U2’s new album, No Line on the Horizon, debuted today on MySpace (you have to choose NLOTH from the playlist dropdown in the player—easy to miss). They streamed the entire thing. So below I offer my very first reactions to hearing the album. I did this with How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb and it’s kind of fun to record the initial response and see how horribly wrong I am.
No Line on the Horizon
Very first thought: Wow, Bono’s voice sounds ragged. He’s certainly not protecting his voice as he gets older. The Oh-oh-ohs are catchy.
The intro felt very not U2, but then the guitars came in. Now it actually feels like very early U2. Interesting lines: “Only love can leave such a mark. / Only love can leave such a spark.” and “I was born to sing for you.” Reminds me of the Magnificat (I image that’s intentional).
Moment of Surrender
Lots of keys and orchestra type opening (um, Brian Eno?). This feels like a throwback type song, back ground singers, Bono’s voice, etc. Reminds me of a spiritual. Actually reminds me of the slower stuff from Zooropa or Achtung Baby. Different, but I like it.
The guitar at the beginning sounds straight off Joshua Tree. More Oh oh oh’s. These aren’t as catchy. The spoken word, group-chant feel of this one is a little weird. Wait, are those horns?! And now a screaming guitar solo. Didn’t see that coming. OK, not liking this one.
I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight
“Crazy tonight” in falsetto. Yeah. “Every beauty needs to go out with an idiot.” The chorus builds up to the title and then descends again. I want it to keep building. More good lyrics: “The right to be ridiculous is a right I hold dear.” I’m liking this one. It’s a little more upbeat.
Get On Your Boots
Now hearing it in the context of the album, this song feels like a misleading single. Much more upbeat and rocking than anything we’ve heard so far. And I’m liking it the more I hear it.
Stand Up Comedy
Whoa, this is different. Like “Boots,” it’s more upbeat with a hefty dose of funk. “Helping God across the road like a little old lady”?! Bono’s lyrics are a lot of fun this time out. This one also doesn’t feel like U2, but I’m liking the groove.
Fez – Being Born
Now we’re back to the Brian Eno feel. With snippets of “Let me hear the sound” from “Boots”? And now the song is starting? OK, that was weird. More Oh’s. OK, not all of Bono’s lyrics are good this time out. Reminds me a bit of singles like “Window in the Skies” and “Electrical Storm,” which I could never get into.
White As Snow
More slow stuff? More horns? It’s also feeling a bit like a spiritual or throwback Johnny Cash type folk song (my musical lingo sucks, doesn’t it?).
Wake up, there’s some guitar. Bono’s kind of scat delivery is fun. It feels like he’s stretching himself a bit this album. “There’s nothing you have that I need.” “I found grace / it’s all I found / Now I can breathe.” I’m liking this one, both the feel of the music and the lyrics (what a shock, I like the upbeat ones).
Cedars of Lebanon
More almost spoken word delivery from Bono. Kind of a haunting song. Not sure I like the chorus. And it end suddenly. Wow, it’s over.
Overall Reaction to No Line on the Horizon
Very different for U2. I wouldn’t say it’s that ground-breaking musically, but for U2 it feels like quite a departure. They’re exploring a lot of new territory for them. I didn’t hear a single soaring U2 anthem like “City of Blinding Lights” or “Beautiful Day” that felt familiar on the last two albums.
The fragments I caught of Bono’s lyrics sounded a lot more interesting and compelling than the last two albums (I don’t remember as many lyrics jumping out at me—maybe that means I could hear them easier on this album). Definitely packed with spiritual overtones, though that’s no surprise.
Much like the first single (“Get On Your Boots”), this feels like an album that will have to grow on you. Not many instant classics, but there are a lot of layers, a lot of interesting sounds and I’m betting it will get better with each listen.
Or not. These first reactions are often horribly wrong.