Second Impression: U2′s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb

I’ve deleted my post from yesterday about the U2 album.

Last night, I went home and put the CD on the BIG stereo and really let the thing breathe. I heard a whole different album.

How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb is much, much more complicated than I thought. Until now, I’d only heard it on little Sony headphones or my computer speakers. Putting it on a first-rate stereo system and turning it up, I just keep hearing more and more layers of detail and surprise. There are layers upon layers of sound here. This may be the best-recorded album of their career … and by that, I mean there are so many distinct and yet harmonious layers of sound. The album suddenly got a lot more interesting to me.

This review is going to take some time.

A couple of note: While “A Man and a Woman” is my favorite song on the album, I can’t get enough of “All Because Of You” now that I realize the last line is not about Bono. The song is being sung to somebody … and that somebody’s name is “I Am.”

Take off your shoes, folks. He’s on holy ground. Each verse is about something that has happened, followed by this refrain …

All because of you

All because of you

All because of you

I am.

A very clever song, and one of the most confidently performed songs they’ve ever recorded.

That’s another thing that’s impressing me more and more about these songs. On “Pop” and “Zooropa” and even ATYCLB, you can tell the songs were fresh. Bono’s finding his way through them. On this album, it feels like they’ve driven these songs several hundred miles already, and they know them by heart. Thus, they come out guns a’blazin’.

“All Because of You” is also an important song because the verses bring us back to Bono to prodigal of Achtung and Zooropa, a recurring character, and the lyrics indicate that he’s come home at last. He’s ready to surrender the search for whatever answers or mysteries he was seeking in the darkness and in indulgence. Maybe that too contributes to why the sound of this record is so confident, replacing the characteristic wanderlust with a waste-no-time, get-down-to-business energy.

Yet another striking thing about this album… it’s the first U2 album I can think of where the strongest run of songs happen in the middle instead of at the beginning. They’ve always seemed to come at you with the songs they feel are strongest and then offer the more exploratory songs later. This time, the thing just builds and builds. The run of “All Because of You,” “A Man and a Woman” and “Crumbs from Your Table” is astonishing.

I want to get up in front of the church and read the lyrics to “Crumbs from Your Table” … but it just wouldn’t be the same without the music. The song is written to, and about, the church and its reluctance to devote itself to ministering to the poor. Bono recently commented that trying to get churchgoers to contribute to ministry in Africa is like trying to draw blood from a stone.

Man, I need to learn to quit writing music reviews after only two or three listens.

Sometimes, an album opens up for me on the first listen. But sometimes, like this one, it takes the right place, the right stereo, the right circumstances, and a lot of playing and prodding at the lyrics. And last night, with the windows rattling and the floors shaking, the thing just blew open. I was still shaking several minutes after the record was over.

I stand by my earlier statement, that I miss the U2 that set out to blaze new trails in what rock and roll can be. But this is a band in full possession of its greatest powers, and an album without one bad song.

I gotta write a whole different review now.

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  • Beth

    The first one made some very good points, but new one is fantastic. Thanks.

  • sarah

    i am so happy to hear others are having to ‘work through’ the new stuff. i had read so many astounding early reviews, i expected another _achtung baby_ and upon the first couple of listens, i must confess i was disappointed.
    after a few more spins on the player, though, paying more attention to the lyrics and even the subtlies of the music, i am beginning to agree with all the early reviewers…it IS another work of brillance except that here there are no voice distortions, no double-layered characters, as in _achtung_.
    it’s just U2 being desperately vulnerable and honest. and when you’re willing to be that vulnerable and distinctly honest one of two things must be happening: either arrogance has taken hold and or true freedom has set in…
    and i must admit this freedom sounds more and more beautiful everytime it’s in the player.

  • Anonymous

    An album without one bad song… hmm… well, “Yahweh” has still yet to win me over, but it’s darn close, anyway.

    Josh

  • jen

    Have you heard “Fast Cars” yet? It’s on the box set and is very cool — has an Indian / Mexican World music feel to it. Very cool.

    Same reaction to the album — have been listening to it for a couple of weeks and it is growing on me.


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