Wednesday, March 18, 2009

U2- No Line on the Horizon (Review)

This is the most frustrating album of U2’s career. Frustrating not because it’s bad or mediocre, but because most of it is so good that it makes the weak spots downright baffling. The good songs here—the first four and last four songs, the majority of the album—are not only brilliant, but they flow seamlessly into one another to create an actual album experience, a suite of great hypnotic songs. The harmony of this suite is broken in half by three more straightforward pop songs in the middle of the album, unfortunately.

It’s no coincidence that the good songs were recorded with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois in a Moorish courtyard in Fez, Morocco and in U2’s home studio in Dublin. Sadly, the middle section of the album—culled from separate recording sessions in New York and London—is so bland and unimaginative it’s embarrassing.

Wacky lead single “Get on Your Boots” isn’t a bad song (compared to “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” it’s genius), but it’s not up to snuff with the rest of the album. “Stand Up Comedy” starts off disastrously, with an obvious/boring Zeppelin-type riff, then shifts in its last minute or so to become strangely, noisily compelling. The aforementioned “I’ll Go Crazy…” is just horrendous.

One of my concerns about U2’s last album was the degeneration of Bono’s lyrics. He’s a great lyricist, and he can write compellingly about love, war, death, politics, and God, but by the time of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb his words had become simplistic or obvious. This album has alleviated my worries on that front. Bono rattles off great lines throughout the album, and even the lyrics on the songs I don’t like have a witty, winning charm to them.

Okay, enough bitching. I don’t want to dwell on the album’s weaker points, because most of No Line on the Horizon is wonderful. The title track is a knockout. “Magnificent” is the U2 anthem here, with ringing Edge guitar tones and yearning Bono vocals. “Moment of Surrender” is gorgeous blue-eyed soul, and it features the soul-cleansing chorus of the year. “Unknown Caller” isn’t quite as good as the first three tracks, all masterpieces, but it’s a fine experiment musically and lyrically.

My favorite tracks, though, are probably the final four. They’re the most interesting musically and the most affecting and memorable lyrically, I think. “FEZ-Being Born” might be my favorite song on the album: it’s at once a haunting mood piece and a soaring rock anthem. “White as Snow” is one of the most subtle things U2 have ever done: this quietly sad ballad, sung from the point of view of a dying soldier in Afghanistan, is somewhere between a Western ballad and a hymn for our rough 21st century. Haunting and beautiful. “Breathe” is a great rock song, in my opinion: I love Bono’s motor-mouth delivery and surrealistic (but intelligible) lyrics, and the chorus is gorgeous. A lot of people don’t know what to make of closing track “Cedars of Lebanon.” U2 traditionally end their albums on a depressing note, and this is no exception. This song is a strange, half-spoken cousin of “Wake Up Dead Man” and “Love is Blindness” and “Mothers of the Disappeared.”

Really, this is a fine album. It’s the most adventurous one they’ve made since POP, and it’s really the album they should have made after All That You Can’t Leave Behind. If you’re the numeric sort, I suppose I’d give No Line an 8 out of 10. It would be a 9 if the weak middle section was deleted or changed.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Best Western

Just finished watching John Ford's great film My Darling Clementine, about the Earp Brothers and Doc Holliday in Tombstone. You know the story, right? There have been countless movies, including the exuberant and colorful 1993 romp Tombstone, in which Val Kilmer gives a knock-out brilliant performance as Doc Holliday.

I've loved Tombstone since I was a tyke, and I've always been fascinated with the Earp/Holliday/Gunfight at the O.K. Corral story, and with the legends of the American West in general. I can't think of any other artist--filmmaker, writer, anyone--who has a greater and more senstive feel for the West than John Ford. He might well be the greatest American director; in any event he's certainly up there with Howard Hawks and Orson Welles. My Darling Clementine might be his greatest movie.

Obviously I won't give anything away here (go rent it now); I just wanted to note the film's grace and artistry. At times the film seems like Expressionism turned loose in the American West: strange shadows, crooked angles, crowded low-lit saloons, desolate lonely landscapes across which the occasional horse-drawn carriage or mysterious rider will pass...

Henry Fonda plays Wyatt Earp not as a tough-guy sword of justice but as a mild-mannered lawman concerned about bringing civilization and order to a lawless, wild people. His relationship with the dying, cultivated scoundrel Doc Holliday (Victor Mature) is the most interesting and touching thing in the movie. What separates My Darling Clementine from all other Westerns more than anything, aside from its aesthetic beauty, might be its focus on the feminine principle, captured in the very title. In some ways it's the most "feminine" of Westerns.

