will Follow." That a quartet of 40-year-old men can sound so boyish is testimony to their almost unfathomable drive; that they can also sound so convincing suggests that their intent this time to streamline the recording process proved successful.

Nothing else on the album is quite so infectious, but almost every song reveals its charms quickly. "Elevation" marries Achtung Baby's driving textures with the vocal passion of 1984's "Pride (In The Name of Love)." "Stuck In A Moment You Can't Get Out Of" and "In A Little While" successfully mine vintage American R&B, while the inspirational "Walk On", dedicated to suppressed Burmese political leader Aung San Suu Kyi, closes with lyrics similar to Pink Floyd's famous "Eclipse" — "All that you make/ All that you build/ all that you break...All that you steal" — but then references and contradicts the album title by concluding "All this you can leave behind."

While drummer Larry Mullen and bassist Adam Clayton are, as always, solid and dependable, and The Edge contributes ringing guitar and even some beautiful slide work ("Kite"), this really is Bono's album. His voice is back up in the mix, but the forthright wail of old has been replaced by a soul-stirring depth that can only come with age. Lyrically, he's not quite as successful. His faith comes to the forefront of such heavy-handed tracks as "Peace On Earth," (which veers perilously close to "We Are The World" territory) and the album's closer, "Grace" , whose adolescent poetry ("Grace, it's the name for a girl/ It's also a thought that changed the world") is, thankfully, saved by the group's soft, seductive accompaniment.

U2 albums are generally slow growers, so it's much too early to label All That You Can't Leave Behind a classic. One can say with reasonable certainty that it's their most vibrant offering since Achtung Baby, their hardest-rocking one since The Joshua Tree, and their first true soul recording. Based on current form, the next twenty years should be a blast.

Copyright © 2000 Sonicnet.com, a division of MTVi. All rights reserved.

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on November 1, 2000 5:21 AM.

U2 'Leave Behind' Pop Foray was the previous entry in this blog.

U2's Monotonous Musical Monogamy is the next entry in this blog.

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