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First Impressions: U2 – No Line on the Horizon March 4, 2009

Posted by markgeil in Music.

Oh, what a wonderful, throwback kind of day yesterday was! I stopped on my way home from work to buy the new U2 CD, on its first day of release, went home, sat on the floor with the lyrics booklet in my hands, and immersed myself (as well as one can in a family of five).

I remember doing the very same thing one evening so many years ago, except it was a vinyl record, not a CD, called The Unforgettable Fire. It was 1984. I sat in my brother’s room, awash in sounds and words, forming first impressions that would change over time, but aware that you can only form first impressions once.

Interestingly, there are no other bands for me that elicit this “get it on release day and soak it in”. There just aren’t that many rock stars with staying power these days, for several reasons. In a world of indie bands and ubiquitous distribution, thanks to U2 for giving me one last bastion of “Event” music.  

I know there are a few others like me out there, and since you can only form first impressions once, here are my first impressions of No Line on the Horizon:

Overall, more keyboards, loops, lots of killer bass, less Edge. U2 cannot sound like U2 without the Edge, and he’s certainly not absent, but his guitar is not the bedrock of this album. He seems to have had more of a hand in lyric writing, though, with outstanding results. Give me more Edge lyrics, if “Magnificent” and “White as Snow” are an indication of where he is these days.

“I’ll go crazy if I don’t go crazy tonight” quotes the “Baby, baby, baby” line from “Ultra Violet”. Could it be that that song is 17 years old?

I thought I would understand the title better having listened to the whole thing a couple of times, but I don’t. I think I’m just dumb. A little help, anyone?

The music for “White as Snow” is listed as “traditional.” It’s actually a Christmas Carol, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” Fun to sing the other words along with the melody and notice the differences in arrangement.

Lots of tribal “Oh, oh, oh”‘s throughout, along with several periods of staccato singing/chanting – No Line, Unknown Caller, Stand Up Comedy. I like both.

There’s lots of Brian Eno in the music, but it’s not by any means the radical departure that Passengers was.

There are some wonderful lyrical moments. My favorite quotes so far:

“Justified, ’til we die, you and I will magnify The Magnificent.”
(The capital letters are not my addition; they’re straight out of the booklet. The whole song is an incredible praise chorus.)

“At the moment of surrender, of vision over visibility”
(Visibility is potential, vision is reality. The line in the context of a man looking in the two-way mirror at an ATM machine, looking at his own image, is stirring.)

“Force quit – and-move-to-trash”
(For once, somebody has put computer jargon in a symbolic context without seeming so cheesy. Remember when the boy bands tried this with lines like “I’m going to IM you on my laptop of love!”?)

“I can stand up for hope, faith, love / But while I’m getting over certainty / Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady”
(This seems to sum up the Gospel According to Bono about as well as any line ever has. He believes in love, for sure. He is uncertain about a lot of things, and maybe he still hasn’t found what he’s looking for. He has major issues with organized religion, and would like to see more tangible results in issues like global poverty. I think.)

More on that theme in:
“Once I knew there was a love divine / Then came a time when I thought it knew me not / Who can forgive forgiveness where forgiveness is not / Only the lamb as white as snow”
(Our inability to forgive one another juxtaposed with forgiveness afforded only though sacrifice of the innocent on our behalf)

I could go on and on. I think I really like this album. There is one unfortunate curse word in the last song, which saddens me because U2 has a bunch of spiritually iconic album closers, from “40” to “Grace” to “Yahweh”.

Finally, I would like to officially submit my name to be U2’s new publicity writer. This is the beginning of the official text that was released to describe the new album: “Written and recorded in various locations, No Line On The Horizon is the group’s 12th studio album and is their first release since the 9 million selling album How to dismantle an Atomic Bomb, released in late 2004.”

Huh? That might be the worst publicity I’ve read! “Various locations”? That’s the lead?  Am I supposed to think, “Well then, if they didn’t write this all in one place, then it’s gotta be legendary. I was on the fence, but now that I know they actually went to not just two locations, but various locations, I’m in!”?



1. Jim Cooper - March 8, 2009

I agree with your first impressions, Mark. “Magnificent” is the song I keep repeating, and that may be because it is the most U2-like song on the album. “Get On Your Boots” is like the prize in the cereal box. It’s the one that you dig out, only to be slightly disappointed. Quickly, you realize that the rest of the contents of the box are the real prize. I’m also really liking “Moment of Surrender.” “Two souls to smart to be in the realm of certainty, even on our wedding day.”

Good stuff. Oh, on the previous thread about favorite U2 song, I failed to mention “In God’s Country.” Love that song!

2. Jim Cooper - March 8, 2009

“No Line On The Horizon” could be the blurring between black and white…in other words, ambiguity. More likely, it has something to do with the uncertainty between earth and Heaven, man-made polution diluting the certaintly of nature. How’s that for speculation?

3. markgeil - March 9, 2009

I like the cereal analogy!

Yesterday Dave told me his horizon theory, which might be the leading candidate. The girl in the song, the one like the sea, is simply hard to define, like the ill-defined horizon when the ocean is unsettled.

Makes the album cover a little more paradoxical.

4. Steve Sloan - March 16, 2009

I’m a fan of the album as well. “Magnificent” is my favorite track with “I Know I’ll I Go Crazy…” probably my second choice. Thanks for mentioning the title, because I still haven’t figured that one out yet.

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