I find it virtually impossible to review a U2 album until about six months after it's released. By that time, of course, the time for reviews is long past. But there is so much hype -- both positive and negative -- surrounding a new U2 release that I find it's best to let the dust settle before posting a reaction. Some people, including hipsters in general, love to hate on U2. Part of this is the human tendency to want to take the hotshots down a peg, and when the hotshot spouts off as frequently as Bono, that tendency can be exacerbated. And, of course, you don't get to be the biggest rock 'n roll band in the world by being universally hated, and there is a sizeable contingent that will love every fart and/or messianic proclamation that emanates from Heaven's Spokespersons.
This new album is no different. It doesn't help that Bono and Brian Eno are proclaiming it as better than a Cure for Cancer, a critical cultural turning point in western civilization as we have known it. Quite honestly, this makes me want to dislike the album intensely, in spite of what it might, you know, actually sound like. So I'd prefer to hold off, let the hype diminish, listen a good twenty or thirty times, and then write a more measured response.
Unfortunately, in the universe of U2, it doesn't work that way. U2 are the singularly most unhelpful band on the planet when it comes to people who have to review their albums in a timely fashion. They won't release advance copies. For How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb they herded a bunch of music critics into "Listening Rooms" in NYC and L.A., gave them one shot at hearing the album a day or two before its release, and then said, "Go to it. Write your reviews." Not surprisingly, some shellshocked writers wrote about a 5-star masterpiece (it wasn't), some shellshocked writers wrote about a disappointingly massive sonic letdown (it wasn't), and nobody had the time to get it right. On March 2nd I get to run out after work, snatch up a copy of No Line on the Horizon the day it is released, go home, listen one or (hopefully) two times, and then turn in a lengthy review later that night. Chances are I'll get it wrong. I'll be contending with all the hype, and I'll be contending with the challenge of finding reality somewhere in the midst of shrieking expectations. Welcome to the world Bono lives in every day.