Upon listening to U2’s latest effort, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, the thought process behind the album is almost as audible as the music, to wit; “Hey, that whole anthematic thing really sold us a shitload of albums last time, let’s try it again.”It is apparent from the very first verse of lead-off “Vertigo,”which bears a frightening resemblance to 2000’s “Elevation;”these lads are playing a role and all those lights are starting to melt some of the greasepaint.
Let’s be honest with ourselves for a bit may we? U2 was always about the bombast. That was their main appeal: harnessing all the guilty pleasure of rock star hubris, choruses written for stadiums and Bono’s biblical ego, then throwing them up against mindblowingly catchy, undeniable pop songs. Even on poorly received albums such as 1997’s Pop, the boys managed to pull off some great songwriting ranging from the graceful to the hip-shaking. On Dis-mantle, though, the band’s muse seems to have high-tailed it to greener pastures. Perhaps Bono forgot her on the doorstep of the U.N., but the end result is an album that contains all the bluster and none of the bang of the band’s best work and in the process highlights and embodies all of the criticisms of U2 voiced by their detractors.
The band just sounds tired. Bono’s voice mewls and strains to not only hit the high notes but to capture that trademarked “larger than life”U2 thing. Emotions that must be hard to muster considering “The Fly”has contributed some of the most infantile, pretentious lyrics of his career including such winners as “Freedom has a scent/Like the top of a newborn baby’s head.”Is he serious? U2 always tread the thin line between poignant and maudlin, but with that lyric alone they have driven an SUV through that line. Fortunately, the other lynchpin of the band, Edge, (sorry, even the most dedicated U2 fan has trouble remembering the names of those other two guys) seems to not be completely sleepwalking through Dismantle, contributing his consistently engaging arpeggios and preternatural ability to come up with hooks to songs like “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own”and “Crumbs From Your Table.”Still, the brain-dead, standard rock chord strumming on “All Because of You”makes the case that perhaps our oddly-named guitar god may just be in it for a quick buck as well.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of Dismantle is that for a band that unfailingly has at least a few stellar tracks per album, this effort sounds uniformly boring and similar. The ballads all rise to a predictably syrupy, over-emotional crescendo and most of the “rockers”descend into a half-assed subdued bridge where Bono gets all confessional about the miseries of the world over keyboards ripped straight from a Manheim Steamroller album. Considering this album was several years in the making, it’s probably the sound of a band that may be irrevocably past their prime.