U2 Discography: Walk On

Previously: Zoo Station

All That You Can't Leave Behind (2000)

I was busy knocking on doors in Marshalltown, Iowa when All That You Can't Leave Behind came out. I wasn't even aware of its existence until my companion and I were wandering around the mall on P-Day. As we passed Sam Goody, I stopped in my tracks and took a few steps back so I could get a good look at the large promotional poster of the album cover in the store window. Obviously I couldn't rush in and buy it, but I would occasionally hear snippets of "Beautiful Day" in the grocery store or other public places. My first reaction? Awesome! The Edge sounds like the Edge again! My friend Spencer sent me a tape telling me what he was up to, and thoughtfully included "Beautiful Day" in its entirety. I must confess, I was weak and listened to the song once all the way through. When I returned home several months later, It was the first album I bought. However, once the newness factor wore off, I began to notice that after the strong first half, which is loaded with hit singles, the album's momentum slows down considerably. Songs like "In a Little While" and "When I Look at the World" aren't necessarily bad, but they aren't all that interesting either.
Highlights: Beautiful Day, Walk On, Kite, New York
My Rating: 7.5/10

How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb (2004)

The "Vertigo" iPod commercial had already been playing non-stop during the 2004 baseball playoffs (Hmm, I can't seem to recall who won that year...) when I got my first taste of the rest of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. I was holed up in the basement of Utah State's PR & Marketing building, hard at work in my quest to read the entire internet when I discovered that the full album had been leaked a few weeks before the official release. In light of this, it was quickly made available on the band's official website via streaming audio, and I was happy to get in several early listens. Though it is largely a continuation of the stripped back approach taken with All That You Can't Leave Behind, I immediately preferred Bomb. With its more rock oriented sound, I find it to be a stronger collection of songs overall. On the other hand, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb has to be U2's most heavy handed album title, with their worst cover art since October. Plus, the otherwise solid "Miracle Drug" features one of Bono's most groan-inducing lyrical moments of all time: "Freedom has as a scent, like the top of a new born baby's head."
Highlights: Vertigo, Miracle Drug, Love And Peace Or Else, City of Blinding Lights
My Rating: 8/10

No Line On The Horizon (2009)

For a band with such a mythic career, U2's only competition at this point is their own history. I assure you (along with several hundred other critics), it is quite impossible to discuss No Line On The Horizon without properly setting the table with key moments that have transpired in the last dozen years. After the mixed reaction to Pop, the band released The Best of 1980-1990. The overwhelming sentiment at the time seemed to be that they should go back to being the earnest U2 of the '80s. But two back-to-basics albums later, it has now become trendy to pine for their bygone experimental days of the '90s. Talk about irony.

Like their best work, No Line On The Horizon reconciles U2's unwavering desire for commercial appeal with their restless need to explore new sounds and textures. Songs like "Fez - Being Born" and "Unknown Caller" break away from the standard template, but still manage to sound like U2. Other songs create successful amalgams of seemingly incongruous elements, such as "Get On Your Boots," which frames a muscular Vertigo-esque guitar riff with layered electronic beats, ala Pop. Or "Stand Up Comedy," which features the Edge doing his best Jimmy Page impression. The only song that feels like they were fishing for a hit single is "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight," a late addition that finds itself at odds with the flow of the rest of the album. Other than that, No Line On The Horizon effectively sums up U2's third decade together.

B-Asides: No matter what security measures were taken, it was a forgone conclusion that No Line On The Horizon was going to get leaked before the release date. Sure enough, it occurred about two weeks ago, and the album was soon made available on the band's MySpace page, much like How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb before it. While there was a momentary thrill when I discovered I could listen to it early, part of me missed the excitement of the old days—you know, going down to the record store on the day of the release and anxiously snatching it off the shelf. Then, once you got back to your car, there was some nervous fiddling with the cellophane wrapper and that persistent security sticker before the disc was finally free. One final adrenaline rush would accompany popping the album into your stereo for the first time, not knowing what to expect. This past Tuesday morning, as it took approximately 15 seconds for songs I had already heard several times to load onto my iPod, I couldn't help but think that the moment somehow wasn't quite as significant.
Highlights: Magnificent, Get On Your Boots, Stand Up Comedy, Fez - Being Born, Breathe
My Rating: 9/10
And with that, my "musical journey" comes to an end. I had fun analyzing and reminiscing, and I hope all of you enjoyed skimming each installment and waiting impatiently for the next non-U2 post.


Ben said...

Duh, Dave, the Red Sox won in 2004! That's weird that you forgo....oh I see what you did there.

Dave said...

Thanks Ben, I knew I could count on you.

Ben said...

Don't know if you saw this, but I thought you might enjoy it: