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Hailed by many as a "return to form" for U2, but after twenty listens I still don't get it. OK, it's produced by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, but that's about it, there's little evidence of the dynamics and power that defined their sound for over ten years. It's even poppier than their previous album "Pop" (which I thought was titled with mild sarcasm anyway) but maybe I'm unfairly using poppy as a synonym for "bland". The songs here are mainly driven by Bono's simpering. On songs like "Walk On", "In A Little While" and "Peace on Earth", he wrings his hands and scrunches up his face trying to persuade us that it's OK that U2 have gone all chilled and hip, and that he's really sincere about their drippy lyrics. But the lack of the decent musical content that U2 are capable of can't be disguised.
It does have a few moments of class, such as the decent driving pop single "Beautiful Day". "Elevation" treads the border between cheesy and cool, but I can give it the benefit of the doubt for its hip-hop like repeated rhyme. In an odd moment of less-is-more, the delicately atmospheric "Grace" is the best reminder of U2's real strengths, produced in good old floaty Eno style.
October 19, 2004