Sunday, March 08, 2009

Kat's Korner: No Life Left On The Album

Kat: U2's new album is finally out, their first since 2004's disappointing How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. For those who thought that was the lowest U2 could go, welcome to No Line On The Horizon.

You're clued for disappointment when you play the first track and hear the recycled music of "Desire" with a non-melodic chorus placed on top which sounds like Gilda Radner doing her impersonation of Patti Smith (Candy Slice) on Saturday Night Live.

The guitar work throughout is worth noting. David Evans is especially effective with descending chords. David Evans? That's how the Edge is credited on songs he wrote. Since an e-mail came in asking why U2 was recording outside songs and noted "Moment of Surrender" written by David Evans, I should probably clear that up. Lyrically, it is a song that's crafted to their cloying, hog calling lead singer's Bono As Jesus pose. "I tied myself with wire to let the horses roam free . . ." Oh, you are so sensitive, Bono, so very sensitive. You suffer the world and then some, drama queen. How very lucky we are to have the brave Bono Vox, right?


Wrong. And that's obvious on his badly written "Unknown Caller" whose non-melodic chorus includes "Go. Shout. It. Out. Rise. Up."

"Get On Your Boots" is probably the worst song as The Edge appears to have crafted [together] Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start The Fire" with the Bangles "In Your Room." You may enjoy both songs, I do to various degrees, but as a famous New Yorker cartoon once said of Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? "I like Bette Davis and I like Joan Crawford. But I don't think I'd like Bette Davis and Joan Crawford together." And, no, Billy Joel joins the Bangles for the ultimate jam isn't really worth hearing and that's before you start examing the lyrics.

Which isn't to say that we should let the lyrics off the hooks. In a sing-song-shout manner, a verse includes, "I got a submarine, you got gasoline, I don't want to talk about wars between nations, not right now, sexy boots . . ." It's at moments like those that you grasp U2 is not the historian Billy Joel is. It's at moments like those that you grasp how uninformed and uneducated the high schoolers remain all these years later.

But most of all you grasp that this is the band that for six years now has been silent about the Iraq War. While trying to continue their pose as socially committed rockers, socially aware ones.

In the November 3, 2005 issue of Rolling Stone (Issue 986), Bono got yet another Rolling Stone Interview. For those who have forgotten, Bono spent 2001-2008 standing behind George W. Bush at the urinal and holding Bush's cock for him while Bush took a pee. Bono was asked about the Iraq War in the interview and the illegal war started in March 2003, for those who don't know their history. So this is two years after the start, when the slaughter of Falluja (with illegal, chemical weapons) and Abu Ghraib and many other War Crimes are known. Bono was asked about his buddy George W. and specifically, "Do you feel you can't criticize him on the war in Iraq?"

Bono: Everyone in the administration knows how I feel about the war in Iraq. Everyone. I criticize it to Tony Blair as well. Do I campaign against the war in Iraq? No.

Why not?

Bono: That's the compromise. I feel I gave that up when I started to work for other people whom I will never meet, those 180,000 people in Africa who now owe their lives to American money, which paid for these lifesaving drugs. I work for them. If me not shooting my mouth off about the war in Iraq is the price I pay, then I'm prepared to pay it.

In other words, an alleged 180,000 African lives are worth more than 1.6 million Iraqi lives. Bono was already refusing to hold his friends Bush and Blair accountable and, no, they never did fulfill their promises on AIDS funding and, no, Bono never did get around to holding them accountable. Possibly, now that they are out of office, Bono will utter a peep? Too late to make a damn bit of difference. Bono didn't just play the whore, he played the jingoistic whore: "180,000 people in Africa who now owe their lives to American money".

Wow. With that level of 'evolved' perception, maybe he should stick to singing, "Get on your boots, sexy boots"?

And that's before we even get to the fact that he -- and the other members of U2 -- are now tax cheats. Rich, spoiled rock stars who can't pay taxes. The Gordon Gekkos of the music scene. The fat, porcine, useless corpse that drags itself into the studio every few years to try to bleed money out of whatever remains of their once massive following.

And Bono's going to be dragging his tired ass -- which hits 49 this May -- across the US touring behind this bad album. Playing Jesus and The Fly. Playing a sensitive artist when there's nothing sensitive about silence during an illegal war, when there's nothing sensitive about being a wealthy millionaire pig who refuses to pay your taxes.

