So, anyway, on to the new material. I'm referring to All That You Can't Leave Behind more than How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb here, as I frankly rather dislike ATYCLB and I cannot comprehend its popularity. It's a weak album, full of holes, lacking inspiration, and really rather bland and boring. Bono's lyricism hits an all-time low in In A Little While, Stuck In A Moment is best classified as cheesy pop, Elevation is meaningless despite the fact it's fun live, and even two of the better songs, Walk On and Kite, suffer from cliched lyrics. The only brilliant moment on the album is When I Look At The World, though Grace has its flashes of greatness too, and if you are lucky enough to have The Ground Beneath Her Feet as a bonus track, then you have another moment of brilliance. Of course, TGBHF is partly helped by the fact Salman Rushdie wrote the lyrics rather than Bono.
HTDAAB doesn't see much of an improvement in the lyrical department. Some good lines here and there, with Crumbs From Your Table standing out in WILATW style, but it's hard to overlook "hello hello, I'm at a place called Vertigo". Bono, whatever happened to the awesome lyrics you were creating as recently as 1997?
"Jesus never let me down/You know Jesus used to show me the score/Then they put Jesus in show business/Now it's hard to get in the door" - If God Will Send His Angels
"Then you discover what you thought was freedom just was greed" - Gone
And every single line of Please and Wake Up Dead Man. Mofo's got some great stuff too. "Looking for a sound that's gonna drown out the world."
And what happened to the sheer poetry of the eighties or the insightful social commentary of the nineties? One wonders if Bono's dedication to charity is causing this: I now see songs inspired by dry statistics rather than C. S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters and other literature. Mr Lewis, through Bono, gave us some awesome stuff: The Fly's declaration that "every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief/All kill their inspiration and sing about their grief". Something recent like Original Of The Species' "I'll give you everything you want except the thing that you want" certainly looks, uh, wanting in light of that.
I really do miss the great poetic lyrics. Songs full of imagery, depth, and meaning that cultivate fantastic visual images simply through their words. You don't even need sweeping guitar from Edge to get mental landscapes from songs like Heartland and Wild Irish Rose. Absolutely nothing off the last two albums can compete with the beginning of A Sort Of Homecoming, or the whole of Exit and Mothers Of The Disappeared. Where has the fury of God Part II gone? I really do glorify the past because the future seems to have dried up. I heard a singer on the radio late last night, and he used to kick the darkness until it bled daylight, but it seems that sometimes, he can't create quality lyrics on his own any more. Of course, Bono has never written anything quite as good as, say, Pink Floyd's Sorrow, but he used to come up with fantastic stuff. Those days seem to be over. Make people feel something again, Bono! What happened to Bono of Bullet The Blue Sky?
And Edge! Where has Edge gone? Listen to the gorgeous, sweeping soundscapes of The Unforgettable Fire, The Joshua Tree, and parts of Rattle And Hum. Listen to that mournful voice on Van Diemen's Land or that eerily appropriate monotone of Numb. Listen to the experimentation of Zooropa, where music becomes visual art through the title track and Lemon. Wow, a song nearly seven minutes. Are U2 afraid to make music that long now? Are they afraid their fans won't like it? Well, of course some U2 fans don't like songs more than five minutes long, but frankly, they're idiots who wouldn't know good music if it poked them up the arse.
Edge needs to be set loose again. No restraints. Today's U2 never would have recorded the intro of Where The Streets Have No Name, the solo of The Fly, or the crazy effects of half of the Zooropa album. Bring back the atmospherics from The Unforgettable Fire - go out on a limb and make instrumentals, because songs like Bass Trap and Sixty Seconds In Kingdom Come and Rowena's Theme are beautiful. Give Edge the piano again. Don't let that talent be left solely for songs like New Year's Day and The Unforgettable Fire, and definitely don't use a shadow of it, Original Of The Species style.
Ultimately, I feel U2 today is pursuing commercial success rather than artistic brilliance. Commercial success may make U2 the biggest band in the world today, but it doesn't last. Artistry does. The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree are timeless albums, and it's difficult to top stuff like the final three songs of the latter, the "Suite of Death". On the other hand, ATYCLB is almost entirely forgettable. The improvement on HTDAAB gives me a bit more hope for the future, though I'm appalled they did not include Smile on the album. Hopefully the next album, whenever it happens, is a significant improvement. Record Passengers II and make an artistic statement, U2!