Oct 00, album review: All That You Can't Leave Behind

By Russell Baillie, Reviewed by Russell Baillie

(4/5)

Now entering their third decade, U2 are still with us. Surely it's time for Bono, Edge and the two other fellas with proper names to be thinking that there's something else to do other than becoming lucky last of the once-mega groups.

But no, they're back and seem to be saying with this album, there's actually nothing better to do if you're U2 than to be U2 - and a grand, swaggering, heroic, heartfelt, soaring, stop-the-traffic, shout-it-from-the-rooftops U2 at that.

Yes, well, the self-consciously ironic, swizzle-stick and mirror ball-rock U2 of their forgettable last album proper Pop (a record which was really a pale imitation of their brilliant kickstart to the 90s Achtung Baby), could only last so long.

Now for their first proper offering of the noughts (after the disappeared-without-trace soundtrack to the Bono-scripted Wim Wenders movie Million Dollar Hotel), All That You Can't Leave Behind has the virtue of being an album that doesn't have an agenda attached.

Actually, it's a disarmingly straightforward affair - 11 songs in just under 50 minutes with some familiar production tweaks and textures from the old control-room firm of Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno.

Opening with the single Beautiful Day, the album gets off to a hiss'n'roar start, even if its extravagant gesture risks reminding of their flag-waving, chest-beating messianic days of yore.

But then it's into the soul-shaped slow-tempo Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of, which is lovely in a way that it could be covered by anyone from Rod to Ronan. There's another grand surge on Elevation - all churning guitars and giddy vocals (with a spot of Eno-vocoder around the middle).

Walk On brings on one of those ballads that might have been majestic if its tune was better but the following Kite does far better in the brooding department, echoing Who's Going to Ride Your Wild Horses?.

From those wide horizons, it's into a close-up on In A Little While, another soul-kissed effort which with Bono's burred vocal and slow-chuggin' guitars is one of the best things here.

The sun comes out on the folk-rock strumalong of Wild Honey and then it's Peace on Earth which sounds a bit like Travis and is a far more interesting song than its Christmas-single title suggests.

Towards the end, it slips back into big U2-rockness on When I Look at the World and then New York (an ode to the city that's a bit better than Richard Ashcroft's recent song of the same name, even if it sounds like Bono is using the Lou Reed Guidebook). And it closes on a quiet but effective note: the shimmering, near-ambient Grace complete with a crooned vocal about the gal of the title.

And that's it.

The first proper U2 album in years and by a band who have got back to the idea that sounding like U2 isn't such a bad idea after all - old fans should rejoice (go on, break out that faded Joshua Tree T-shirt and make a night of it).

Especially, as it sounds like the last of the once-mega groups have figured out how to write songs again, and how to grow old gracefully.

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