- The Washington Times - Monday, November 22, 2004

U2

How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb

Interscope Records

U2, with its stature and swagger, is the only band of the post-punk generation to approach the magnitude of the warhorses of the ‘60s.

So when it releases a new album, something it purposefully does sparingly, it’s not enough to consider it on its own terms.



It has to be considered not just for its relevance in the kaleidoscope-like landscape of today’s pop music, but against the band’s own legacy. U2 knows it. Frontman Bono said going in, there’d be no reason for the band to bother making a new album at this point in its 25-year career, unless that album was a “monster, a dragon.”

“How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” isn’t quite monstrous, despite the ferocious first single “Vertigo,” which has been making the rounds on TV commercial breaks as part of U2’s corporate tie-in with Apple Computer.

Make no mistake: The Edge, the band’s pioneering guitarist, is as aggressive and dragon-like as ever, having taken an experimental journey on U2’s venture into techno and dance-pop on ‘90s efforts like “Zooropa” and “Pop.” He reasserted himself on 2000’s multiplatinum comeback “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” and shows no sign of letting up here.

Listen to his Pete Townshend-esque swordplay on the riff-heavy “All Because of You” and “Crumbs from Your Table.” The Edge is a repetitive lead player, exclusively reliant on his trademark open-stringed and glissando runs, but he sends his ax through such a wide variety of interesting filters, that his tones sound fresh and modern.

Still, what stands out on “Bomb” isn’t pseudo-menacing blues rave-ups such as “Love and Peace or Else” but the band’s consciousness of the ongoing ‘80s revival, something in which U2’s music figures. Watching young bucks such as the Walkmen forage “The Unforgettable Fire” for inspiration, U2 has taken notice and tossed a few retreads of its own into the mix.

“Miracle Drug” and “City of Blinding Lights” are outfitted with electric-piano and synthesizer flourishes left over from the soundtrack of some forgotten James Spader movie. Yet their refrains are fat and memorable.

Bono’s lyrics can be inanely pedestrian, as on the Mars-Venus tale of “A Man and a Woman” and the relationship plea of “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own” (“A house doesn’t make a home,” he sings with greeting-card flair), but he croons at a level of blue-eyed soul and bluster that befits a globetrotting rock star.

And his spiritual reflections, shared unabashedly on the set-closing “Yahweh,” aren’t shallow.

“Bomb” breaks no new ground in the U2 canon, but it cements the band’s return to form and will undoubtedly furnish a foundation for what promises to be one of next year’s hottest concert tours.

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