Unbiased reviews of new vinyl releases, audiophile reissues, and more
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
U2 is back with No Line on the Horizon, their first release since the 2004 critically acclaimed Grammy-winning effort, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. In their twelfth studio release, they turn out a solid, if at times uneven record, that in its best moments harkens back to the creative pinnacle of their career, the 1992 triumph, Achtung Baby.
The songs on No Line on the Horizon are filled with guitar-driven hooks, but not in the in-your-face style of Vertigo, or Get on Your Boots, the record's first single. If Get on Your Boots is the only cut you have heard, you should be pleasantly surprised as the remainder isn't filled with similar guitar-driven bombast. Instead, The Edge works his magic, building tension in the best songs by combining his signature hooks with more subtle guitar textures that work within the song's groove rather than always defining it. Listen to Moment of Surrender for some really tasty slide guitar work.
Bono is in fine voice as well. His delivery is similarly restrained and nuanced on this record, as he builds to a climax rather than employing the often-heavy-handed vocal delivery found on his earliest efforts.
When this restrained style works--and most of the time it does, it results in some of the best songs to be heard from this band in a long time; listen to the brilliant Magnificent, which builds to a soaring crescendo, and the anthemic Unknown Caller. Not everything works on Horizon, however, and when it doesn't, the result can be a song that doesn't go anywhere, such as the plodding ballad, White as Snow.
Clearly taking a larger role in this project, producers Brian Eno And Danny Lanois receive writing credits along with the rest of the band on seven of the eleven songs on the album. Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen perform more as journeymen on this record, with Clayton's bass almost conspicuously buried in the mix at times, and Mullen's talents rarely showcased save in the brilliant Unknown Caller.
This release from Universal contains two discs of heavy 180 gram vinyl, which arrived flat, clean and devoid of the scuffing and marks so common on today's vinyl pressings. The packaging is also very nice, consisting of a gatefold cover, printed cardboard inner sleeves, and a full-size twelve-page booklet including song lyrics, band photos and extensive credits. While no separate vinyl mastering credit is listed, the BG in the deadwax seems to indicate that it was done by veteran mastering engineer Bernie Grundman.
The sonics of the vinyl pressing, while not up to audiophile standards, compare favorably to the 256 kbps digital download. While both the download and the vinyl reveal the use of compression, at times resulting in what sounds like clipping on the vocal for I'll Go Crazy if I Don't Go Crazy Tonight, the vinyl brings a deeper, wider soundstage, more low level detail, fuller-sounding vocals, and more realistic sounding cymbals. Despite all of these improvements over the digital download, be clear that this is not an audiophile-quality vinyl release--and some of the improvements may be system dependent. Nevertheless, the vinyl should yield noticeable improvement over the digital download for most listeners.
Should you buy this? A number of retailers such as Amazon and Best Buy are heavily discounting this vinyl release to around twenty dollars. Given the deluxe packaging, the better than marginally improved sonics, and the likelihood that this will quickly go out of print, it should be a must-buy for all but the most casual U2 fan who spins vinyl.
Posted by My Vinyl Review at Wednesday, March 04, 2009