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issue: 11/15/2000

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U2, All That You Can't Leave Behind

- reviewed by Jennifer Hawker

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 one.

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, indeed.

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 knock it.

b i o :
Jennifer Hawker is a recent Kalamazoo College graduate in Computer Science and is pursuing career interests in California.

   

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