U2 All That You Can't Leave Behind (Interscope)

All That You Can't Leave Behind (Interscope)

Record Reviews

U2

All That You Can't Leave Behind (Interscope)

No U2 album is complete without Bono writing a song about the wind. At least that's one of the things you can say about "Kite"; another would be that it's as affecting as "One." All That You Can't Leave Behind is about all kinds of things, really, but mostly it's about their third-best album after Achtung Baby and The Unforgettable Fire. It's about a much fresher, more vibrant album than a band only four years removed from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has any right to make. And about how the ghosts of past glorious moments like "Bad," "Running to Stand Still," and even "Lemon" linger over new ones like "When I Look at the World" and "Walk On." At this point, it's silly to ask the 25-year-old Dublin quartet to reinvent the wheel, but as ever, they retain the inalienable right to reinvent themselves. And this time, they sound like ... U2. There's canyonic echoes ("Beautiful Day"), sprawling choruses ("Walk On"), and Bono still chasing the specters of Bob Marley and Lou Reed ("In a Little While"). After 1993's Zooropa and '97's pulsating Pop, Edge has put away his sequencer and is back using his guitar as a paintbrush, except on "Elevation," where it's a jackhammer. Bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. are, as usual, locked in their rhythmic mind-meld (Larry's obviously been listening to a lot of jazz). Bono, as injustice-fighting crusader, is back too, "Peace on Earth" addressing the 1998 Omagh bombing in Northern Ireland; only this time his anger comes out in a whisper instead of a scream. The main U2 gospel, however, is still love, and it bleeds through from the deep soul vibe of "Stuck in a Moment" to the frisky "Wild Honey." U2 are still rock's great sculptors of mood and tone, and even if Bono's lyrics can be a little cringe-worthy at times (what else is new?), he's got quite a safety net in his three mates -- especially Edge, who really comes into his own as a supplemental lead vocalist. (Edge and Bono are fast approaching Jagger/ Richards levels of singer/guitarist synergy.) "I want you to know ... that you ... don't ... need me anymore," sings Bono on the epic "Kite" chorus, bidding farewell to other people's expectations of what U2 is supposed to be. After a decade of playing dress-up in the club gear, U2 are finally comfortable in their own skin again. Four blokes in a band. Maybe that's what this album is about more than anything else -- home -- and U2's home, even more than their beloved Dublin, is the stage. So the real question listeners have to ask is, "How will these songs sound in a stadium full of 50,000 people?" The answer is, by and large, excellent -- in descending order: "Kite," "Walk On," "Elevation," "Beautiful Day," "Stuck In a Moment," "Wild Honey," "New York," and so forth. Word on the street has them doing 15,000-25,000 seaters on their Spring 2001 tour (hello, Erwin Center!), but with U2, it's always best to round up.

****

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