It doesn’t take much to know U2 has a new album out. With Apple commercials, a very un-Apple black and red special-edition iPod, an abrasively rollicking single (“Vertigo”) and the struggle for world peace going for them, the band from Dublin is back. “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb,” their 11th studio release, is a very U2, very driven, very good album that maintains the group’s swaggering iconic status, despite a few confused follies.
U2 has been called on the cover of Spin Magazine “the world’s biggest band,” dubbed by USA Today “the biggest rock stars on the planet” and are the self-proclaimed “greatest rock band in the world.” Obviously, they doesn’t have a problem pleasing the many fans of their super pop-rock. Yale fans are no exception.
“U2 is amazing, and I would say this new album is on the level with some of their best work. I think they have outdone themselves with this one,” Elise Taylor ’08 said.
Christopher Ashley ’05, a staff columnist for the News, said the band remains innovative despite their long careers.
“There’s a shortage of ecstatic music today, but U2 is the exception,” Ashley said. “They’ve been doing it for 20 years, and it’s thrilling to see that they can still pull it off after so long.”
Soaring to fame with their 1983 “War,” on the back of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “New Year’s Day,” but rising to the level of superstar with the visionary masterpiece “The Joshua Tree” four years later, U2 has maintained their easily identifiable sound — shimmering, wayward guitars motivated by hard rhythm, overlayed with Bono’s earnest vocals — without succumbing to stagnancy.
They’ve been huge arena rock stars since the late ’80s, though their work in the studio hasn’t suffered (with the sole exception of the glitzy disaster “Pop”). For example, 1991’s “Achtung Baby,” which wades brilliantly through romance and panic, is perhaps their best album after “Joshua.”
Besides their sound, the band is well-known for self-righteous politics and the quasi-religious themes of their music. A propensity toward revolution is equally characteristic. Over their career, they’ve traversed between pub-rock, ironic electronica, ethereal ambience, post-punk, tongue-in-cheek dance, straight-ahead pop and arena-rock.
At first glance, “Atomic Bomb” is most similar to 2000’s “Everything You Can’t Leave Behind,” their wildly successful previous album. Both radio-friendly albums are similarly built around simple choruses with anthemic melodies.
“Vertigo,” is the musical equivalent of “Elevation” from “Leave Behind,” catchy but lyrically empty. The best parts of both — and the reasons they are singles — is the hilariously named Edge’s wonderfully powerful discordant guitar.
But “Atomic Bomb” also works as throwback to their now-classic ’80s sound. The rhythmically lively “City of Blinding Lights” soars through Bono’s reflections of beauty. Its punk-like guitar riffs build towards a brilliantly crashing chorus. The dreamy “Miracle Drug,” a quintessential U2 half-ballad, is an irreverent exclamation of love’s ecstasy. It does lose points for the lyric “Freedom has a scent / Like the top of a newborn baby’s head,” which in fine Bono fashion he declared the two best lines on the album.
Thankfully, the album does not rigidly adhere to the band’s root sound. The humbling “Crumbs from Your Table,” a desperate celebration of an anonymous girl and the melodically rousing “Original of the Species” raise the album to a higher level.
But perhaps the album’s best song is “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own,” a gorgeously poignant track that declares devotion to the omnipresent but reluctant lover. “You don’t have to put up a fight / You don’t have to always be right,” Bono moans over a picked acoustic guitar that eventually gives way to a transient climax that resonates with enlivened fury. Interestingly, like the other best tracks of the record (“Vertigo” included), “Make It On Your Own” takes a few listens to fully appreciate outside of its immediate catchiness.
But the album isn’t perfect. “Love and Peace or Else,” besides its horrible title, suffers from an erratic instrumentation that tries and fails to channel the blues. “One Step Closer” aims at a pensive softness, though it is too static to go anywhere interesting. As a whole, it might also be said that the album might seem mediocre to a listener used to the multi-layeredness of contemporary indie rock.
Indeed, “Atomic Bomb” is nothing new for U2.
“I don’t feel these Irish boys are making a difference,” Patricio Zambrano ’05 said. “As of late, they feel like a parody of itself.”
While the record is far from the flatness suggests by Zambrano’s criticism, it certainly lacks the groundbreaking diversity of recent work by Radiohead and Wilco (fellow competitors for the meaningless title “best band in the world”).
But the album is nevertheless simply effective: It is forward-thinking while grounded in tradition, but most of all catchy and chronically melodic. Its best songs, like the band’s best work, are ecstatically powered toward riveting exclamations of unheeding passion.
“How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” exemplifies why U2 is a mainstay of popular culture and assures that they’ll stay that way for a while longer.