It took five years, four recording studios, and three superstar producers to create No Line On The Horizon, which raises the question “Why has it become so difficult to make a U2 record?” The apparent strain of doing what used to seem effortless threatens to drown out the music on the band’s 12th album, which attempts to re-establish U2’s reputation for experimentation, much like the band’s previous two albums, 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind and 2004’s How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, re-affirmed its status as the papa bear of earnest “We can change the world!” arena rock.
It’s a curious but characteristically self-conscious move for a band that spent most of the decade angling for iPod commercials and Super Bowl halftime shows. And yet, in spite of all the time and money put into No Line On The Horizon, it feels unfinished, even half-baked. The single “Get On Your Boots” has been justifiably reviled as a ProTools disaster, but even less-cluttered songs like “White As Snow” and “Stand Up Comedy” are a few drafts away from being completed. Bono seems particularly distracted, belting out dummy lyrics he never got around to polishing on the bad-as-it-sounds “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight,” which includes head-scratchers like “There’s a part of me in the chaos that’s quiet, and there’s a part of you that wants me to riot.” (Thankfully, Bono is more eloquent when addressing Third World debt, a cause seemingly closer to his heart than U2 these days.)
Perhaps the incompleteness of the fuzzily elusive No Line On The Horizon is the point. But Bono’s call “to let me in the sound” on the ambient “FEZ-Being Born” doesn’t resonate. U2 might try to pass Horizon off as atmospheric, but it’s really just a grab bag of underdeveloped ideas that never seemed to command the band’s full attention.