Even so, a few could probably overlook that if the latest U2 output entertained them, spoke to them. How can it? Does anyone really believe Bono ever went hunting in the woods as a boy? He presents that lie in one of the few songs he wrote on the album ("White As Snow") which only goes to what a fraud he is. Attempting, as he's done, to claim the song is about a soldier in Afghanistan -- always aware of marketing, Bono *refuses* to say US, UK, Canadian or what -- is bulls**t. He's said even less about the Afghanistan War than he has about the Iraq War. But if he thinks he can make a buck off either, you know Mister Greedy will feign innocence. That really is depressing.

And how depressing that a man so close to fifty is still unable to see women as they are and desperate for a virgin and the virginal. You'd think that as 50 loomed, you'd stop glorifying 'innocence' and start appreciating wisdom but that would require growth and U2 has been all about proving they have none.

Their last great album really was War. The Unforgettable Fire is quicker than Somonex and as 'lovely' as elevator music but it never made it as anything more than a sleep aid and pretty, aural wall paper. Never as an album. The Joshua Tree was half-a-good album and then U2 began their long decay. By this decade, The Joshua Tree retread that was All That You Can't Leave Behind earned praise just out of sheer relief that you could listen to the entire disc. It wasn't brilliant, it wasn't art, but it was listenable.

If the Rolling Stones had played it out this way, they would have ceased to be around 1975. Part of the reason U2 gets easy praise is just because they make (bad) music as opposed to being lazy pop tarts (male and female) using samples. But there's more life in the Rolling Stones' 2005 A Bigger Bang than in No Line On The Horizon. More life, more honesty, more awareness and more art.

What really stands out when you compare the two is Bono and Mick Jagger. For all of Bono's attempts at cock-rocking/walking on stage (a la Mick), in songs Bono's as endowed as a Ken doll. He never does the deed. He never relates to a woman (or a man) on a sexual level. Yeah, Mick can be a bit of a pig boy, but as many other songs show, Mick can get what's coming to him as well. But he's out there mixing it up with a woman. Listening to U2's discography in full would convince some that Tab Hunter managed to go out on the road with Elvis' touring band.

That's driven home on the album's final track where the band's trying so hard to make something out of "Cedars of Lebanon." They're shading, they're offering filigree and it all means nothing because it's Bono singing the same Bono way -- unenlightened, unsexy, droning, you name it. At the opening he sings of waking "in a dirty heap" but it's Bono. Translation, he was up all night working. For those who can't grasp it, he will go on to sing, "I haven't been with a woman in it feels like for years." Actually, Bono, it's never felt like you were with a woman on any song you've sung.

For eleven tracks, U2 offers more of the same weak, pseudo-socially aware, garbage that adds up to nothing -- which they've shoved off on listeners since Rattle and Hum demonstrated just how much contempt they have both for themselves and their audience.

Is there one song that actually makes it? Bassist Adam Clayton's written a rock song of no great weight but with tremendous appeal -- qualities that are quickly stomped out when Bono lets his voice crack as he attempts falsetto notes he can't reach in "crazy tonight" ("I Know I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight"). After his first failed attempt, Bono does not again attempt to show how thin his voice can become and how off-key he can sing. Which raises the question of why he went for it in the first place? With all the millions U2 spent on this miserable album Bono couldn't muster a second take? It doesn't matter why he included the 'quirk' on the album, it hurts the ears and ruins a song that had a melody worth humming.

And that's the album. 11 tracks and the only one you might really want to get to know, Adam Clayton's, is ruined by Bono's 'artistic' choice to grasp at falsetto notes he couldn't reach. No Line On The Horizon? Try: no art or anything remotely listenable. By the time you grasp Bono's raided the band's "I Will Follow," "When Love Comes To Town" and "Stay (Far away, So Close!)" to 'write'/graft the mutant "Unknown Caller," you'll grasp that the band can't even claim to be running on fumes. There's an energy crisis in U2 and the root of it can be found in the Price Per Bono. I for one intend to do my part for the arts and environment by boycotting the kind of rock we all hoped Nirvana had wiped away.

[Kat note: Typos corrected and one word added in brackets.]

no line on the horizon
the rolling stones
the bangles
billy joel
kats korner
the common ills