The character of Clementine, an old love from back East that Doc left behind and that Wyatt developes feelings for, represents grace, elegance, and civilization. The final shot of the movie tells you all you need to know about her purpose in this rough landscape.

Really don't want to say much else; I just wanted to express, I don't know, my gratitude to John Ford. Just watch it. Here's a great scene:

After you watch the film read Roger Ebert's wonderful essay on it (it's a favorite of his too).


Note: I'll have a full review of U2's No Line on the Horizon up later this week, I promise.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Hip Hop is Alive and Living in Minnesota

Listening to Atlanta's finest indie radio station--WRAS 88.5 out of Georgia State University--while driving through rain-slogged streets this afternoon. One of the wonders of listening to a good radio station like Album 88 is that in doing so you leave yourself open to any interesting new music that might come across your car stereo. That is, you're liable to hear something that might come out of nowhere and truly surprise and enchant you; no need to wait for the thumbs up from Pitchfork Media.

Anyway, heard this song.

Discovered that the artist is a Minneapolis rapper called POS, and that the song comes from a brand new album titled Never Better.

A million times better than most things coming from the white-bread indie scene, I think. More spacious and imaginative musically, better lyrics, and amazingly it's music that actually takes notice of the world and not just solipsistic personal issues.

And if you must, the Pitchfork review is here.

Apparently POS is the main force behind a musical fraternity centered around his label Doomtree Records. Their website is here.

UPDATE: The lyrics in this song aren't just better than what's coming out of the vanilla indie-roc scene. The lyrics in this song, particularly during the female rapper's verse, are downright fucking incredible.

It seems like weve fallen out of favor/ the era ended on us/
Now the moneys just paper/ the houses all haunted/
We had a hell of a run before it caught up/
For all the corners cut/ we got an avalanche of sawdust/
Life of the party/ were the death of the novel/
The glass is half empty/ so pass the next bottle/
Its the flight of the salesman/ death of the bumblebee/
Nothing left for the/ attorneys and the tumbleweeds

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Preliminary Notes on "No Line..."

Silly me. U2's No Line on the Horizon has been streaming on MySpace for 5 days now and here I am going on about French television.

Just listened to it in full, twice. Immediate reaction: Roughly half of the album is brilliant, the best music they've made in quite a while. Imaginative, epic, utterly different to any current rock music, with surprising musical touches and good lyrical ideas.

The other half seems lodged into the album to make it more commercially palatable. Just a bit by-the-books for my taste. Though it's possible I'll change my opinion in the future.

I'll have a longer review later (possibly tomorrow).

To be loud and clear: the good songs are very, very good. Masterful, even.

U2 Monomania Continues

I can't help it. I just can't be silent when a once-brilliant band whose last album epitomized banality and dullness starts making interesting music again.

The omens continue to be good. Here's the band playing a new song called "Breathe" on French TV:

I like the whole Dylan-esque motor-mouth delivery of surreal lyrics thing. "I'm running down the road like loose electricity/ And the band in my head plays a strip-tease." "Chinese stocks going up and I'm coming down with some new Asian virus." And the soaring, Asiatic-tinged chorus. Good stuff.

Reminds me a bit of "Acrobat," but sung by a speed freak. Do I detect a slight White Stripes influence?

That's a good thing, of course: U2 have always made their best music by absorbing the newer sounds around them. Case in point: the Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine, and Jesus and Mary Chain influences on Achtung Baby.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

200 Million Thousand

On Febuary 24th home town heroes, the Black Lips release their fifth, 200 Million Thousand. I know a few people that have totally put down this album. I will not. I got a leaked copy early, but I will be buying the vinyl as soon as it arrives in stores.

First I want to say to the people hoping for another Good, Bad.. This is not your album. This is a girtty, dark, eerie, and funny album. I find a fair bit of similarities to The Animals. It has that bluesy 60s sound. Some people seemed surprised by it. I am not at all. Song like "Big Black Baby Jesus of Today," "Take My Heart," and "Trapped in the Basement" evoke this kind of songwriting. Also you have pur Black Lips songs like "Old Man" and "Again and Again." The songs mentioned are some of the true highlights of this record.

