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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

No Line on the Horizon

Posted By on Wed, Mar 18, 2009 at 12:00 AM

I'm not ready to sup the prevailing critical Kool-Aid about this album being a return to The Unforgettable Fire's sonic mysteriousness and lyrical obscurity. (Remember "Elvis Presley and America," Bono's Mad Libs attempt at lyrical improvisation?) If that were the case, then why does all the art direction in the CD booklet point to a return to The Joshua Tree, right down to the black-and-white motifs and the long earnest faces?

If the Beatles had stuck around as long as U2 have, we'd probably be saying, "Oh they're just doing a Mystery Tour again!" Or "This is their rockiest set since side three of the White Album." U2 has been around for nearly 30 years now, so any surprising reinvention is going to be limited to variations on an already familiar theme — that is ... Daniel Lanois imports newer, grayer clouds for the band to brood under. Bono makes up yet another stupid new stage persona for himself, donning goth eye makeup and referring to himself as Elvis' stillborn twin bro, Jesse. The Edge's echo-y guitar reappears at regular three-minute intervals to remind panicked fans that it's still good ol' U2 they purchased (just as Brian May's crazy homemade guitar used to rear its machine heads on even the unlikeliest Queen cuts).

But by all rights, U2 shouldn't even be turning out halfway decent albums at this point, Nevertheless, since they've made it their mission to be the hugest rock band in the world, massive hubris dictates they still have to come up with three or four songs per album that sound like they actually believe it. And they have here, particularly with the title track and "Magnificent," the latter serving up the trademark epic U2-sounding track with handclaps, like they're the fucking Routers! (I wonder if we have Eno's Strategy Cards to thank for that?) "Moment of Surrender," in fact, picks up where the Byrne-Eno album of last year left off and ditches you somewhere between Rattle and Hum and All That You Left Behind In a Cab or whatever the second-to-last album was.

In truth, there's not a single cut here you can't envision on a previously issued U2 album or whatever Batman soundtrack they landed a song on. But that's all right. Unlike AC/DC — who keeps selling the same dependable bottle of ketchup back to us — U2 at least dishes out some surprises that don't require covering us and elevating our feet. When you boil the band down to its essence, all the U2 guys really have to do every time out is sound like they've unlocked the secret of the universe in a photo on the refrigerator or in a taco shell with the Virgin Mary's face. Everyone goes home happy. Except for the malcontents who long for a return to the douche bag days of Discothèque, that is. —Serene Dominic

Thin Lizzy

Still Dangerous

VH1/Classic Records

Once upon a time long ago, it was against punk rock rules to like Irish rockers Thin Lizzy. Then it became all indie irono-rawk to pretend to like Thin Lizzy. Now, because rock 'n' roll history is but a postmodernistic muddle of context-free sound files and revised histories, and since suburban teenagers forming garage bands are now hip to worthy classic rock because, apparently, swell songcraft lasts, it's cool to dig the Lizzy again. Good deal!

Here's why this album smokes: It's remixed from recently unearthed multi-track recordings of the Irish-Scottish quartet's '77 "Bad Reputation" tour stop at Philly's Tower Theater, so it's Lizzy's best lineup — led by Afroed bassist Phil Lynott (pre-heroin damage) with guitarists' Scott Gorham, Brian Robertson and drummer Brian Downey. It shows a band at its performance peak and how aced-out, junk-riffed rock 'n' roll played in-pocket with all melody intact — in under-four-minute blasts and ballsy balladry — can still be a force.

The hits ("Jailbreak," "Boys Are Back in Town," etc.) light up; the left-right guitars and pert pickslides are relentless, drums careen straight down the middle of your skull and Lynott's patented enunciations ("Chiiiiineeese conecct-shun") sting like needle pokes. Like a proper live rock 'n' roll show, there's the impulsive gestures such as sour guitar notes (the ear-twister on "Cowboy Song" is lovely).

Golden-eared producer Glyn Johns (Stones, Beatles, Who, Faces) handled the 10-song mix chores and the results smack senses like heavyweight '70s vinyl — good, old-fashioned mixing unmarred by modern "effects" touches or maximized mastering; and no overdubs — unlike Lizzy's double-platinum Live and Dangerous, which, following that album's studio "touch-ups," only had live drums. At just 10 songs, Still Dangerous ends too quickly, but it ignites faster than a lighter against a feather-haired head at a '70s arena rock show.

Serene Dominic writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to


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