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I'm at a Place Called Vertigo, don't Bring Me Back.

  • Mar 16, 2005
Pros: U2 has finally come home

Cons: I'm going to temporarily forget this category exists

The Bottom Line: I've been blessed - I've never given a CD less than five stars. I pick good music!

Listen. Just listen. Just for one go-round, listen. I promise it won’t take long - How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb clocks in just under 50 minutes. I request this of you because you’re probably thinking the same thing I was: U2 had run their course. Bono, discontent with merely organizing concerts to help those less fortunate, had dived - or perhaps cannonballed - his way into the dirty world of politics trying to make good on the messages U2 so often sang about. The band had just risen from a void of experimental electronica muzak - with mixed results at best - which remains dwarfed by earlier classics which include the powerful Joshua Tree and experimental Achtung Baby. The band released All that You Can’t Leave Behind, which attempted to avoid leaving the band’s roots behind but lacked a certain something - the unknown element which separates outstanding from classic.

Shame on us. Shame on us for believing the most musically and politically significant band of the last 25 years had run out of gas. Shame on us for thinking U2 no longer had anything relevant to say, for insinuating their messages were outdated and would no longer have an impact on twenty-first century Earth. We underestimated the current state of the world, so instead of lacking relevance, U2’s politics seem more timely than ever. Which makes their latest CD, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, a timely release for a world badly in need of U2.

Yet, there’s a real element of irony which comes in How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. For all the politics contained in the title and in Bono’s real life, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb contains little politics. No matter. How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb instead contains a reborn U2, or perhaps a resurrected U2 if you will. Atomic Bomb is U2 finally coming full circle. On Atomic Bomb, Bono rediscovers his clean, pristine singing voice and The Edge rediscovers his jangling three-note guitar. Yes, they tried on All that You Can’t Leave Behind, but for how outstanding that CD was, U2 sounded rusty. Their techno experiments in Zooropa and Pop had taken a toll, so Can’t Leave Behind sounded like U2 journeying back to where they started. Atomic Bomb sounds like they’re there.

Atomic Bomb is lead off by the very bastard child which is its first single, Vertigo. In Vertigo, we hear The Edge go back to the simplistic three-chord guitar which we’ve come to know and love on early U2 songs like I Will Follow and Pride. But Vertigo sounds significantly different from the rest of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. It has a punk quality to it which will bring flashes of older punk bands like The Ramones and The Clash. This doesn’t detract from the overall quality of the song or even the CD, though; if anything, it’s a personal favorite, despite Bono showing the rust which was so prevalent on All that You Can’t Leave Behind.

Eighties Bono first shows up on the second track, Miracle Drug. When the song begins, we hear him singing in his non-straining, lounge singer voice. Therefore, we don’t expect anything spectacular. But as the first verse goes on, you begin to notice the slow building of emotion, and the rust slowly but surely vanishing. Then when the chorus is reached, Bono makes it clear that he can still sing as cleanly and beautifully as he did in songs like Where the Streets have No Name. You’ll get goosebumps the first time you hear it:
the songs are in your eyes
I see them when you smile
I’ve had enough of romantic love
I’d give it up, yeah, I’d give it up
for a miracle, a miracle drug, a miracle drug

The first and only time political U2 shows up is in the fourth track, the amusingly titled Love and Peace or Else. The song is somewhat reminiscent of Bullet the Blue Sky from The Joshua Tree in the sense that it’s darker and more thumping than the rest of the CD, and the only foray into politics (and also the fourth song.) In the current war-tearing of the world, U2 is very direct about what it wants:
I don’t know if I can make it
I’m not easy on my knees
here’s my heart and you can break it
I need some release, release, release

we need
love and peace
love and peace

I’m happy to say that U2 has no identity crisis on How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. The band manages to be consistent in their time warp, and Adam Clayton, Larry Mullens, and The Edge all play as cleanly and flawlessly as ever. Although Bono does manage to recapture his ability to sing, he uses it more sparingly, and certainly not on the CD’s current singles, Vertigo and All Because of You. Instead, he seems to save it more for impact moments this time, like in Miracle Drug, Love and Peace or Else, and Original of the Species. He also uses the falsetto voice he used so often throughout Zooropa on Sometimes You Can’t Make it on Your Own, the beautiful standout he penned for his late father.

One thing I’ve always admired about U2 is their willingness to tackle religion, a subject most other bands wouldn’t touch with a pole. Religious faith is the theme of another favorite, Crumbs from Your Table. In this song, U2 plays music which I can only describe as an intelligent loop while Bono, in a clean voice, questions his religious faith:
you speak of signs and wonders
but I need something other
I would believe if I was able
but I’m waiting on the crumbs from your table

In typical U2 fashion, lyrics are sometimes a mystery. Theories crop up about the messages of certain songs, most notably With or Without You and One. How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb keeps this tradition alive and well printing up mysterious messages in City of Blinding Lights and One Step Closer. The former is a true throwback with a fast-paced guitar line which builds and releases like Bono’s voice often does. But the lyrics are rather tricky. The song starts off with a contemplation of things learned:
the more you see the less you know
the less you find out as you go
I knew much more then than I do now

Then he goes into what is, in reality, a better description of New York then the song from All that You Can’t Leave Behind titled New York:
neon heart dayglo eyes
a city lit by fireflies
they’re advertising in the skies
for people like us

One Step Closer conveys a feeling of hopelessness by providing a low bass line accented by descriptions of general negativity:
I’m hanging out to dry
with my old clothes
finger still red with the prick of an old rose

Those lyrics before singing that he is:
one step closer to knowing

It just wouldn’t be U2 without love and heartbreak. Love is covered in an original song called Original of the Species, another intelligently-looping song that speeds up and slows down at intervals. Heartbreak is covered in A Man and a Woman. The music in A Man and a Woman speaks to the broken-hearted, and contains a spirit of desperation and loneliness. But, also true to U2 form, the band brings an uplifting tone and some encouragement to the CD, and this time it’s reserved for the positively-worded closer, Yahweh.
take these shoes
click clacking down some dead end street
take these shoes and make them fit
take this shirt
polyester white trash made in nowhere
take this shirt
and make it clean, clean
take this soul
stranded in some skin and bones
take this soul
and make it sing

How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb is easily the best CD U2 has released in the last 15 years. Look at the last lyric I posted. Take this soul, and make it sing. U2 makes your soul sing, as well as your ears.


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More How To Dismantle An Atomic Bom... reviews
review by . February 21, 2009
Their would-be comeback mixed the scope of their Eighties work with fragments of their Nineties experiments to breathtaking results; its would-be successor arrived courtesy of Steve Lillywhite, their original producer, and took them "back to basics." The songs themselves are linked by themes of love, peace, war, harmony, and death, themes which need the majestic grandiosity of U2 records like "The Joshua Tree" to be fully expressed. By returning to a raw--U2's version of raw, anyway--sound, similar …
review by . August 25, 2006
Besides Bono, how many people or fans even know who U2 are?    Allow me to explain, I would first like to start this review by asking if all the "real" U2 fans please make your presence known. I am not sure what happened over the past six or seven years, but all of a sudden we have "tons" and "tons" of U2 fans! Are these all-new fans? Or perhaps they are the fickle fans that dropped off the map for nine years! "Come on, you don't have to be shy about it". These are the same fans …
review by . May 04, 2006
U2 is one of the best bands in rock history because they are so passionate. 'How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb' is characteristic of what they can achieve when they channel their passion well. This C.D. may become known as the pinnacle achievement of their later works. It is consistent throughout, and, like 'All That You Can't Leave Behind,' they skillfully master their new evolutions of sound. Still, it isn't as good as 'Achtung Baby' or 'The Joshua Tree,' but it so cohesive musically, that in some …
review by . February 08, 2005
posted in Music Matters
I preface this review by saying that I have not been a fan of U2 for very long. I've heard their songs on and off all my life, but it wasn't until I started paying attention to the lyrics of some of their songs from ALL THAT YOU CAN'T LEAVE BEHIND that I became interested in the band. Since that time I've researched the band fairly well and have come to appreciate their music.     There are many who claim that HOW TO DISMANTLE AN ATOMIC BOMB is a throw-back to U2's roots. Musically, …
review by . January 23, 2005
How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb is a real bringdown for U2. Their previous CD, All That You Can't Leave Behind was a career highlight. Almost every song on that CD had a memorable melody. On How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, the melodies are few and far between.    At the least the CD starts out strong with the high energy single Vertigo. Origin of the Species, Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own, and One Step Closer are the best of the rest as on the fourth listen their melodies …
review by . November 30, 2004
posted in Music Matters
I've been a U2 fan since my early teens. Some of my fondest High School memories from the mid-80's involve watching MTV in science class--and seeing videos like "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" and "All Is White On New Year's Day". (I know, we should have been learning science...)    I enjoy how U2 has evolved as a band, although my favorite era *was* the mid-80's.    This CD changed all that.    If it wasn't for Vertigo playing on commercials, …
review by . November 23, 2004
Irish rock vets U2 have released another fine album. This album has influences from multiple stages of U2's career, and highlights include tracks like Miracle Drug, Yahweh, Sometimes You Can't Make it On Your Own, City of Blinding Lights, and Original of the Species. Bono's voice is a bit worn but his lyrics remain in top form along with Edge's guitar work. Modern rock music often lacks the tuneful artistry found in U2's albums, so this album is likely to be well-received, even though it doesn't …
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Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial.      Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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This edition of HOW TO DISMANTLE AN ATOMIC BOMB includes a bonus DVD that features a documentary film and live performances. U2: Bono (vocals); The Edge (guitar); Adam Clayton (bass guitar); Larry Mullen, Jr. (drums, percussion). Much in the manner of their previous album, ALL THAT YOU CAN'T LEAVE BEHIND, U2 largely strips down the stadium-sized approach of years past on the provocatively titled HOW TO DISMANTLE AN ATOMIC BOMB. Whether they were inspired by the garage-rock revival that took place in between the two records, or just felt like making some visceral rock & roll, this 2004 release has as much unbridled energy as such early U2 benchmarks as BOY or WAR. The album starts with a bang, courtesy of the charging, angular "Vertigo," whose driving bass line and shouted vocals announce the band's intentions in no uncertain terms. The bluesy "Love and Peace or Else," and the fuzz-guitar-fueled "All Because of You" follow suit in a similarly high-energy manner. That's not to say that this is a mere rockf...
Song List: Disc 1
1. Vertigo
2. Miracle Drug
3. Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own
4. Love and Peace or Else
5. City of Blinding Lights
6. All Because of You
7. Man and a Woman, A
8. Crumbs From Your Table
9. One Step Closer
10. Origin of the Species
11. Yaweh
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Label: Interscope Records (USA)
Artist: U2
Release Date: November 23, 2004

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