Monday, December 10, 2012

Social Conscience And Blah - Take That To The World Bank, Bono! - How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb

The Good: One or two tracks are decent
The Bad: Music is unimaginative, Lyrics are nothing spectacular
The Basics: This U2 album makes a compelling argument to give Bono a break from writing and singing and send him to the World Bank for number crunching instead.

Not being connected to the fan base in any meaningful way, I would imagine that the presence of so many songs from Zooropa on U2's second "Greatest Hits" vindicated fans of the album that was generally less commercially successful than it ought to have been given its originality. I know now that I lack a copy of Zooropa, I enjoy the second "Greatest Hits" set more now. I mention this because I've been eagerly waiting for 2011 when U2 will no doubt release Greatest Hits - 2001 – 2010. I'm waiting patiently because I want "Walk On," which I like quite a bit. How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb now makes me dread that eventual Greatest Hits album.

The first single released off How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb was a pointless frenetic pop song called "Vertigo" and to say it is terrible is an understatement. No doubt that will make it onto that hits album, though and that alone is reason to dread the album when it is released. "Vertigo" blares, but does not so much say anything and it does not leave the listener with the desire to hear the rest of How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb.

That said, the album gets better after the first track. Sort of. The problem with How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb is that it is standard U2. There is nothing terribly original. If one were to say "generic U2 album," this would work. That is to say that U2 is not pushing the envelope with this album. The group sounds like four men who are playing guitars, drums, bass, keyboards and singing. That's exactly what they are.

Bono provides the main vocals and he performs . . . well, averagely. There is nothing extraordinary about any single track on How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb in terms of the vocals. Bono sounds like Bono. He does not challenge his range, he does not deviate his style. Here he is singing pretty directly. Singing stories ("Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own"), lecturing through song ("Love and Peace Or Else") or just kind of shrieking ("Vertigo").

As Bono wrote or co-wrote all eleven songs, he bears the responsibility for much of the content of the album. And it's pretty standard social-conscience Bono. He begs for a Middle East solution ("Love and Peace Or Else"), psychoanalyzes ("A Man and a Woman"), either develops an Oedipal Complex or thanks his mother ("All Because of You") and makes his musical bid to run the World Bank ("Crumbs From Your Table"). The bottom line here is not that the album is not well-written it is that it is either nothing new or interesting from U2 or it is simply not entertaining. So, for example, Heather Nova's albums lately have had some thematic unity with love (South), breaking up (Storm) and healing (Redbird), but each of the albums illustrates Nova growing out in different ways thematically or musically. How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb is standard U2 in a safe way. The best comparison would be that the sound and themes of this album are like listening to one of the Best of albums but none of the tracks are recognizable.

Or especially good.

Okay, that's harsh. "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own" is rightfully great and "Crumbs From Your Table" has an important message. As an Oasis fan, I am somewhat baffled by why track 9 "One Step Closer" is noted "With Special Thanks To Noel Gallagher" in the liner notes other than it has a softer, more personal sound than many of U2's social conscience songs (think "Talk Tonight" or "Half The World Away"). But it sounds remarkably similar to one of U2's songs from their first best of album (I don't have the fortitude to look it up right now).

The only remotely clever line on the album comes in "Original of the Species," when Bono writes and sings "I'll give you everything you want / Except the thing that you want." I like those lines.

Anyway, this is an average album that is dragging down a band that has illustrated it can do the extraordinary. If you would prefer something decent by U2 avoid this and go straight for Zooropa or one of the two two-disc "Best of" anthologies U2 has released. The best song is "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own," the low point is "Vertigo."

For other U2 works, please check out my reviews of:
The Joshua Tree
The Best Of 1980 – 1990 & The Singles
All That You Can't Leave Behind
The Best Of 1990 – 2000 & The Singles


For other music reviews, be sure to check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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