U2 in The New York Times

U2 wins raves in The New York Times today, and look great in the photo that accompanies the article. (That photo’s sure a lot more interesting than the album cover, which is the most unremarkable in the band’s history.)

Here are some choice quotes:

Tensions between intellect and passion, and between pragmatism and faith, drive the songs on “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb”; so do burly guitar riffs, galvanizing crescendos and fearlessly emotional vocals. The album easily stands alongside the best work of U2’s career – “Boy,” “War,” “The Joshua Tree” and “Achtung Baby” – and, song for song, it’s more consistent than any of them.

Many of the songs ponder faith. The album’s finale, “Yahweh,” is nothing less than a prayer. When Bono was singing nonsense words to come up with a melody for the song, he found himself singing “Yahweh,” a Hebrew name of God.

“There’s cathedrals and the alleyway in our music,” Bono said. “I think the alleyway is usually on the way to the cathedral, where you can hear your own footsteps and you’re slightly nervous and looking over your shoulder and wondering if there’s somebody following you. And then you get there and you realize there was somebody following you: It’s God.”

Bono’s mother was a Protestant and his father a Catholic, and when he was a schoolboy he was severely beaten up when walking through a Catholic neighborhood in the uniform of his Protestant school. Speaking just days after the American presidential election, which might have hinged on the votes of evangelical Christians, Bono said: “I don’t talk about my faith very much, because the people you might want to talk with, you don’t want to hang out with.

“To have faith in a time of religious fervor is a worry. And, you know, I do have faith, and I’m worried about even the subject because of the sort of fanaticism that is the next-door neighbor of faith. The trick in the next few years will be not to decry the religious instinct, but to accept that this is a hugely important part of people’s lives. And at the same time to be very wary of people who believe that theirs is the only way. Unilateralism before God is dangerous.”

“Religion is ceremony and symbolism,” he added. “Writers live off symbolism, and performers live off ceremony. We’re made for religion! And yet you see this country, Ireland, ripped over religion, and you see the Middle East. Right now, unless tolerance comes with fervor, you’ll see it in the United States.”

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  • chris

    i like the trilogy theory concerning u2’s catalogue. similar styles/themes/etc in each trilogy. obviously this is all a generalization, but i think it makes sense..

    boy/october/war – “post-punk” u2

    unforgettable fire/joshua tree/rattle and hum – “americana” u2

    achtung baby/zooropa/pop – “postmodern experiementation” u2

    atyclb/htdaab/next album? – “nostalgia, get back to our classic sound” u2

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    By “unremarkable” I mean that U2 has done the group-black-and-white-photo pose so many times now that it’s become one of their biggest cliches. And yet, some of their covers have been so surprising as to inspire copycats for the next decade (Joshua Tree, Achtung Baby). You’d think that the world’s great graphic designers and artists would be clamoring to offer a new vision, a new idea. This cover could have been put together by anybody with Photoshop and a camera. In fact, when it first popped up on the Web, I heard several people crying ‘Fake!’

    I feel the same way about U2’s music. Most people celebrate U2 whenever they do something that sounds like the old days. For me, one of the most exciting things about U2 has been a “sonic restlessness,” a refusal to “settle” into any particular sound and a tendency to lean forward into something new with each outing. ATYCLB’s sound… and cover… were primarily nostalgic; it was a way of saying “We can still knock the roof off an arena with that classic U2 anthem sound.”

    I haven’t heard the new album yet–I won’t until release day, as is my U2 ritual. But I’m worried … especially from the rave reviews coming in … that this may be the first U2 album in which they merely repeat themselves, in which the U2 sound finally solidifies into a “brand.” I’m worried that the journey … at least the stylistic journey … is over and that they’ve become content with a particular sound. That may make them happy, and it’ll certainly please those who disliked their ’90s albums (I was one of the few who loved them).

    But I will feel a great sense of loss if that’s true. So few bands are pushing us in exciting new directions right now, and I could always count on U2 to take me somewhere unexplored, vast, and … if you will … where the streets have no name. I’ll probably still be pleased by WHATEVER they put out, but I’m longing to be launched into new territory. R.E.M.’s new album was the most catastrophic collapse I’ve heard in ages, lacking ideas, energy, excellence, passion, and soul. I’m hoping U2 remind us all what’s possible, as they’ve done so many times before.

  • Anonymous

    The most unremarkable cover in the band’s history?

    Oh, come now, Jeffrey… have you forgotten the cover of October? Or how about the American version of Boy?

    The Times’ praise for the album is a little extreme, but I agree that it’s a great record, and definitely one of the better U2 sets.