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Non-Prog CD Reviews

U2

How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb

Review by Josh Turner

When I first heard Vertigo on the radio, I had to hear the album. Many bands these days release an album on the merits of one good song, tour, and rake in the cash. The song was great, but this left me suspicious. To my surprise, there are several songs on the album that are better than this smash-hit single. Not since The Joshua Tree has the band produced such an astounding album. Not only do they look young (take a look at the photo on the cover), their music is as fresh as ever. They've turned back the clock using a format that endures the ages.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Vertigo
If you haven't already heard this song, you obviously aren't listening to the radio. It's broadcast all the time these days, and it's instantly impressive. For this reason, it's a great way to start the album. It gives you what you want, yet keeps you in suspense. Even though you've unwrapped the plastic, removed the disc, and hurriedly hit go, there is still no word on what else U2 has in store for the current generation. I'm sure many people heard this song and immediately went out to purchase the album. Hopefully most people don't stop right here, because they can look forward to a whole lot more.
Miracle Drug
This number has potential as a second single. It's dreamy and engrossing. The Edge delivers many great guitar licks, and the bridge in the middle is darn near progressive.
Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own
For a change of pace, this one starts out subdued then transitions and builds. The songwriting is similar to the clever ditties Ray Wilson whips up. The difference comes in the form of Bono's one-of-a-kind voice. The cut is reminiscent of classic U2, but has a modern flair about it. This goes to show the timeless nature of this band. The track would have been good back then and it's great now. U2 certainly stands the test of time. This is just another indication why they're one of the greatest bands of all-time.
Love and Peace or Else
After three winning rounds, this one coasts through the fourth. This is a restrained rendition of Relax from Frankie Goes to Hollywood. It's also a little like Peter Gabriel's solo work, but maybe a bit bluesier. Just looking at the title, the political rhetoric is obvious, and there is a whole lot more where that came from in the lyrics. It's subtle, but the keyboards go off like a sound horn warning of an air strike.
City of Blinding Lights
This one has it all: marvelous melodies, radiant riffs, and clever chord progressions. Bono is back in all his retro glory, and again this works for the present. This is one of my favorite songs on the album. I find it very surprising how the album starts with so many great songs and continues to offer more.
All Because of You
This song starts with a sequence that is almost neo-progressive. The rest is simple, straightforward rock. The guitars thrash while Bono belts out the verses.
A Man and A Woman
Aboard a time machine to the past, the lever inadvertently sticks between settings. The result is a song that flip-flops between forgotten days and the future. The dichotomy of old and new is what works best in this album. This song is a beautiful ballad with lush sweeping keyboards, gentle chord progressions, and bass lines that precisely pinpoint their intended targets. There is even what appears to be a mandolin in the mix. This is Bono's best singing on the album, and the bridge features very cool harmony. This cut has chronic changes in time signature along with interesting instrumentations. Progressive rock fans will like this track most of all.
Crumbs From Your Table
Aside from Bono's distinct voice, this doesn't really sound like U2. It actually comes across more like Tears for Fears. The band's willingness to try out new and different things continues to be a strength of the album.
One Step Closer
This begins in a format not too much unlike Tangerine Dream's serene soundscapes. When the guitars enter the picture, it is a wound-down version of California Guitar trio. After treading through familiar territory, the group continues to redefine itself. In this song, not only is the music unique, but Bono's voice isn't immediately recognizable. If this wasn't a U2 album, he may have gone completely undetected. He sounds more like Bruce Springsteen here.
Original Of the Species
We want more and we get it. This one is very progressive and somewhat Beatlesque. There is even a trace of Roy Orbison in the toppings. It is actually quite astounding how much good songwriting is demonstrated on this album. You'd think they would have gotten writer's block by now. This is the upside to waiting four years since their last release. It's funny how some artists take part in several releases each year. If you're U2, I guess you have the luxury of time.
Yahweh
The last song is simpler than the rest, but still quite catchy. U2 probably figures the repeat button will be tapped often and early, so they might as well hit their biggest highlights before the end. Regardless, this song is still a respectful finish to a truly outstanding album. The only unanswered question is whether or not this is their best album to date. With many greats in their discography, it's too close to call. We'll have to wait and see how this one ages over the time. What is most impressive is the fact they deliver the goods after entertaining us for so many years. This is a surefire contender for a Grammy.
 
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