it has to be said, Achtung Baby aside (which was a masterpiece), im not the biggest U2 fan in the world by any means. ive always felt that they were generally inconsistent (usually a 50/50 split in good/bad tracks) and over-rated.
hearing No Line On The Horizon however, i have to admit its a pretty good album. the last two albums were very U2-by-numbers, meat and potatos sort of standard rock - nothing spectacular. the opening title track misled me into thinking it would be another average album, but the second track Magnificent is, well magnificent really! it's got a strong melody, backed with The Edge's soaring guitars and marshalled by the bands' understated rhythm section as Bono sings with optimism 'only love can heal such a scar'. Moment of Surrender is the albums' slow-burner. it sounds like a mix between One and the woozy-sounding Kite before giving way to a guitar solo that David Gilmour would be proud of. both tracks will no doubt be crowd favourites when they come to tour this album.
Unknown Caller however, is a pretty standard U2 track - unremarkable but pleasant enough. the first 2 minutes or so, sound like a demo of them jamming Walk On - the guitar lines sound eerily similar. similarly I'll Go Crazy... is simply pretty bog-standard and doesnt stand out massively.
i loathed the lead-off single Get On Your Boots on first listen, and i cant say i feel any differently to it now on repeated listens. it's still my least favourite track on the album. Stand Up Comedy is an improvement, but again, for all it's omph not very memorable.
FEZ - Being Born is a work of beauty. by U2's standards, this is pretty radical and experimental but it works really well! it's an astonishing piece of music where lyrics are kept to a minimum while The Edge takes centre stage with layer upon layer of guitar from the shoe-gazey-esque drone in the background to the more prominant chiming guitars on the surface. White Snow is another highlight, much gentler than some of the previous tracks, but many times more powerful.
Breathe hasnt grabbed me much either. its a fairly good effort, but in alot of ways its very typical U2. the closing Cedars of Lebanon with it's spoken-word verses ends the album on a high. similarly to White Snow, it's brilliance is in its subtlety - its a song that reveals more and more on repeated listens.
overall the album is a vast improvement on the last two albums. there are still some weak moments, and a few average moments you couldnt care much about, but there are also moments of brilliance on here which would easily get into anyone's 'top 20 U2 songs ever' list. the band are still clearly struggling to break out of that mould of writing 'standard U2 songs' but when done well, they havent sounded this good for a long time (Moment of Weakness and Maginificent in particular). this album is a clear case of 'when it's good it's very good, but when it's bad, it's just plain boring'. a mixed bag.
in all fairness, while the critics may go on about 'a sense of adventure' with this album, i have to say that its hardly experimental by any stretch of the imagination. their one true venture into experimental territoy (FEZ - Being Born) is a work of brilliance however and one of the standout tracks. they really should try stuff like that more often!