How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb
By: Eric Greenwood
After spending the bulk of the '90's experimenting itself into a caricatural hole, U2 responded to tapering record sales and a hopelessly cartoonish persona with a self-proclaimed return to form on 2000's All That You Can't Leave Behind. Wisely, the band ditched the disco rock synthesis of 1997's catastrophic Pop for the big-hearted anthems that made it famously sentimental in the mid-'80's.
All That You Can't Leave Behind fulfilled its back to post-punk roots promise musically, especially on the uncharacteristically optimistic single, "Beautiful Day", the main riff of which ranks up with the band's finest. U2 actually sounded like a rock band for the first time since 1990's Achtung Baby, and it reinvigorated both its focus and teetering fanbase, despite the compromising lack of envelope pushing.
Bono's self-righteous musings have always sounded better when he's being earnest than when he's winking at you behind blue-tinted sunglasses and a pedantic sneer and shaking the pope's hand. His grandiosity is both a blessing and a curse. U2 wouldn't be the world's biggest band were it not for Bono's crusade for the oppressed and the less fortunate, but his lyrics often crack under the weight of the world that he carries on his shoulders like an anointed martyr.
How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb continues U2's campaign to win back the fans it ostracized for a decade with its gratuitous devolution into electro-rock fusion. The first single, "Vertigo", is a guitar-driven rocker with an infectious hook (the soulless hawking of Apple's iPod notwithstanding). The melancholic cloud that hovered above the band in its heyday may have dissipated, but what "Vertigo" lacks in mystery it makes up for in rollicking bravura. It's not so bad.
The rest of the album suffers from too much open-faced honesty and a serious lack of intensity. Bono's "had enough of romantic love" and just wants "a miracle drug", presumably to cure Aids. While that's all well and good, it doesn't make for arresting music. For some reason, clichés are easier to spill when you pass 40. How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb tries to recapture U2's underdog status as the world's rock and roll saviors, but it's just too ordinary to rekindle a movement for aging do-gooders. Your uncle will think this is hip shit, but that's why you have college radio.