Monday, April 28, 2008

Album Review: "All That You Can't Leave Behind" by U2



It's an epidemic: the only music I can write about now is safe, happy, and worst of all, comforting. I just picked up All Shook Down, the last album Paul Westerberg put out with the Replacements moniker, and I'll be damned if it hasn't made me feel nice and cozy with its sweet, sober melody. This can't continue. If I'm shooting to be a halfway-decent music blogger I've got to stop writing about all this everything's-gonna-be-alright shit and start up with some Black Flag or Dillinger Escape Plan and rip up the scene hardcore.

Eh, maybe next time.

All That You Can't Leave Behind starts up with "Beautiful Day" which might be the best goddamned song U2's ever recorded. I mean that. Well, ok, maybe not the best song, but there are few U2 songs that really bury themselves under my skin as much as this one does. It's got bombast to beat the band, but man, it's measured bombast. It starts with a slow, calculated crawl, with Bono keeping his voice low and steady, and then the band tears into that "It's a beautiful day" chorus like there's nothing left to live for. And then, bam, there's Bono's "TOUCH ME! TAKE ME TO ANOTHER PLACE!!" yelp with the Edge's guitar blasting through the door, and man, you've taken off. You're out of the building. "Beautiful Day" is a wonderfully crafted song because it lulls you in, locks the door behind you and shoots you straight into the stratosphere with Bono's super-powered howl and the band's layers and layers of rock bombast. There is no denying this goddamned song.

I don't like any other songs on Leave Behind as much as "Beautiful Day" but that's neither here nor there. The rest of the songs here follow "Beautiful Day"'s flow, but while that song was intended for the Great White Beyond, the other 11 here mostly stick around on planet Earth. They're Big Important Anthems, to be sure, but they're humble. They're here to make you feel good and fuzzy and warm, like an FDR Fireside Chat. Sure, you've got your nutty-rap-rock-thing "Elevation," which breaks the flow a bit, but otherwise Leave Behind is a collection of songs that beg the listener to let go and sweeten up a little. Themselves, too; this is an album U2 needed to make, I guess, if people were ever going to like them again. The whole album is pretty calculated - you can tell U2 wanted to be earnest here, tried to be the ultimate good guys in a rock 'n roll world filled with villains like Fred Durst and Andrew W.K. Of course, they succeeded, and of course they let it get to their heads with that "Gangs of New York" crap.

But I'll let the music speak for itself - despite U2's obvious desire to please here, I just like the melodies on this record so damned much that I don't care. How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb be damned - this one's overloaded with pretty. "Stuck in a Moment," "Wild Honey," "When I Look At The World," "Kite," "Walk On": I'm sorry, I gotta just feel good listening to those songs. Nothing new or adventurous - there's some electronic flourishes here and there, and even some hip-hoppish beats slip in ("New York," "Elevation," "In A Little While") but it's not jammed down the listener's throat. This isn't an album that's gonna change your perception of rock music, it just wants to give you a big fat hug. Beyond those lovely melodies, I'll come right out and say I dig the lyrics here too. They're simple, effective, and not too preachy (with the exception of the all-too-helpful "Walk On" or "Peace On Earth"). Someone once told me that they hated the lyrics to "Stuck In A Moment" 'cuz they were cheap, but I just don't hear it. "I'm just trying to find a decent melody / something I can sing / my own company." That's so nice! That makes me smile!!

Beyond that, Leave Behind's got a weird kinda structure, at least for me. I've been a U2 fan longer than I've been a Beatles fan (!!!) so it's kind of surprising - even for myself - that I never heard all of Leave Behind until last summer. I think maybe it's 'cause the first four songs on the album were all over the radio - I've known "Beautiful Day," "Stuck In A Moment," "Elevation" and "Walk On" since I was fucking 13, so I didn't really need to hear them all in sequence, did I? After those hits, though, there's three more fantastic songs here that I've never ever heard before: "Kite," a neat slow-burning number with some of Bono's best vocals on the album; "In a Little While," featuring a surprisingly low-key atmosphere; and "Wild Honey," a straight-up pop number that might be the outright cutest song U2's ever recorded save for "The Sweetest Thing." God, I love those songs. After that, though, the last four kinda dip into Mellowsville; while I dig "When I Look At The World," I don't get much from "Peace On Earth," "New York" or "Grace." They're not bad, but they just don't get me goin'.

Is it OK for me to like this album? I know people have been saying that Atomic Bomb is a carbon-copy of it, but I just don't hear that. The melodies here just don't feel as put-on - every song is like a breath, seeping into the subconscious and flowing out with a cool trail of air. It's all natural, is what I'm trying to say. I'm sure Bono recorded this album for the good of capitalism, to make some sweet dough from throwing "Elevation" into that shitty Tomb Raider movie, but I don't care. This is one of those albums that just wants you to be OK, to get you some cocoa while you vent about your shitty job, to hold your hand at your mother's funeral. Who am I to resist?

1 comment:

Adam said...

Good review, Sean. As far as writing what's comfortable goes, as much as you should challenge yourself once in a while, it's never a bad thing to write about, you know... what you know about.

As far as "All That You Can't Leave Behind" is concerned... eh... I'm not too drawn to this album. "Beautiful Day" is nice but it was just one of those things where I just heard it so much and at such in appropriate times (random radio listening, background music, etc) that it lost its bombast; I never had a TRUE experience with it. And I think it starts to sound a little samey after the initial 4-song blast of BIG HITS.

Basically, I like "Atomic Bomb" a bit more, believe it or not.

That's my two cents that nobody asked for.