Friday, March 06, 2009

No Line on the Horizon- U2 spell out l-o-v-e (review)

I was born, I was born to sing for you, 
I didn't have a choice but to lift you up, 
And sing whatever song you wanted me to, 
I give you back my voice,
From the womb my first cry,
It was a joyful noise

Only love, only love, can leave such a mark
But only love, only love can heal such a scar
Justified till we die,
You and I will magnify The Magnificent, Magnificent

Who said that U2 were irrelevant? Who said that a rock band has to stop producing records because they are no longer in their 20s or 30s? At 49, U2 have matured to a new level, and I am so glad that they haven't stopped producing and creating new music. Bono has previously said that "if they make two crap albums in a row, then they will quit." Well the new album is pure brilliance and is captivating me so quickly I am falling in love with music and God all over again.

Their latest album No line on the horizon, came out this week. It is brooding, dark and deeply, deeply spiritual. Much of it is written in haunting melancholy, minor scales with melodies that soar above the mountains through the clouds and up into heaven itself. There is sooo much in this record that I can not begin to possibly justify it here with the review it deserves.

The album is full of powerful harmonies that just seem that much deeper than before. Bono and The Edge have formed their own gospel choir, this is most evident on "Moment of Surrender." They seem intent on leading the "girl with the hole in her heart" into eternity, or as they call it, the place with "no line on the horizon." From this rocking opening, yet minor scale track, we are jerked into a pounding yet ominous bass line that is not unlike the church bells or shofar.... a call to worship, as the lyrics above are written.
Bono is more and more unabashed of his love for Jesus with every record that U2 put out, and from the lyrical contributors it appears that some currents are moving through the other band members too. The lyrics to "Magnificent" hark back to "All because of you" but they are just so much more mature. In the former he sings "I was born a child of grace, nothing else about the place" in the latter this grows into "I was born to be with you, I was born to sing for you." It is a realisation that we are created to worship God. The song pulls me deep into worship, and for those who don't it surely highlights the hole in their heart.
Moment of surrender is Bono's attempt at soul. Bono always claimed that he wanted to be a soul singer, and as hard as this has been for him, "Surrender" is a valiant effort in which U2 come very close. The chorus line sees Edge and Bono filling out the soul choir nicely, trying to express "the rhythm of their soul". My favourite lyric in this song is "I was speeding on the subway through the stations of the cross, every eye looking every other way, counted down 'til the Pentecost, at the moment of surrender...."
I have yet to connect deeply with "Unknown caller", it is still growing on me.

Bono continues to implore us to see the truth "how can you stand next to the truth and not see it?" which seems to be a reference to when Pilate said to Jesus, "what is truth?" when he was standing right next to him. But Bono is careful not to spell out the truth too clearly, so as not to spill the beans. I appreciate this approach, and think it is a powerful way to draw people to God, to leave some mystery in the search. But if one were to think that Bono is ashamed of God then think again, he is somehow at once very clear but still cryptic on Stand Up Comedy.
"Get on your boots" seemed like a throw away song as a single. It appeared to be a simple rock song, that U2 were determined to keep the rock genre alive and well, a basic "Vertigo part 2", but as a part of "No line..." it fits better. The harmonies of the chorus "You don't know how beautiful you are" are consistent with the rest of the record. The lyric is a call of love from God to the listener. The fun rock song that it is, it leads into another fun rock song with the key to much of Bono's lyrics over the years.
"Stand up Comedy" keeps you believing that this band will rock on for another generation, and that with every passing moment Bono is about to explode with the gospel. "I can stand up for hope, faith, love, but while I'm getting over certainty, stop helping God across the street like a little old lady." As if to say 'look out world I'm gonna get even more bold for my God', "come on you people stand up for your love." And in a moment Bono surprised me, because he did something I wasn't expecting, he lifted the lid on his favourite lyrical euphemism, as he sings "God is love". Apply this formula often in a U2 song and the lyrics will read in a revolutionary way, as in "Window in the Skies"- The schackles are undone, the rule has been disproved, the stone it has been moved, all debts are removed, O can't you see what our love has done, love left a window in the skies. But there are so many other songs that have God as the centre of them for 'those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.'
"Fez- being born" is almost a musical track. U2 have only come close on one other occasion "October". Don't ask me to explain the lyrics to this song, except it is a powerful lead in to "White as snow."

"White as snow" is my favourite song on the album at the moment. It is supposed to be the words of a dying soldier in Afghanistan. It reaches deep inside of you and yanks your heart out, leaving the desire to find a heart as white as snow.

Where I came from there were no hills at all
The land was flat, the highway straight and wide
My brother and I would drive for hours
Like we had years instead of days
Our faces as pale as the dirty snow

Once I knew there was a love divine*
Then came a time I thought it knew me not
Who can forgive forgiveness where forgiveness is not
Only the lamb* as white as snow

And the water, it was icy
As it washed over me*
And the moon shone above me
Now this dry ground it bears no fruit at all
Only poppies laugh under the crescent moon*

The road refuses strangers
The land the seeds we sow
Where might we find the lamb as white as snow*

As boys we would go hunting in the woods
To sleep the night shooting out the stars
Now the wolves are every passing stranger
Every face we cannot know
If only a heart* could be as white as snow
If only a heart could be as white as snow

Love divine is God himself, the lamb as white as snow is Jesus the perfect sacrifice, the waters washing over are baptism, the poppies are the opium fields in Afghanistan, the road refusing strangers is the Taliban as wolves attacking the lamb. "If only a heart could be as white as snow" is multi-layered, it's a prayer for the Taliban that they would find Jesus, it's a seed of longing for all who listen to U2 but don't know Jesus, it's a desire of longing for Bono who wants to be as pure as Jesus, and for every believer who listens who wants to be pure too. Only the lamb as white as snow can make our hearts white too.

"Breathe" sees Bono throwing himself into the task with abandon, stuck in the dirty gutters but staring at the sky remembering the "grace that I found, I can breathe." "Cedars of Lebanon" is the story of a reporter in the middle east, told in the first person.

The records "All that you can't leave behind" and "How to dismantle an atomic bomb" were full of joyous major chords, with songs such as "Beautiful Day" and "City of Blinding Lights." But the world is a darker place now. It is descending into confusion, with no apparent light at the end of the tunnel. "No line on the horizon" reflects this mood. Perhaps the title is as much referring to the fact that there seems to be no end in sight to the world's troubles. But it is not a hopeless message of despair, it is reflective grief, with much hope hidden within. It resonates with the way I feel about the world today, that so many can ignore the truth when it is staring them in the face. At the end of the 20th century, we looked back on a century of death and destruction, and as we have entered the 21st, we are teetering in uncertainty. Certainty can be found in only one way, in the lamb as white as snow.


Hayley said...

Wow! How fantastic. I have to listen to it to. So much to comment on in this blog and no time now :-( But I'd like to come back and explore this and certainly, certainly it has inspired me to have a good listen.
Much love and God bless.
xxxxxxxxx Hayes

Nathan said...

Great review for a great album, man.

Pasha said...

Why, thank you. :)