Sound — 6
U2 may only be comprised of four musicians but their prodigious body of work tells another story altogether. Their material has always had a majestic quality running through it and a lot of this has to do with The Edge. His guitar performances have a cinematic breadth and scope to them lending their songs an expansiveness most bands only dream of achieving. Other guitarists use their effects pedals to color their parts; The Edge treats his pedal board like an extension of himself. On No Line On The Horizon he doesn't stray from his winning formula. The glistening layers of guitars that course throughout the opening title track hint at what's to come. On songs like Unknown Caller and Stand Up Comedy he shows off a penchant for direct and simpler lines, all the while he dressing them up with gorgeous reverb and delay. He busts out the bigger guns on Get On Your Boots and Breathe, which both feature ample amounts of distortion. His restraint is also to be commended here. Instead of enveloping the songs in guitar effect overkill, he holds back when the moments call for it and kicks everything into overdrive when it counts. Sadly the songs just don't live up to all of the grandeur his guitar work suggests. In U2's best work The Edge's forward-thinking guitar parts have complimented the songs but here they sometimes outshine them. It's no fault to The Edge though. It just seems like the band was too worried about creating atmosphere and didn't really flesh out the melodies and nuances enough. Which goes to show you, sometimes even a guy with monster chops like The Edge can't even save lackluster songwriting.
Lyrics — 6
What can we say about Bono that hasn't already been said before a million times over? The guy is the quintessential frontman in every sense of the definition. Here he croons, chants, and purrs with an assuredness very few singers possess. During the verses of Magnificent his vocals glide along with a pulsating rhythm, and at the chorus comes he opens everything up with a honeyed melody that is sure to translate well when they perform the song in arenas. On Get On Your Boots he shows off his famous swagger with a glam-rock twist to his vocal performance. So yes, Bono delivers in the vocal department but for the most part, the songwriting doesn't deliver here. His lyrics have often had a spiritual bend to them but there's never an excuse for lines like, I was born to sing for you/I didn't have a choice but to lift you up." He shows us that he can laugh at himself in I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight when he sings, The right to appear ridiculous is something I hold dear, but it still comes off sounding pretentious. Outside of a handful of tracks, his choruses fall flat. This is the guy who sang New Year's Day so we know he can conjure up classic sing-along moments. For the most part, he fails us here.
Overall Impression — 5
Produced by heavyweights Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois, and Steve Lillywhite, No Line On The Horizon certainly is sonically huge. The rhythm section of Adam Clayton (bass) and Larry Mullen Jr. (drums) particularly sounds massive. Their throbbing presence on the title track and FEZ-Being Born is captured expertly with each instrument given enough room to breathe in the mix. Clayton and Mullen don't get anywhere near the critical praise their performances deserve. The producers obviously agree with us. So with all of the individual and collective strengths the record has, why won't it be regarded as one of U2's better albums? The answer is in the songwriting. They have rarely been a straight-forward rock band but even in their most expansive moments, they've usually had the undeniable hooks beneath it all. Like the lyrics on the album, the songwriting comes off heavy-handed and ultimately, unmemorable. How a legendary group with the gifts that U2 have hand in a record this uninspired is beyond us. When U2's history is written, No Line On The Horizon will be a mere footnote.