Y'know, for a while there, I thought Coldplay finally did it. They seemed poised to steal the crown of world's best band from Bono and the boys with their Grammy Award-winning Viva La Vida; heck, they even absconded with U2 producer Brian Eno to seal the deal! With No Line on the Horizon, U2's newest release that's officially out next Tuesday, the band swipes the crown back and places it out of reach for the next few years. Hard to believe, I know. You were understandably underwhelmed by the zealously cartoonish single, "Get on Your Boots" and the ridiculous video that came with it. But that single is the weakest track on an album full of songs that stand beside the best recordings in this band's catalog. No Line on the Horizon opens with the title track, a shuffling rocker that borrows liberally from the corrosive riff that serves as the backbone of Achtung Baby's "The Fly." "The songs on your head are now on my mind," Bono shouts, mixing anguish and ecstasy in one sigh. Like Achtung Baby, "No Line on the Horizon" throbs with sensuality from beginning to end. The disposable "Get on Your Boots" almost seems like a sonic cigarette that cleans the palette before another roll in the hay with these Dubliners. "Moment of Surrender" is an instant classic that features an electronic bed percolating beneath a funky backbeat. "I tied myself with wire/to let the horses roam free/playing with the fire until the fire played with me," croons Bono, a clear- eyed lizard claiming to "crawl out of a black hole" as he prowls a virtual e-lounge. "Unknown Caller" is another bold track, with majestic horns giving the melody a Sergeant Pepper feel right before The Edge's breathtaking solo soars over the melody. Producers Eno and Daniel Lanois bring thick sonic paintbrushes to the artistry, coating the eardrums with delights that range from staccato riffs, booming chords, bongos, drum loops, muffled bass lines, and shimmering electronic twitters. They coax an otherworldly performance from Ireland's most famous musicians. "Magnificent" has one of the most seductive guitar solos ever produced by The Edge; the notes tango with Bono's rapturous moans. No Line on the Horizon is the perfect sonic balance between looking ahead and looking behind, a sixties-style chorus here, an organic church organ there and a bare acoustic guitar strumming along to a brushed tambourine along the way are just some of the anchors these producers use to keep the techno-slickness in check. The band's songs are both composed with and inspired by modern day technology. Bono pleads for people to "restart and reboot yourself" before advising the listener to "shout for joy if you get the chance." He gets inspiration from little things that we can all relate to, like "the face staring back at me from the reflection in the ATM machine." You can just imagine some of these new melodies shaking the walls of the nearest hockey arena this summer. "Standup Comedy" finds the band getting in touch with their inner Led Zeppelin; Bono screams and yodels over a powerhouse riff that makes "Vertigo" seem like a gentle folk ballad. "In this dizzy world where a lovesick eye can steal the view/stop helping God across the road like a little old lady," he shouts. My common complaint on most great U2 albums - they start off strong and then run out of steam in the last few songs. But the band never lets up on No Line on the Horizon. There is a Wild West ballad called "White As Snow" on the back end that could stand proud among the branches of The Joshua Tree, while "Breathe" is a swaggering strut of a song. "Sixteenth of June/Chinese stocks are coming up and I'm coming down with an Asian virus/but I'm running down the road like loose electricity while the band plays a strip tease" spits Bono in a sarcastic snap-rap that recalls Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone," with all the bite of that classic. "Cedars of Lebanon" closes this classic collection in a cloud of atmospheric steam that contains some of the smartest lyrics Bono has ever created. "Yesterday I spent asleep/woke up in my clothes in a dirty heap/spent the night trying to make a deadline/squeezing complicated lives into a headline," he purrs, casting a reporter's eye on innocent kids drinking dirty water as soldiers from a foreign land offers them "oranges he brought out of the tank." Many detractors have taken Bono to task for leaving the concert stage for the world stage in recent years, but No Line on the Horizon finds the activist embracing his day job with gusto once again. You've heard this line before in these pages and I will utter them again - this is one of the best U2 albums ever. Until the next album, of course. These are exciting times for the band. They will tour the world this year on one of their strongest records, and they are making history by booking gigs on Late Show With David Letterman each night for a week starting on Monday. Alas, every blue sky has a dark cloud every now and then, and a big one rained on the band's parade after Universal Music Group's Australian branch accidentally leaked the album, offering high quality downloads for purchase from their digital music site Getmusic.au. Rolling Stone magazine, which gave No Line on the Horizon a five star review penned by the legendary writer David Fricke in the new issue, reports that the downloads, which were being sold roughly two weeks before the album's February 27 Irish release date, were available for about two hours before the error was noticed. By then, it was too late; they album was permanently embedded on message boards all over the Internet. The band got ahead of the crisis by beating bootleggers to the punch when they streamed the album for free on their official Myspace page. You can listen to it yourself on myspace.com/u2.
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