In defiance of the burdensome weight of their own history and the lifespan of the average rock band, U2 in 2004 are rock’s only remaining superpower.
Other long-lived bands continue to impress, but none come even close to matching U2’s astonishing global commercial dominance in the rock field.
Of the 12 tracks here (the UK and Japanese releases have an additional track, Fast Cars) over half are instant U2 classics and the remainder are never less than very good. ‘…Atomic Bomb’ is almost certain to go down as a landmark rock record for the noughties.
‘Miracle Drug’ will go down as another U2 classic: obliquely referencing what is known as the ‘Lazarus effect’ when apparently dying HIV-positive people are rescued with the use of new medication, the beautiful melody soars heavenwards without ever sounding trite.When the music turns rather more personal, the rawness of Bono’s recent bereavment on the epic ‘Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own’ makes for a genuine Kleenex moment.
The lifeblood of ‘…Atomic Bomb’ is Bono’s unstinting belief that pop stars can make a difference and that they should use their power for something above and beyond mere personal reward.
From now on it’s hard to see what’s left for U2 other than to continue trying to compete with themselves in a rock world devoid of meaningful competition. No other group can command the enormous cross-gender, cross-generational and cross-ethnic support that U2 do. The last great rock band of the 20th century and the only truly great rock band of the 21st ? You bet.