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I got this album tentatively as I didn't share most other people's opinion that U2's previous outing "All That You Can't Leave Behind" was such a big return to form. Thankfully "How To Dismantle" is more like that "comeback" should have been. There's certainly few surprises here, these twelve four-minute songs are comfortable to stand in the middle of the road. With songs like "City of Blinding Lights" they even slot well among the Coldplays and Keanes that are hyped as "quality pop" these days. It seems more like they're just making music for fun, rather than trying too hard to please and sounding fake. After a few listens, the tunes are, while not brilliant like Joshua Tree, effortlessly good. "Achtung Baby" is probably the closest reference point, the start of their increased poppification.
They certainly sound like a four-piece band here, while on "All That You Can't Leave Behind" it sounded more like Bono was pulling the others along with his simpering I've-seen-the-light tunes. Indeed with the "lay down your guns" declamation on "Love and Peace or Else" he seems to be comfortable with a bit of gentle self-mockery. Edge pingery is once again an intrinsic part of their sound, and those big soaring choruses of old are back on songs like "Miracle Drug", "Sometimes You Can't Make It" and "Original of the Species". It's not as jagged as their old 80's sound, but still assured and professional. "Vertigo" is their most convincing pop single for a while, breezed through in three minutes, simple and not contrivedly cool, with great bass-heavy verses. "Yahweh" might not impress Orthodox Jews, but its scooping refrain is a hand-waving success.
Leave it to Muse to make the "Unforgettable Fire"s of today, but their stadium-stomping ancestors aren't close to their sell-by date yet.
December 21, 2004