U2 returns in top form with release

Friday, December 24, 2004

After securing its place among the planet's most popular and musically relevant bands more than a decade ago, U2 took a definite turn for the weird.

With the albums "Zooropa" and "Pop," the Irish group set out to mock the excesses, overblown production and rampant commercialization that often befall bands once they achieve rock-legend status. It didn't take long, however, for U2 to devolve in both sound and presentation into unintentional -- and uninteresting -- self-parody.

With the recently released "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb," U2 continues its return to a more recognizable, though still fresh, sound that began four years ago with the acclaimed "All That You Can't Leave Behind." As with that recording, the band's latest effort is more accessible to longtime fans than the musical experimentation of the 1990s.

Launching the disc is the sonic blast of "Vertigo," a flat-out rocker that is easily the group's best single in nearly 15 years. In terms of pure energy, this track packs enough to power a small city.

As with landmark albums such as "The Unforgettable Fire" and "The Joshua Tree," U2 again melds songs of vastly different tone and feel to form a cohesive collection.

Following the opener, the band dials it back a bit with the love songs "Miracle Drug" and "Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own," tunes that would have fit comfortably on many of the great U2 records of the past.

A U2 album wouldn't be complete without at least one song of political protest and the hard-nosed "Love and Peace or Else" fits the bill. Guitarist The Edge lays down a grinding riff while lead singer Bono asks "Where is the love?" with a mix of concern and optimism.

The pace picks up again with "All Because of You," which is quite reminiscent of the band's own "Even Better than the Real Thing" from 1991's "Achtung Baby," although it doesn't wander into redundancy.

If you tuned out from U2 in the 1990s, "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" provides plenty of reasons to tune back in.

Marc Powers is a staff writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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