All That You Can't Leave Behind
- reviewed by Jennifer
Earlier this year, U2's lead singer Bono described the group's
forthcoming album (their tenth in 20 years) as a stripped-down affair,
a return of sorts to a simpler "band" sound, as opposed to being
an experiment in samples and techno. Sure enough, with Daniel Lanois
and Brian Eno back on board as producers, All That You Can't Leave
Behind musically harkens back to the band's earlier Unforgettable
Fire/Joshua Tree era of the 1980s. There are no real surprises –
this just sounds like classic U2. The Edge's guitar sound is as
recognizable as Bono's ever-glorious falsetto. Lyrically, however,
things are a different story.
Bono's recent work crusading for the dropping of third world debts
has clearly inspired his writing. No longer shrouding the messages
in metaphor, Bono has written U2's first mainstream Christian Rock
album. Oh yes. Whereas previous albums have contained "message"
songs that still left something to interpretation, little has been
left to the imagination regarding the main themes of this album.
Opener and first single "Beautiful Day" sets the tone immediately:
happy, inspired, joyful, hopeful. Sounds like the boys...no...men
(the band members now average age 40) are back on top form, albeit
a mature one. However the "men" suddenly go all soft on the next
number, "Stuck In A Moment You Can't Get Out Of". "You've got to
get yourself together," Bono and Edge sing. All well and good, except
it comes across sounding very gospel-like – I can just imagine the
Voices of Freedom (who guested on "I Still Haven't Found What I'm
Looking For" for 1988's Rattle And Hum) reuniting with U2 for this
Okay...this is promising: "Elevation" is a funky rocker, with a
dash of Achtung Baby and a dab of Pop mixed in to create a real
stomper of a tune. Thank goodness, I was getting worried after that
inspirational number.... Ah, but what is this? "Walk On" is, um,
another uplifting inspirational one. Hmm. "Walk on, walk on/What
you got they can't steal it..." Definitely sounding like a twin
to "Stuck In A Moment". "Kite" is another (suitably) uplifting track,
rather anthemic and certainly destined to be a future hit single.
Removed from the rest of the somewhat schmaltzy Christian Rock-type
songs, "Kite" can easily take its place with the other BIG songs
in the U2 canon.
"In A Little While" and "Wild Honey" are our middle songs on the
album, a couple of lazy summer love songs. The former, one of the
weaker tracks on the album, is a bit of a Motown song, with Bono
crooning about his girl with Spanish eyes. Wild Honey is more of
a sweet gentle breeze of a song, along the lines of "Sweetest Thing,"
and easily could have been from the Joshua Tree album.
Sadly, it goes a bit downhill from here. Or up, depending on how
you look at it. "Peace On Earth" is an open prayer to Jesus to make
things better on Earth, "When I Look At The World" reflects on what
Bono (and God?) sees in the world, "New York" is a love song to
the city that takes in everyone, and the closing "Grace" is about
finding the beauty in everything. All very positive songs, inspirational,
uplifting, joyous... need I go on? No, I didn't think so. U2 are
happy. Great. U2 want you to be happy too. Terrific. But... can't
they sing about it more interestingly? It seems that the lesson
U2 learned from being too ambiguous at times on their last album
(Pop) is to be anything but ambiguous now. Music for the masses,
U2 are still one of the top bands of today, no question. Though
this may not be their finest work, it is certainly not their worst
either, and it is still better than what your run-of-the-mill pop
bands are doing today. The only question remaining is what's next
for the legendary Irish quartet. Earlier this year Bono remarked
that if this was U2's last album, he would be happy knowing they
went out on a note like this. I guess if they're happy, we can't
b i o :
is a recent Kalamazoo College graduate in Computer Science and
is pursuing career interests in California.