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No Line on the Horizon

Rhino Records

No Line on the HorizonThe first time I remember being aware of U2 was Live Aid. Bono was this sweaty, gyrating, leather man, who seemed to take forever to get a girl out of the crowd so he could dance with her. But 'Sunday Bloody Sunday' had given me goose-bumps, and they had more than made an impression.

After that I knew their songs on the radio, but it was only when I was gradually captivated by the grinding guitars and breathy vocals of 'The Fly' that I was persuaded to part with my pocket-money. And I fell in love.

More recently, when everyone was getting excited about All That You Can't Leave Behind's return to musical-orthodoxy, I was more excited about the lyrics. The songs were clearer, simpler and more vibrant than the relative disappointment of Pop, but I missed the electronic programming.

So it's as a child of Achtung Baby that I listened to this record, U2's 12th in the studio. And I really like it. With Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois back as producers and collaborators there are some beautiful echoes of AB, particularly it's depth. There are layers in the production and harmonic structures, little sparkles that sneak out of the background to make the listener smile. The vocals too have the extra weight of multiple harmonies, plenty of 'oohs' and 'aahs' or, as on 'Unknown Caller', unison shouting from the whole band!

Thematically it's also a return to Bono's use of other characters to tell stories. 'White As Snow' (with it's melody adapted from 'Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel') is sung through the eyes of a dying soldier in Iraq, and 'Moment Of Surrender' with the voice of a heroin addict: 'I tied myself with wire/To let the horses run free/My body's now a begging bowl/Begging to get back to my heart'. Strangely this doesn't make the album less personal. There is plenty of Bono still in there. Lyrically it's not his best work, but there are some beautiful moments, wit and some gorgeous bon mots: 'Stand Up Comedy' reminds us to 'Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady', exhorts that 'God is Love/And love is evolution's very best day', but also sees him pointing his wit right back at himself with 'Stand up to rock stars, Napoleon is in high-heels/Josephine, be careful of small men with big ideas'. In other songs though, he seems to have lost the ability to edit, with great lines sitting next to a jumble of words that simply don't fit.

No Line On The Horizon has been given a staggering number of good reviews, including rare five stars from Q and Rolling Stone. On first listen it's hard to hear where these come from, but this record marinates in the ear. On each subsequent listen another taste - Adam's filthy bass, some Eno swells and beeps, Edge's high harmonies and solos, Larry's new twists, the subtle meaning in a lyric - enhances the whole to make it delicious.

The title No Line On The Horizon represents the seeming infinity that faces you when the sky and sea are the same colour. It's a great fit for this, which could turn out to be their broadest and deepest album to date.

Jude Adam