Four years after “Vertigo” blasted from speakers and iPod commercials — can it really have been that long? — U2 continues to defy the odds. While the ranks of legendary rockers limp along with lame new offerings that suggest they’re all but tapped out (it wouldn’t be polite to name names … but Springsteen comes to mind), U2 unveils its 12th studio album, No Line on the Horizon, which is marked by nothing less than consistent excellence.
While No Line does not include a song quite as incendiary as “Vertigo,” nor quite as soaring as “City of Blinding Lights,” it is, track for track, a superior effort to 2004’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.
The tunes take a bit longer to insinuate themselves, in part because U2 is even more infatuated this go-round with long and winding intros. And while sometimes I find myself just wanting them to get on with, there’s always a payoff at the end of the slow build, usually delivered by the Edge, be it with a wave of orchestral guitar textures, a punchy riff or a chord sequence in full chime.
Bono, 48, continues to progress as a vocalist, without showing any degradation of pitch or range. Sometimes it’s a surprising spike into falsetto, or a wordless cry (you can see his head thrown back), or a dialed-down foray into speak-sing, which sets apart the quiet, minimalist closer “Cedars of Lebanon.”
Or sometimes it’s spitting out dense clusters of words, Dylan-style, as on “Breathe,” the closest thing to a perfect song that No Line has to offer. Every bit the U2 epic, the song churns along on a jaunty rhythm and Edge’s throbbing chords and ringing arpeggios.
Bono is still given to the Grand Statement, but there aren’t any eye-rollers here. (Hasn’t he earned his right to be arch and lofty?) So on “Sexy Boots,” the album’s first single and most frivolously energetic rocker, he tosses in this stanza: “Here’s where we gotta be/ Love and community/ Laughter is eternity/ If joy is real.”
Those words resonate even better when sung over driving fuzz bass. (Interscope)