How to dismantle an atomic bomb………

Well firstly what a strange title, I wonder if it’s an obvious reference to recent world events, something terribly subtle or just a joke? Rock n Roll has a habit of being a mixture of these things. Whatever, its only rock n roll…….

Albums by U2 are always worth paying attention to, and that’s not just because I am an appreciator, but more because you know that these four men have put a lot of time and effort into the product, including its comprehensive marketing. At this stage in their careers, when middle age is setting in, they can still put out fine rock music that stands up and gets noticed in amongst the newer offerings, and perhaps even eclipses them? Well, who knows? Ask a 21 year old.

Statistically, this CD has been a commercial success already. Released to the world on 22 November 2004, by 23 December it had sold one million copies in the UK alone and had reached number one in 25 countries. So it seems to have got through to a few more people than the middle aged purchasers like myself who have happily stayed loyal to the brand for years.

But what about the music? Well, to briefly summarise, it’s a very good follow up to the last one. The song strength of the previous album was exceptional and very hard to follow up in my view, so we have an edgier riff driven 11 songs laying a foundation for the Bonofication. In other words the formula is just like all the others, the only difference it seems is on what basis Edge starts the ball rolling each time. If Edge sets the scene, Adam and Larry create the scenery and then Bono provides the special effects. Like all the best bands, it’s the chemistry that holds them together.

Achtung Baby was a deep dark curious piece of melancholy heartache; Zooropa was a funkier, sort of party album (if that’s possible) recorded swiftly between private jetting to and from stadiums all around Europe. Then after the monster Zoo tours, and a bit of a rest came POP, with its deep rhythms and dance inspired songs, when many a critic started to titter and wonder what sort of excess these chaps had over indulged in. I nearly got to see them on the Pop tour had it not been for a car accident, but it was a superb piece of theatre by all accounts. They had made big money but they happily spent it again on unbelievable extravagances for their live performances, the like of which may never be seen again. How do you follow up Zoo TV with its Gulf War inspired multi-televisual bombardment?  Why not do another even bigger one capturing the obscenity of commercialism and corporate greed in our world? Hey, they even had a single golden arch over the stage, marvellous.

So, how to dismantle an atom bomb, let’s dismantle it a little….

We start with an incredible riff. Where did he get that from? It sounds like it must be copied from something else, but its not, it’s a bit of punk, a lot of rock, a whiff of Stones, and has a Plant-like scream. Just my cup of tea! Then we go through a series of impressive songs, each are stories, told in the emotive manner we all know well. We are reminded about world poverty, dreams of world peace, the loss of a father by a son who really wants to tell him more, and as always the personal messages from Bono to his wife, biblical references, and ending with the prayer, this time personally addressed to the creator.  This is the formula of nearly all their albums.

It seems that they had an uneasy time making this one. Perhaps they have all been like that who knows, but they got through producers and seem to have recorded many a discarded track in their river front warehouse in Dublin before asking Steve Lillywhite to help them sort everything out. The result is almost a modern re make of their first album, also produced by Lillywhite in the early 80’s. I recall hearing the trademark Edge riff for the first time in the sixth form lounge back in 1981 and thinking that this really is different, one of my school friends had been given a copy of Boy, (the first record) by ‘the bassist’ who worked on his Dad’s farm.  We never knew then how big this group would become, but since then they have almost provided a soundtrack to life and the various phases of their evolution have been ringing in the ears of the world for two and a half decades.

Perhaps more impressive still is the fact that they are the same four individuals, each one complimenting the other three it seems. The royalties have always been shared equitably, and with 130 million album sales worldwide, that’s a lot of royalties. They all still live in Dublin and appear to go to the same pubs they always did. We have never had a ‘solo’ album or muck raking in the papers, no musical differences or public sniping at each other, no jealousy of the ‘very’ famous lead singer, or resentment that the bassist lives in the biggest house. They just do not take it too seriously yet paradoxically, they are the most serious of them all.

But in conclusion, this new album for me is not their ‘best’, whatever that means, but it’s a lot better than anything else I have heard recently from the guitar based rock genre. But, hey maybe I am too old and somewhat biased!

By Nick Gale