You and I have absolutely nothing in common with the members of U2. The Irish quartet has sat at the zenith of fame for twenty straight years. They sell out stadiums at every end of the world, own hotels and restaurants, talk with the U.N., and live a life unimaginable to most (though it should be said that 95% of U2’s fame is really Bono’s fame). Bono’s international prestige and abundance of global experiences have insulated him from real world experiences. It’s not that Bono doesn’t understand the proletariat anymore -- after all, U2’s ostensible raison d’être is humanism -- it’s that Bono’s wealth of experience has resulted in a righteous and celestial persona that has produced the worst music of his career. Indeed, there have been several bloody Sunday’s to sing about, but Bono’s now the one ineffectively mediating the crisis at the U.N., not the one protesting at the front line. This is why Bono’s motives are viewed with suspicion, why his idealism in regards to African aid is considered naïve, and why he is a constant parody of the “celebrity meets activist” paradigm.
“I don’t want to talk about wars between nations,” he announces on the bloated masturbation that is the album’s lead single, “Get On Your Boots”. The line is as ridiculous as it is vacuous. It’s incredibly curious how “Boots” even made it onto No Line on the Horizon, let alone became the album’s launch pad. Fortunately, the quasi-rock anthem is sonically independent from the rest of the album. Unfortunately, it’s still one of the album’s better songs. No Line is boasted as a return to the “classic” U2 sound (an absurd claim considering their diverse range of albums) but most of it sounds like b-sides from 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind. However, where "Beautiful Day" had its soaring hooks, No Line is guilty of the worst kind of musical complacency. It is painfully innocuous: an album for the Grammys, Billboard, Grey’s Anatomy, etc. It takes not a single risk. Musically, the rich textures of Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois mire most tracks and The Edge’s signature guitar lines have never been so mild. On “Magnificent”, an opening guitar grinds and synth layers anticipate something magnanimous until the song devolves into a soft-rock bore. Bono then mutters a lyric that would better suit the Jonas Brothers: “Only love can leave such a mark/ but only love can heal such a scar.” The barometer for maudlin bullshit goes off the charts as he bellows “It’s not if I believe in love/ if it’s love believes in me” on the next track. In comes the worst-titled U2 track ever, “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight”, featuring Bono’s worst lyrics and one of the least evocative MOR, adult-contemporary Brian Eno-infused melodies I’ve ever heard. After five tracks, No Line makes Viva La Vida sound more intense than Fucked Up.
The musical inoffensiveness is complimented by Bono’s incessant empty moralizing. “Cedars of Lebanon” channels the surface emotions of a journalist in the Middle East “squeezing complicated lives into a simple headline.” On “Breathe”, it’s a rallying call to promote “a love you can’t defeat.” The somber “White As Snow” ponders “who can forgive forgiveness where forgiveness is not?” Indeed, self-righteousness is much easier to maintain through rhetoric than through blunt talk. It’s easier to bitch about indifferent Western nations and Third World debt than it is to call-out the world leaders that perpetuate it.
U2 haven’t released a great album since Achtung Baby. But where Pop may have been considered a critical flop, it was admirably ostentatious and risky. Similarly, three subsequent tours (ZooTV, Pop Mart, Elevation) challenged the standard dimensions of an arena or stadium rock show. Undoubtedly, U2 pioneered new methods in tour and deservingly ascended themselves to God-like status in the music world. However, No Line sits idly by, content to borrow from safe terrain, uninterested in exploring anything new (perhaps it’s just old age?). Though not unbearable, No Line is simply anodyne new music -- the least appealing of U2’s venerable career.