Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Review of "No Line on the Horizon" U2

After devoting considerable time to thinking about it, I'm still not sure how U2 do it.

Well into their 4th decade as a band they're still churning out innovative and superbly crafted material. You couldn't even say that of the Beatles. How they manage it might be shrouded in mystery but it is easy to see why they have sold 150million+ records.

The original plan for this album was that it would be released as two separate EPs called "Daylight" and "Darkness" but this was eventually rejected in favour of "No Line on the Horizon." The band wrote over 50 songs for this album and ruthlessly chose the best ones.

Bono set out to change the perspective in his songs from the usual first person narratives to inhabiting a range of characters. "I'm a traffic cop, rue du Marais/The sirens are wailing but it's me that wants to get away" illustrates the perspective of the title track "No Line On the Horizon." Both "Moment of Surrender" and "Unknown Caller" are written from the perspective of a junkie character. "White as Snow" is the imagined last words of a dying soldier in Afghanistan. "The Cedars of Lebanon" is written from the point of view of a Middle East War Correspondent who, in Bono's words, is reflecting on his own "private apocalypse." While some might see this as confused and trying to do too much at once, I see it as reflective of our increasingly global sensibilities, and enjoy the variety.

The fuzz wah guitar sounds on songs like "Get on Your Boots" and "Stand Up Comedy" add to the really great edgy punk rock feel. Other songs like "Moment of Surrender" have that pleasing classic Edge delayed guitar. There are some notable keyboard moments throughout as well but overall I think the most interesting element of the album, from a musical perspective, is the drums. Unlike the minimalistic approach to the beats in the last two albums the drums are much more definitive on this album, with a more percussive approach overall. Much of the sonic space is occupied by the drums, it seems someone somewhere decided more really is more. This is the most complex and attention-grabbing drumming we have heard from Larry Mullins in a long time.

Bono's vocals are soaring and ethereal on the title track in particular, and yet full-throated and rocky in the more hard hitting, riff based songs. Years of almost constant touring do not seem to have diminished his vocal chords apparently.

This album is sure to be controversial as it is a clear departure from the more more conservative "How to Dismantle An Atom Bomb" and "All That You Can't Leave Behind," aiming a little more in the direction of the quirkier "Pop." I for one am pleased to see the different direction, and take my imaginary hat off to the creativity and boldness of U2.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

When I first heard Jason Mraz I pegged him as a Jack Johnson wannabe, in other words inoffensive but largely dull musically and vocally.

I was completely wrong.

Granted some of the tracks on "We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things" at first listen might seem a little too simple. "Live High" seemed unimpressive to me until I listened a little closer - the lyrics are quirky, the vocals are right on the money, and the chorus is just, well life-affirming. By far my favourite song on the album is "Butterfly" which has a funky, contemporary feel with great stops, outstanding brass and intricate vocal work. All comparisons to good ol' Jack are dead in the water from herein.

There is enough variety on this album to suit a range of moods and to satisfy the desire for good musicianship, great vocals, and most importantly good tunes.

Mraz has successfully blended jazz/pop/acoustic genres to create something quite unique. There might even be a little bit of Michael Jackson in there, hey perhaps enough to make you wanna dance. I thoroughly recommend the album.
My review of "Hood" by Stephen Lawhead.

During the dark times of Norman conquest a young man, Bran ap Brychan, is forced to make the journey to London to seek justice for the murder of his father and the seizing of his lands in Elfael in modern day Wales. When all of his claims are dismissed he returns home to discover his people have been forced into submission by a brutal Norman Baron, and he is an outlaw.

Step by step Bran begins to put together an unlikely band of resistance fighters and to create a secret community deep within the forest. With the help of the Banfaith Angharad Bran learns to use the ancient wisdom and mysticism of the land against the invaders as he reinvents himself as King Raven, a creature born of myth and magic. "Hood" is the first in the King Raven trilogy which charts Bran's journey to free his people and regain Elfael.

Taking such a well known myth as Robin Hood and reinterpreting it in such a radical way was a risk to say the least. A welsh Robin dressed as a Raven? Can the legend survive without his signature green tights?

Fortunately Stephen Lawhead is a master of gritty historical fantasy. Never before has the Robin Hood legend been interpreted in such an original and elemental way. The protagonist is marvellously complex, at first lazy, selfish and equally prone to despair and anger but slowly changed and chastened by the suffering of his people and his own. He tries to work within the confines of the law and outside it in an effort to accomplish his goals and learns to receive help and advice from unlikely sources. The novel is deliciously dark and brooding yet shot through with hope as it slowly winds its way towards possible redemption.

The third book in the trilogy "Tuck" has already been released in the US and is due to be out here in the UK in April. I can't wait to see how this series will end and yet I will definitely be sad to see an end to the journey. Will Bran get his lands back? We'll have to see.