Here are a couple quick reactions to U2's latest album. With their previous album (2004's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb), I liked the first half much more than the second half of the album. With No Line on the Horizon, it's exactly opposite in that I like the second half is much better.
We start off with the title track, which has a driving bass beat but not much else. The lyrics are repetitive and I just couldn't get into it. The second track "Magnificent" is fantastic (though I prefer the live Letterman version to the album version). This sounds a lot like classic U2 from "With or Without You" era. Then the album goes back into sleepy mode. "Moment of Surrender" and "Unknown Caller" left little to no impression on me. Maybe on repeat listening they'll grow on me.
Track five is "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight". When I first heard it on Letterman, I didn't care for it. But when hearing it in context, I really dig this tune. It serves as a bridge between the two parts of the album. It starts off as an uptempo ballad then builds to an rock-like anthem. At this point, the album kicks into high gear with the single "Get On Your Boots." Like I mentioned previously, this song has grown on me. "Boots" leads into another great rock track in "Stand Up Comedy". Adam Clayton's bass work and Edge's guitar are great on this track. It's classic rock and rock and roll all the way.
Track eight, "Fez - Being Born", takes a step back. After getting everybody up with the previous tracks, the boys put in this slow, experimental number. I guess I didn't "get" it, but this is my least favorite track on the album.
"White as Snow" is another slow one, but really displays the poetic gifts of Bono as a songwriter. I found the lyrics and the story behind the song at this great site. "Snow" and the closing track "Cedars Of Lebanon" are almost like brother songs. They're light on tune, but that lets you focus on the lyrics. Bono said in an interview that this song is the thoughts of a soldier dying in Afghanistan after a roadside bomb. If you keep that in mind while listening to it, this is truly a beautiful song.
"Breathe" takes you back up into rock, almost rapcore mode. It was my favorite of the new songs they played on Letterman (YouTube clip here). Bono is really playing with lyrics in this one seeing how many words he can string together per measure. They create such a groove that you can't help but bob your head in rhythm.
The album closes with "The Cedars of Lebanon". Do yourself a favor and check out the lyrics. This one is presented in almost beat poem mode with Bono speaking the lyrics instead of singing them (except the refrain). The other boys just keep a beat in the background and really don't play any sort of melody. Like with "White as Snow", it's all about the lyrics. It's a great song to close out the record.
It's a new direction for U2, but they keep in mind what got them to where they are at this point in their careers. I've only gone through the album in sequence once, but I think on repeated listenings the whole experience will grow on me. My only wish was the first half was stronger. I'd probably give the whole thing a B+ with the chance of it going higher.
I'll leave you with a clip of U2 doing the Top 10 list from Thursday night's show: