Reviewed by John Cheek
Last month the Brits presented their Lifetime Achievement Award to the Pet Shop Boys for services-to-music. An accolade awarded to a band from Dublin, eight years' previously. The two-man Pet Shops are well known for being identified personally with a certain, ahem, "label"; albeit something which hasn't directly influenced their music too overtly. Having been around for even longer, U2 are similarly known for another, somewhat different description - but in their case, their Christianity directly (and indirectly) shines through all that they do: and it shines on this, their 12th and possibly most acclaimed studio album. Put it this way. Were it to be their last, it would mean going out on a high point. Way to go, because U2 have the album they probably wanted to make, the one they would've made four years ago, when attempting a stripped-down, raw record and discovered they couldn't maintain it for more than a few songs; when they chose to then add flashes of red and purple to Ramones-style three-chords' grey. 'How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb' seemed overwhelming at first, leaving the listener gasping for less. Repeated plays gave rise to the feeling that some tracks were a little unrealised: "yes .no. not quite." That's not the case here. Whilst not exactly the brave, paradigm-shifting progression we anticipated, it proves if you reach for the universe you may not reach it, but you'll get a lot further than if you just set yourself modest targets. 'No Line' aims for a Promised Land just outta sight, and sometimes gets there: not least with one of the slow-burners, "Moment Of Surrender": at over seven minutes the longest track and amazingly, recorded in one take. It is the (autobiographical) relating of a religious experience in the everyday setting of a cash point: "At the moment of surrender/I folded to my knees/I did not notice the passers-by/And they did not notice me." A song of immense heartfelt yearning, including the key lyric "Of vision over visibility," it sums up an undertone persistent throughout - of traffic-cops facing heavenwards; of girls focusing on infinity; of soldiers and war reporters seeking redemption whilst appearing to disappear from view. Was it Kevin Rowland who said, "Beauty is the ultimate protest"? This record, this work of art should be played in every lift to remind us, in these times, that there are still possibilities, rumours of glory, hints of there being more to life than what seems. Amidst unlikely dashes of Hazel O'Connor and Brian Auger Trinity, there's the lush, sweeping soundscapes of Sigur Ros, the ethereal qualities of Air and Daft Punk. An essential development, alongside the introduction of cellos and French horns is the involvement of Eno and Lanois, from producers to co-songwriters now, on much of the material. Loops, gloops and tom-toms help take us sonically to the territory of Radiohead and 'Viva La Vida' Coldplay, and away from the dirty, BRMC-drive of their last outing. The final two tracks even sound reminiscent of Bruce Cockburn. Should that erstwhile Canadian troubadour, or anyone from the CCM fold, offer something halfway as good as this, it will be an achievement - and will indeed mean that 2009 is a remarkable year for "Christian" music.
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