U2, No Line on the Horizon (Interscope Records, 2009)

Few bands need less of an introduction than U2. The celebrated Irish quartet have kept their original line-up intact for thirty years now, without ever becoming inactive or even adding extra musicians on their tours. And yet, for all the hit records, massive tours, and many accolades they've received over the years, Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen Jr. continue to go about making their records as though they still have something to prove. Their new album No Line on the Horizon is both similar and different to its immediate predecessors, in part a reflection of the band's long history but also a continuation of their willingness to defy people's expectations and their refusal to rest on their laurels.

On their previous albums of this decade, U2 returned to the more anthemic rock that defined their early recordings. Much of No Line on the Horizon follows the same pattern, with similar results. The album is dominated by the upbeat and danceable numbers, however. With the first single "Get on Your Boots," U2 re-embrace the brazenness of the best songs on Achtung Baby and Pop, and take it a few steps further. The album's biggest hit, though, is likely to be the second song, "Magnificent." Bono sings this one with a fire in his voice that he hasn't been able to muster for a while, and the song lives up to its title. The album's lyrics focus on themes of love and beauty, but generally in a much deeper sense than the purely romantic or sexual one. Like most U2 albums, No Line on the Horizon has a spiritual undercurrent as well, punctuated by a very poignant, overtly Christian song near the end of the album called "White as Snow." The band's politics is more implicit than explicit here; the closing song "Cedars of Lebanon," for example, deals with the emotional cost of simply reporting on an awful conflict without actually taking sides.

It's always worth it to check in on U2 whenever they release a new album and see what they've been up to. They've never been dull, which is extremely impressive considering how long they've been at it. No Line on the Horizon ranks in the upper half of U2's discography, and is the best of their three albums this decade by a comfortable margin.

Overall grade: A-

reviewed by Scott

A live performance of "Get on Your Boots"

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