"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Saturday, December 04, 2004

U2 back in bombastic form

Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb
Universal, 2,548 yen

U2 returns to big, bombastic form with its first studio album in four years, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.

The Irish quartet seem to have abandoned any pretense of trying to experiment or move in new directions and settled down to the formula that has always served them best: soaring anthems belted out over intense, echoing, layered guitar grooves backed by a whipcrack rhythm section.

The opening cut and first single "Vertigo" grabs the listener with a muscular hook and harrowing pace as Bono belts out some cliches about "swinging to the music." Despite the inane lyrics, the song serves notice that U2 is back and ready to rock in a way they haven't since Rattle and Hum.

The 24 years that have passed since their debut album have done little to diminish Bono's ability to go from a whisper to a scream, nor has his ego receded. As usual, the album winds up with the man who has the biggest collection of ugly eyeglasses this side of Elton John talking directly to God on "Yahweh." After that, the closing track, the Indian raga-tinged "Fast Cars" seems like a bit of an afterthought.

The death of the singer-lyricist's father in 2001 has obviously sparked a bit of reflection as parental love pops up as a theme on several cuts, especially the best of the album's ballads, "Sometimes You Can't Make it on Your Own."

Bono's high-profile political activism colors much of the material here as well. Bumper sticker-worthy lines such as "Where you live should not decide whether you live or whether you die" in the song "Crumbs from Your Table" are hardly ambiguous. That is not to say that the message interferes with the music--far from it. The call to arms "Love and Peace or Else" rides the top of a dangerous John Lee Hooker riff that makes it one of the strongest songs on the album.

The Edge has plenty of echoboxes and digital delays and isn't afraid to use them. He and longtime producer have layered rhythm guitar tracks that propel even the more pedestrian tunes like "City of Blinding Lights" forward.

How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb is everything a U2 album should be: Grandiose, pompous, loud, dynamic and driving. It is about as subtle as a sledgehammer between the eyes, and nearly as effective.

Joni Mitchell
Warner, 2,520 yen

Dreamland supposedly marks Joni Mitchell's final retirement from what she has referred to as the "cesspool"--the modern music industry. The 17-track compilation showcases some of the best and worst of her eclectic four-decade career "stoking the star maker machinery behind the popular song."

The best is very good indeed with jazzy gems like "Help Me," hits like "Big Yellow Taxi" and "You Turn Me On I'm a Radio" and more recent orchestra-backed performances of her early folk classic "Both Side Now" and "For the Roses."

The worst comes in the form of the sweet-voiced songstress' ill-advised '80s duet with Billy Idol, "Dancin' Clown," though it is not wholly without merit, at least as a curiosity. Curiouser still are the sins of omission--no "River" or "Court and Spark" and nothing from the creatively brilliant commercial flop Mingus.

A good introduction to a complex and challenging body of work by a unique talent, but not much different in the choice of material from her Hits and Misses compilation of a few years ago

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