Review Summary: No political references on this, just a perfect mix of imagery and atmosphere, all onto one disc, and one of U2's best releases.
If there is one thing that can be said about U2 during the course of their twenty year plus career, it is that they aren’t a band that is exactly devoid of confidence. As a band, U2 has made the decision to change direction with their sound numerous times, but like any good band that does that, they still maintain their own, original sound throughout all the changes. Whether U2 elects to use their rocking stylistic approach, or their slow, atmospheric one, there is never a question that they will still ultimately sound like the U2 many of us know and love. This all applies to U2’s eleventh release, “All That You Can’t Leave Behind”, the album that did what “Zooropa”, and “Pop” couldn’t do in a coherent fashion. On this release, U2 uses all the electronic effects, and ambient textures they had been experimenting with (along parts of their original rock sound), to take you on a ride that is absolutely stunning to listen to in its entirety.
Perhaps the first aspect of this album that one recognizes after listening to it, is that it is not meant to be as blatant an attack on modern politics, or the state of humanity, as say “Joshua Tree”, and “How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb”. Despite the differences in lyrical content, the album still sounds unmistakably epic and grand, simply by using its overall sound as the main tool. Quite simply it sounds epic in its sheer beauty exhibited by things like the violins in “Kite”, or the smooth opening guitar riff in “In A Little While”, showing that The Edge doesn’t need his delay pedal to create his pure sounding guitar lines. But back to the song “Kite” for just a second. The imagery in this song is incredibly sincere. It makes you picture yourself on a beach all by yourself or on a plateau at night overlooking an entire city. The guitar lines, and Bono’s soft spoken, but still clearly heard vocals create the imagery to perfection, while not loosing musicality as a David Gilmour esque, overdriven guitar interlude enters midway through the song and can easily be considered the highpoint. Overall one of the definite highlights on this release.
Tracks “New York”, “Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of”, and “Grace”, create the same clear as day imagery, which seems to be a running theme throughout the album. Again, this album isn’t, nor is it meant to be politically driven. Frankly, that doesn’t matter in this case. The beginning bluesy, and atmospheric guitar and percussion in “Grace”, the climactic chorus in “New York”, or the infectious lyrics of “Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of”, ensure that the thematic, and textural elements of this album have just as much meaning as any political album could. And even though not every track is meant to be deep thought, or riddled with emotion, the overall U2 vibe is still present and as distinct as ever. “When I Look At The World”, features The Edge using his ever popular effects pedals in combination with his masterful note choice on the guitar to recreate the original U2 sound as the opening riff. Adam Clayton’s bass thumps along as always, with Larry Mullen’s drums to create the rhythmic textures for Bono to sing comfortably over. This song may just be the best example of the band at its tightest on the album. It all comes to a roaring climax with The Edge playing a delay filled solo filled with the elegant simplicity that made him a guitar legend in the first place. “Wild Honey” is the first and only acoustic song on the album, with electronic embellishments, adding onto Bono’s ringing voice. The song is unquestionably sincere and beautiful, and sounds like a song you could discover at a local open mic night, in your location. “Peace On Earth” showcases the best vocal and lyrical performance on the album. The song doesn’t have much in the way of the standard instrumentals, but this is truly Bono’s tour de force for this album, showing everything that he personally believes in, as well as showcasing his attempts to better humanity, all conveyed in one song.
The hits off the album are a hit and a miss respectively however. “Beautiful Day” is quite simply one of the best singles the band has ever released. From the beginning electric piano, to the infectious bassline, and Bono’s stunning lyrics and vocals, this song is a monster. Perhaps the song was solidified as a true U2 classic with their performance of it at Live 8 in 2005. “Elevation” however, easily gets my vote for the worst song on the album. It’s not an awful song, but it’s defiantly a rocker, and it just doesn’t mold well with the laid back atmosphere of the rest of the album. It wouldn’t be so out of place if it were on an album such as “How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb”.
And there you have “All That You Can’t Leave Behind”. Perhaps the best album thematically and texturally, that U2 has ever released; it still stands as one of the band’s most crowning achievements. The album used electronic effects in masterful fashion, while still maintaining the classic U2 sound and vibe. For my money, this album stands as the second best piece of work that U2 has ever released behind “Joshua Tree”. Anyone who wants to be sucked into a journey of sheer beauty should acquire this album for themselves. Yes, there are faults, and the album is not politically driven, but it doesn’t have to be, because sometimes a change can be worthwhile, and for U2, the benefits were sky high.