by Mike Chen on 01/20/09 at 10:20 PM ET
From time to time, I’ll post fanboy reviews of different new releases in entertainment. In most cases, it’ll either be music (mostly notable indie rock releases) or geeky genre movies (it’s too bad my server crash deleted my review of The X-Files: I Want To Believe over the summer). If none of this interests you, feel free to politely ignore these posts.
Is it better to be innovative or comfortable? I have a feeling that people who listen to U2’s new single Get On Your Boots (check it out here) will fall into one of three categories:
-They prefer “mainstream” U2 and will hate it because it’s not a straightforward pop song.
-They’re music snobs that will hate it for the sake of hating it.
-They like experimental U2 and will give it a chance.
The latter two categories crave innovation but only one of them will accept this new song. As for the first category? If you’re looking for the comfortable, straightforward sounds of Beautiful Day, you still haven’t found what you’re looking for.
I fall into the last category. For a long, long time, I considered U2 one of my favorites, an artistic stalwart that could be counted on for trying something new and different though still maintaining their identity. Sure, some of it succeeded and some of it failed, but at least they weren’t complacent.
Then the 2000s hit, Bono got preachy, and the band homogenized itself, peaking with the utterly banal and predictable How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. Which is why I was dreading the upcoming No Line On The Horizon; however, as early reports leaked that Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois were once again steering the U2 ship into uncharted waters, my interest perked up a little bit. When comparisons to The Fly were made just a few weeks ago—a song that beautifully incorporates a dense, layered mix, strong lyrics, and absolutely nothing that sounded like pop music—I actually started to get excited.
What have we got here with Get On Your Boots? The simple way to explain it is that for anyone willing to give the song a chance, reserve your judgment until you hear it ten times.
My first reaction was that it was nothing like The Fly. Or, for that matter, anything else U2 had done before. Instead, I found myself instantly thinking of British bands Kasabian and Muse. Fuzz bass and a wicked guitar riff carry forward through a driving beat as Bono yells still-banal-but-not-awful lyrics about war and love and meaning before the song takes a series of strong, direct turns, first into a very Eno-esque wash of synths and harmonized vocals. Later, the abrupt shift is a drum breakdown out of nowhere that sounds like it was stolen from Trent Reznor’s library of overproduced percussion. And then it ends. Short, to the point, and almost modular, like different songs were cut and pasted together from the production library.
At first listen, you’ll probably be confused. On subsequent listens, you’ll probably be intrigued. And at some point, if you’re like me, something goes off in your head and you feel like you get it.
The lyrics? At his peak, I considered Bono to be one of music’s top word smiths. He knew how to blend metaphor and imagery so that emotions were carried, not explained. At least, he did this up until 2000. Once he started singing about causes, his words became straightforward preaches formed out of a rhyming dictionary. (Sorry, Bono, but for all your philanthropic efforts, you’ll never live down writing songs called Peace On Earth or Miracle Drug.) If he wrote Bad (1984’s brilliant musings on heroine addiction) today, it would simply be “Take the needle out of your arm/Otherwise you’ll die in a barn.”
As for the Boots’ music, it’s rock, but it’s not boring rock. Is it good? It’s innovative and different, though slightly borrowed from bands that have hit the scene since Atomic Bomb released. I wouldn’t say it’s an instant classic by any means, but it gives me hope that the band decided that they didn’t want to venture into Rolling Stones-style comfort. Instead, they’re still absorbing the sounds of the world, both the popular and obscure, and trying to channel it into something that’s still distinctly them.
Another way to look at it: As much as I liked Morrissey’s I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris, it still sounded like the same ol, same ol. It lacked the muscle or life of Moz’s comeback single Irish Blood, English Heart, and as such, it was a nice song that I’ll listen to a few times and probably never come back to. It was comfortable. Get On Your Boots is different than that.
It’s disjointed, in some cases disharmonious, and very unpredictable. In many cases, when those elements are brought together, you get something that is utterly unlistenable and awful. In other cases, you get Radiohead’s OK Computer. I highly doubt No Line On The Horizon will approach OK Computer levels of greatness but Get On Your Boots works in a very bizarre way that whets the appetite of this jaded U2 fan. For the first time in years, I can’t wait to hear what they’ve got up their sleeve.
Now Bono, about those lyrics…
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