How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb
Island Maybe the worst thing to happen to Bono was landing a hit song with the cheesy chorus, "It's a beautiful day / don't let it get away." U2's new CD is flawed by an abundance of similarly trite and sentimental lyrics. That would be no surprise coming from 99 percent of popular songwriters out there. But Bono - especially in his post-mullet days - has a legacy of writing some of rock's most poetically powerful songs.
Consider The Joshua Tree's "With or Without You." It starts with the lines, "See the storm set in your eyes / see the thorn twist in your side / I wait for you." Bono's use of evocative language, metaphor and image reached its zenith on U2's next album, Achtung Baby. In "Love is Blindness," he wrote, "Love is blindness / I don't want to see / won't you wrap the night / around me?" Or, in "So Cruel": "I disappeared in you / you disappeared from me." Then, on Zooropa's "Stay (Faraway, So Close)," we hear, "Dressed up like a car crash / your wheels are turning / but you're upside down."
After an equally well-written and unfairly dismissed Pop, Bono's writing began to slip with 2000's All that You Can't Leave Behind. "Grace" contains the awful lines, "Grace, it's a name for a girl / it's a thought that could change the world." Yikes. Still, other songs, like "Kite" and "When I Look at the World," offered redemption.
This brings us back to the new CD. It's hard to ignore bad lyrics in a U2 song because Bono's vocals are so high in the mix. So, I wince when I hear, in "Miracle Drug," "The songs are in your eyes / I see them when you smile." That's a far cry from what Bono wrote in "Kite": "I'm a man / who sees the shadow / behind your eyes."
To be fair, the new album is nice to listen to, clean and well-produced. And "Love and Peace or Else" is a gothic, thumping rocker that nearly saved this thing for me. Otherwise, though, the album is too hollowly happy, too hollowly sappy. Bono, I still want darkness behind her eyes, not songs. Who is she now, Mary Poppins?
For the best example of U2's wrong turning, just listen to the last song on Pop, "Wake Up Dead Man," and then the finale on the new CD, "Yahweh." In both songs, Bono - appropriately enough - talks to God. In "Yahweh" we get, "Take this mouth so quick to criticize / Take this mouth and give it a kiss." Ugh. Meanwhile, 1997's "Wake Up Dead Man" offers a brooding and impassioned plea, one that feels stripped bare and perfect for the time we live in: "Jesus help me / I'm alone in this world / and a fucked up world it is too."