To review any piece of art fairly, should the focus be on the created object or on the creator? The area where artist and art mix has been a subject for many discussions and studies on art appreciation and philosophy. For example, is the creator as great as the creation or is he only a channel for the creation to become alive?
So what is the right approach to reviewing No Line on the Horizon? I believe the best review would maybe come from someone who does not know anything about U2. I’m not that person. But I’ll give it a try for one or two paragraphs at least.
No Line of the Horizon is boring, loaded with insecurity, contains no big statements, no great breakthroughs in the music, not a thing that hasn’t been done or said before in a better way. There is even a taste of empty vanity, which could totally destroy the album.
The music is clean and well produced, but there are no noticeable highs or lows, there’s no conflict solved, and the sound moves across a bland and flat territory. You can listen to this album without noticing you are actually hearing it. To listen to No Line on the Horizon you have to listen intensely to get something out of it. The album smells of fear of creativity; it has a sense of insecurity that doesn’t evolve enough to be a statement of weakness, but makes it unspontaneous and even embarrassed of what it is. Too shy to be rock, and too scared to be pop.
If this was a new band and this their first album, we could say this is well done: they know how to manage the mathematics of making an album, so maybe there is hope for them on their second try, and maybe it’s worth keeping an eye on their evolution but it all depends on the future, and for now you can forget about this album. But this is not the case. And this the moment I stop pushing that button that was turning off my memory, and I remember this is actually U2.
Why am I doing this? Rolling Stones and Spin wrote a review for No Line on the Horizon that is extremely positive, too positive to not doubt the motivations behind their evaluation, or of the fidelity of the writers to U2. Then Pitchfork review was very negative, but they only mentioned the album itself in two paragraphs of a seven paragraph article- the rest was dedicated to criticizing U2 the band. NME gave a positive general evaluation after a devastating shredding of the album, leaving you more confused than at the beginning. So, I haven’t read anything objective and clear about it yet. But then again, to be objective when we are talking about U2 is not an easy task. U2 has a personality and a history that transcends their work. And even though No Line of the Horizon has nothing that makes it exceptional, the very fact that it comes from U2 makes it more than just boring and passionless, because like them or not, U2 have a big role in the history of rock.
To be fair, I have to tell you that for years U2 was first and last on my list, the day I saw them play live I felt I could die right after the concert finished. When I listen to The Unforgettable Fire I still feel moved and transported to a space I can only be transported to with very few sounds. But then U2’s last two albums (How to dismantle an Atomic Bomb and Beautiful Day) happened to me. I tried to keep the feeling alive, but the music was not calling me anymore. I even remember the day I knew I had lost the feeling (the one a groupie has for their favorite rock stars) I had for them; it is sad when the passion for something you loved dies. To make it even worse Bono also ‘happened’ to me (and to many of course), with the news that the members of the band were moving their finances out of their so-beloved Ireland in order to skip taxes. Now, I am at a stage where I am neither a U2 hater, nor a U2 groupie; but yes, once I loved U2.
U2 was epic, their melodies were overwhelming and inspiring to find hope even in the darkest places (that’s why U2 became so big in South America, if you ever wondered). Their conviction was impressive, so impressive it convinced millions. They used the power of music to communicate hope and they did it right. But as much as musicians have become the priests of our time–spiritual leaders for the masses–the good ones have also kept a constant observation of the music; the central factor, the thing that brought them to that position in the first place. U2 did it brilliantly: there was War, there was The Unforgettable Fire, there was Zooropa, there was Pop, and there they were on stage every time, channeling that energy and refusing to surrender to mediocrity. Bono’s voice was full of light. No matter how ridiculous his dancing or the clothes he was wearing, he could move hundreds of thousands of people into the illusion of victory. The Edge’s illiterate guitar was wise in its simplicity. Adam Clayton’s coolness was transparent. And Larry Mullen’s heartbeats were conquering. U2 was one of the greatest bands of our time. They were perhaps the last band to play epic rock for the masses.
Now it is clear they are no longer who they were, how could they be? They traveled all around the world, they experienced power in many ways (good and bad), and on the way they lost their ideals: that’s what No Line on the Horizon sounds like. Maybe it is the effect of the missing line separating innocence from life experience. When you know U2, and you listen to No Line on the Horizon, you can feel something similar to what a man must feel when he realizes he can no longer have sex four times in a row, and he hasn’t still understood his new body. And it might be that in this case, Viagra is not the solution; what is required is a new approach to sex, instead of repeatedly trying to do something he can not do anymore- because that is no longer who he is.
I believe once you have loved something, you will always love it. Although the passion and connection with it might die, there’s a bond that will never disappear, some kind of loyalty that remains hanging in the air. So I still believe that if U2 once understood themselves and managed to express their soul through music, they can do it again. But for now, they sound as if they were lost in the fog caused by the dust lifted during their ride; and for someone who had never really heard them before, it would be impossible to see any greatness in them. Whether U2 have totally lost it, or whether their greatness is just hidden beneath their egos will be revealed in time. Maybe they will never be epic again, although certainly not like they were. But maybe, they can discover their sound again (I hope so).