Then you have songs like "Drugs," which is a power-pop song. If anyone is surprised by this then you really don't pay attention to Atlanta music. At one point, maybe not as much anymore, there are or were as many power-pop bands as garage rock bands in Atlanta. Ones that are still around that have gotten some notoriety inlude Gentlemen Jesse and His Men and Babyshakes. This song doesn't come out of leftfield. Then you have "Starting Over," which is very La's-esque with the jangly guitars.

Cole Alexander fulfills a part of his musical taste by doing an almost early Three 6 Mafia style song, "The Drop I Hold." Some were thrown completely off by this one. I was not. Spooky loops with Cole "rapping" over them, is thuroughly entertaining.

I couldn't help but enjoy this album. It wasn't a shock if you really think about it. It's still the Black Lips being the Black Lips. It's most similarly like their second album if I could compare it to any of them, better production this time of course. Hey, I think it's a shit ton better than Microcastle.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Let Me in the Sound

I really can't write about anything music-related other than the new U2 album at the moment. The only way I can explain this is that if I were a literary critic in the 1910-20s, say, I'd delight in all the interesting prose and poetry being written around me--not to mention the great visual art and music--but the minute I heard a new volume by W.B. Yeats was on its way, I'd forget everything and obsess about what the new book of poems might offer until publication day. Then I'd plunge into reading and examination.

The omens continue to be encouraging. If you like your U2 imaginative and expansive, that is.

From music critic Neil McCormick at the Daily Telegraph:

It is a great record, and greatness is what rock and roll and the world needs right now. From the grittily urgent yet ethereal title track all the way to the philosophically ruminative, spacey coda of 'Cedars Of Lebanon' it conjures an extraordinary journey through sound and ideas, a search for soul in a brutal, confusing world, all bound together in narcotic melody and space age pop songs.

Ooh, very enticing. Details please.

'Moment Of Surrender', a pulsing, dreamily gorgeous 7 minute weave of synths, silvery guitars, sub-bass, handclaps, Arabic strings and soulful ululating vocals, in which the narrator experiences a spiritual epiphany at the very prosaic setting of an ATM machine. It is a beautiful piece that provides the album's beating heart and shows how far U2 can drift from their stereotype as a stadium rock band into unknown territory while still making something that touches the universal.

Oh Jesus H.C., I can't wait.

McCormick says that 'Get On Your Boots' is one song in an mid-album string of slightly more straight-ahead rock songs. The first and third sections of the album are, apparently, more dreamy and ethereal and oblique. For the first time ever, Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois are credited as co-writers and fellow band-members on 7 songs: Eno on "electronics" and Lanois on pedal and acoustic guitar.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Take Me Higher

Christ. It's been OVER A YEAR since anyone last posted on these here Catalogues.

Le roi round these parts, and myself, have been heavily involved in a hockey blog for the past year. You can check it out here. I'm also writing a blog about culture and politics that may not go anywhere, really; if you want to check it out, it's here.

Now then. In an effort to get the Catalogues going again, I figured I'd talk about the impending new album from U2, No Line on the Horizon.

All the noises coming from Hanover Quays have been very encouraging: Eno and Lanois producing, a globe-trotting recording schedule (Morocco, London, Dublin, south of France) reminiscent of Achtung Baby and POP. Not to say that No Line will be anything near the level of those two albums (POP is a criminally underrated, if slightly flawed, masterpiece; Achtung is simply one of the greatest albums ever made); but if reports like this article in the Guardian are any indication, we have an experimental and interesting album to look forward to.

Neither of those adjectives could be applied to U2's last two outings. Don't get me wrong: I did really like All That You Can't Leave Behind. That was a truly moving, soulful album with great melodies, as bright and clear and filled with summer light as that picture of the band at Charles de Gaulle Airport on the cover. I'll never forget the first time I hear "Beautiful Day" on the radio: to me, it was one of those rare songs that made everything around it in the playlist seem horrifically bland and stupid. I didn't think it sounded like the "classic" 80's U2; to me, it sounded wonderfully modern and new, something entirely fresh and different. A pop song for the 21st century.

How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb wasn't so interesting. In fact, I think it's a pretty dull, and at time embarassing, album. Not a fan.

No Line on the Horizon seems to promise a better time. I can't wait.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

On the Other Hand...

A demolition of an unfunny comedian can be great fun if it's done with skill, preferably by a FUNNY comedian: