on 1 December 2000
Almost 20 years after their debut, Dublin legends U2 are back. Never afraid to change direction, the band started out with stark, fervent rock, before taking in political statements, Black American influences and, in the 90s, a sound very much influenced by electronic and dance music. The U2 of 2000, however, is a pick 'n' mix affair, and sounding great for it.
Bono always promised that the new album would take on a more traditional sound overall, perhaps in order to regain fans alienated by the gaudiness of 1997's "POP" (in my opinion their finest work). Indeed, the album title is perhaps alluding to this. The record is tremendously relaxing, and reminiscent of "The Unforgettable Fire" and critics' favourite, "The Joshua Tree", two albums from the mid 1980s. This is surely due to the return of producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, who presided over these two albums, their first albums with U2. As far as the band itself is concerned, the instruments are largely restrained, allowing Bono to do what he loves doing - take centre stage. His religious and, to a lesser extent, political fervour are certainly prominent in several songs. However, the overall tone of "All That You Can't Leave Behind" is one of optimism and gentle reflection.
Highlights for me include "Elevation", which sounds like a refugee from "Achtung Baby", with its distinctive drum sound and funky 80s-esque synths, the simultaneously melancholic and optimistic "Kite", and the anthemic "Walk On", a song of hope for persecuted Burmese politician Aung San Suu Kyi. A couple of songs, however, are let down by their lyrical content. Bono is not famed for his subtlety when dealing with the big issues, and "Peace on Earth" is no exception. His over-earnestness in bemoaning the state of our world becomes rather cloying. Sample lyric - "Tell the ones who hear no sound Whose sons are living in the ground Peace on Earth." This is followed by "When I Look At The World", a touching plea from Bono to join God in Heaven, which makes the following song, "New York", all the more nauseating. Basically, Bono is boasting about his new pad in the Big Apple. If it appeared on "POP", this would be fine. However, in the context of this record, it leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. Having said all that, "Peace on Earth" and "New York" sound great and cannot be faulted musically.
"All That You Can't Leave Behind", for me, serves the dual purpose of welcoming old fans back to the fold, whilst attracting new ones with euphoric songs such as "Beautiful Day" and TOTP-endorsed, "Elevation". In my opinion, it does both well. And for those of us that never went away, Bono, Edge, Larry and Adam have served up another treat. Roll on the next one.