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  How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb 
Artist: U2
Label: Interscope Records
Tracks  11 tracks

On “City of Blinding Lights” from this U2’s eleventh studio album Bono sings, ”Time, time/Won't leave me as I am/But time won't take the boy out of this man.” This album should have called Man and they should have got the face of Peter Rowan whose innocent face appeared on the original Boy.Twenty five years on, he could have graced the cover with the facial lines of time and a declaration of experience. As Green Day copycat the Clash, The Darkness exploit a manufactured hybrid of glam rock and heavy metal and The Strokes bring back the spirit of New Yorks CBGBs, so U2 have ripped off a seventies band--U2! They have done it with an authenticity that is joyously alarming! That chiming sharpness of Edge’s guitar is revived and youthful exuberance lives in the souls of these forty-something rock stars. Please stay a child somewhere in your heart they sing on “Original of the Species” and they have done just that while their souls, their minds and the quality of their songs are enriched with life experience,  spiritual wisdom and musical collaborations.

U2 is kind of like a soccer team on an unbeaten run. All That You Can’t Leave Behind found them a little nervous. Did they still have the ability to win? After championship honors in the Elevation season, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb has them playing the best stuff of their career. It is strident, smooth, sharp and cuts through your defense. This is the beautiful game at its very best; more honors are assured. That they still should be on this good a form at this stage of their career is for a book not a review but it sure adds to the amazement. 

These songs are going to sound awesome live. We have been imagining the tailspin of the lead-off single "Vertigo" for a few weeks now. Well, you can add to that the straight-ahead, earsplitting riffs of "All Because of You," the slow burning atmospherics of "Miracle Drug" before the ecstatic mix of science and faith kicks ass and the strident "Crumbs from Your Table." What shape the menacing rhythms of "Love and Peace or Else" will take is maybe the most intriguing question asked and as for "City of Blinding Lights," well, "you look so beautiful tonight" was surely written for Bono to throw poses at the crowd as he whips up a glorious frenzy. 

The Elevation tour was a revelation to the world about U2s continued relevance but it was more than that. It lit the fuse for a band that could have been heading for middle-age mediocrity. It sent them off in an adrenaline rush to write an entire album that demands to be performed. Bono has been talking about needing eleven or twelve reasons to leave the family for two years. Maybe family members should be feeling a little insecure because these loved ones have honed very big reasons as if they were determined to get out of the house for awhile! These are songs written to be performed. You can sense big stadium stages and Bono doing laps and spinning with arms out stretched. It is celebratory, hopeful and panoramic in melodic splendor. It all paints the biggest of visions trying to reach to the widest horizon and beyond.

Bono's lyrics, though most songs co-credit Edge, are as unconventional as always. He's not a Dylan or a Springsteen and occasionally there are clumsy words, ropey rhymes and contrived couplets. It is not about the seamlessness of Bono's poetry, though. It is about the emotional depth of the bands concerns that lifts them a cut above the rest. To go back to the comparison of this to __Boy__, the man here is dealing with the loss of his father in a different way than the boy then did with the loss of his mother. That loss is a real emotional thread to the album generally and very specifically to "Sometimes You Can't Make it on Your Own," which was sung at his father's funeral and "One Step Closer" inspired by Noel Gallagher in one of their metaphysical yarns.

The mourning period which Bono exorcised live on the Elevation stages in London and Dublin (captured on the __U2 Go Home__ DVD) sent Bono off on a bender for a time and has evidently got him looking in the mirror with microscopic intensity. This is without doubt the band's most personal album. Bono laughs at himself--"At times, some people got way too much confidence, baby" ("Origin of the Species"); "I like the sound of my own voice/I didn't give anyone else a choice" ("All Because of You"); and "Boys play rock 'n' roll/They know they can't dance/At least they know" ("Vertigo"). Looking for his father inside himself is revealing and the hurt of the relationship makes for an honest and vulnerable pop icon.

