Rear Window Ethics Rear Window Ethics: Review - 'How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb', U2

Friday, November 12, 2004

Review - 'How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb', U2

It would be an understatement to say that I have been looking forward to this album's release for a long time. It's a tradition that I am accustomed to: every four or five years, the new U2 album comes out. Sometimes it's amazing (Achtung Baby), sometimes it's terrible (Pop) and sometimes it's so so (All You Can't Leave Behind).

Huge thanks to my friend Greg for procuring me a copy of this album before its official release.

Despite all the temptation to skip over the album's first track, 'Vertigo', after having heard it so many times, I refused to jump around on my first time through the record. It's a solid, powerful, punk-ish opener that grabs your attention easily. It lets you know that this is going to be a guitar-heavy album, however, it doesn't necessarily tell much else about a record that has a drastically different feel from its opening number.

How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, in essence, is a combination of U2's roots with their previous and quite likable album All That You Can't Leave Behind. Showing their continuing maturity and wisdom, the album picks up thematically where ATYCLB left off. The blind anger and unbridled power of their early work has been honed and whittled down into capable, controlled and contemplative vignettes.

Distinct U2 traits, like The Edge's trademark delayed guitar riffs echoing above melodies; rich, warm, and sometimes even grating pads rising up underneath and around a few of the tracks; powerful ballads that rise and fall gracefully along with Bono's falsetto and forceful chest voice; a rough, blues-style track to wake the listener from the calm of the previous ballad--they're all here on the groups latest effort. It's quite logical that this effort would sound like classic U2, considering it was produced by Steve Lillywhite, who Produced a bunch of the group's earlier work.

This isn't to say that Bomb is a rehash of old material and old ideas. Indeed, classic U2 moments occur all over the 50 minutes of music, but there are new experiments as well. I mentioned earlier that the album is guitar-heavy. In addition to their usual, poignant riffs or driving chords, Bomb makes copious use of acoustic guitar in the hands of The Edge. Whereas Bono has traditionally used an acoustic in a rhythm guitar sense, The Edge now showcases his talent sans effect pedals or driving gain. Electric piano is also used effectively at times, but without falling into a 'The Sweetest Thing' dependancy.

The album does have its weak points, however. 'A Man And A Woman' is this album's 'Honey', and 'All Because Of You' sounds unfinished and immature coming from a group with the talent and history of U2. These low spots are easily overlooked in the big picture, as the mastery and beauty of tracks like 'Miracle Drug' with Bono's soaring vocals, 'City Of Blinding Lights' with The Edge's exquisite guitar work, and 'Original Of The Species' with its superb blending of Pop-style synthesizer and the new U2 'Walk On' matured anthem sound, easily overshadow most flaws.

Bomb is not U2's best album, but it does well to re-capture the power of the group's 1980s work and put it in the perspective of their most recent record. It's very solid effort that should have good staying power. I know I'll have it on repeat on my iPod, that's for sure.

I can't wait to see them play these songs live.