Due to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this upcoming year, U2 shows no signs of packing away the instruments they’ve played for the last thirty or so years. In fact, the Irish lads are going through what they consider to be a `rebirth,’ calling this album their real first album. In a way, they’re not wrong. In the eighties, arguably the band’s best years, everything was a massive build-up to The Joshua Tree. After that huge peak, everything else paled in comparison, even otherwise great albums like Achtung Baby and the more recent All That You Can’t Leave Behind. Most of the substandard work came in the nineties where the band experimented with new sounds and styles, influenced by disco, techno, and glam-era Bowie. In the new century it seemed that Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen still hadn’t found what they were looking for. Instead of finding a new sound or influence, what they found with How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb was that they were influenced, oddly enough, by U2.
With the first track and single, “Vertigo,” U2 goes right back to the beginning (kind of like Buffy’s final season…I mean um, did I say that out loud?) and echo first single “Stories for Boys” with the chorus of “Hello, hello.” Strangely, “Vertigo” is the one song that doesn’t really gel with the other songs on the album. Although it recalls the eighties lyrically, the feel is distinctly Pop-era U2. Eighties-era U2 resounds throughout the rest of the album, however. The Edge’s guitar is still unmistakably his with its echoey jangle. I still don’t know how no one else can sound like him, but we’re the better for it. Bono’s voice sounds just as it did twenty-five years ago on Boy. It’s as if U2 pulled a Donnie Darko, that they went forward in time, creating album after changing album, then realized what really needed to be done, went back in time, and made this new album, which is in essence, a follow-up to that first effort. The bombast is back, and not in a showy MacPhisto way, but more like it was back in the day with the U2 imitators abound like the Alarm, Big Country, Simple Minds and the Waterboys. The music is arena-filling goodness, full without being overblown, gorgeous without being weak.
Standout songs like “Sometimes You Can’t Make it On Your Own,” “City of Blinding Lights,” “A Man and a Woman,” “Crumbs from Your Table” and “Original of the Species” make HTDAAB U2’s best album in quite a while. It brought me back to the glory days of seeing the band in big arenas, every fan knowing every word to every one of their songs, no matter how new or how obscure. One of the things I really love about U2, and one of the things that makes them so special, is the makeup of the band. U2 has always been these four guys and probably always will be. Only the Beatles had more popularity with the same makeup, and they even had a different drummer at the outset! The Stones had a few band member changes, and close runner up to U2, R.E.M. lost their drummer. Only U2 has done it family style for near three decades. That’s something else.
There are actually three different versions of this album, the album proper, one with a bonus DVD and one with the DVD and a collectible book. I chose the mid-range package with the DVD. The short documentary features studio rehearsals and stories of creation for three songs, “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own,” a song which Bono wrote for his father, “Crumbs for Your Table,” a song written by Bono and the Edge while drunk, (they say the only one they’ve ever written while inebriated), and “Vertigo.” While the DVD enhances the experience and reveals some interesting details, it’s not necessary to the enjoyment of the album. After repeated listens, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb is the most exciting U2 album I’ve listened to since The Joshua Tree. They seem more comfortable in their own skins than they ever have, and seem to have finally become accustomed to what their sound should be. Let’s just hope that if this is their `first album,’ that it leads to yet another album on a par with The Joshua Tree. What’s next? In ten years will Radiohead put out a song with Cha-chunk’s on the guitar again?
Simple Minds- Once Upon a Time
U2- Achtung Baby
The Alarm- Eye of the Hurricane