Elsewhere prophetic insights scan wars in Palestine and Iraq and the injustices of Aids and poverty. The boy of Boy knew nothing about world issues. The man cannot  keep his mind off them. Bono's attempts to save the world meeting Popes, President and speaking at Harvard graduation, the Labour Party conference and anywhere else that would have him has been well documented. Campaigning for those less fortunate with that intensity cannot help but change your perspectives and surface in all your conversations or, in Bono's case, songs. "Where you live should not decide/Whether you live or whether you die." Is what Bono has been trying to say that AIDS is not a charity issue but a justice issue? It is about human rights. Why should people die for the lack of something that we take for granted in the global village of 2004?

In that same song, "Crumbs from your Table," he cuts to the heart with, "Would you deny for others/What you demand for yourself?" Such incisive preaching to the selfish West should cut deep. In this song, it is directed to the Church. Bono has been reunited with the Christian Church over the past few years as he has spoken to Christian colleges, musicians and leaders to try and ignite the compassion of Jesus for the marginalized of Africa. "Crumbs from your Table" is a very close relation of "American Prayer" which he sang with Beyonce at the 46664 concert in Cape Town at the end of 2003. It is about belief becoming flesh. The beliefs we have in our head and speak with our mouths are no good to the hungry, the exploited and the diseased: "You speak of signs and wonders/I need something other/I would believe if I was able/But Im waiting on the crumbs from your table." The irony is that the something other is what the Church thinks it has in extraordinary miracles but the miracle that the poor need is the ordinary sharing and justice of very everyday things.

My own opinion of All That You Can't Leave Behind was that the line that really drilled to the core of the society was, "It lives outside of karma." The gentle pontificating of the Christian doctrine of grace questioned the idea that all roads lead to God not in a judgmental way but in saying look--grace and karma are very different ideas and thus these beliefs are not the same. The drilling here is hitting the recurring theme of marriage. U2s love songs have been few and far between and never shallow. "A Man and Woman" is their most fully formed creed on the subject. In the celebrity world, where Bono lives and is loved by all, he suggests a need for a clearer definition between love and romance. "I could never take a chance/To lose love to find romance," has already been hinted at on "Miracle Drug:" "I've had enough of romantic love." Here is the singer still with his childhood sweatheart sharing his secrets. Love will wait, it cant be numb and only true love can keep beauty innocent. It should be given away free with every magazine that sticks the perfect shape on its cover and gossips about every celebrity break up and make up and suggest that this might be away to live. 

Faith as always is everywhere throughout. U2 is God-drenched even suggesting in the interviews around the release of the album that they can't write anything until God walks through the room. There is a lot of falling on your knees in these songs and the whole thing ends with a full on rock prayer - "Yahweh." At least it should be the end, but for some bizarre reason in the European version they add the experimental and out of place "Fast Car," which could have been shared as a single B-side or download. It takes away the spiritual conclusion, the altar call, the benediction, and, for a band so intentional as U2 is, it is almost unforgivable. Are they softening the spiritual blow for secular Europe whereas American can take the Christian concentrate with diluting? Hard to tell but for me and mine, well end with Yahweh;

Take this soul 
Stranded in some skin and bone
Take this soul 
And make it sing
Take these hands
Teach them what to carry
Take these hands
Dont make a fist
Take this mouth
So quick to criticize
Take this mouth
Give it a kiss

Take this heart 
Take this heart
Take this heart
And make it break

Steve Stockman  11/29/2004
 
 
Steve Stockman is the Presbyterian Chaplain at Queens University, Belfast, Ireland, where he lives in community with 88 students. He has written two books Walk On; The Spiritual Journey of U2 which he is currently updating and The Rock Cries Out; Discovering Eternal Truth in Unlikely Music. He dabbles in poetry and songwriting and he has a weekly radio show on BBC Radio Ulster (listen anytime of day or night @ www.bbc.co.uk/ni/religion/rhythmandsoul). He has his own web page--Rhythms of Redemption at http://stocki.ni.org. He also tries to spend some time with his wife Janice and daughters Caitlin and Jasmine. 

 
 
 
 
 
 

 

   
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